I am starting to write a fantasy story. For the first time, i am using computer software to help organize my story. The program confronted me with a question. What is the birthday of a character?

It's a fantasy world, swords, bows and axes style. So obviously medieval. Yet... It is not on earth. It has goblins, dwarves, etc.

So saying it's in the 5th century is a bit... well, weird. Why would a totally different universe just happen to have the same weaponry at the same time?

So i was wondering how you give time into your stories?

Usually my stories don't have a specified time, OR they fit in with an existing / future time.

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    If you don't mind, could you tell me what software you are using to organise your fantasy story? It sounds quite interesting. :)
    – JFW
    Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 13:34

2 Answers 2


Time is based on an Event. We are in the year 2010 because someone inaccurately took the birth of Jesus Christ as the base (hence b.c. And a.d. denominations). Other cultures have other years, I believe either the China or the Arabian countries have a completely different year.

In the Star Wars Extended Universe, the battle of Yavin is the base for their calendar. That was the destruction of the first Death Star, and you will find dates given as "4000 BBY" (Before battle of Yavin) or "130 ABY" (after battle of Yavin)

A calendar is only there to put events into perspective, and mainly for the reader. How long is a year? Most fictional works still use the earth year, or the character says something like "it happened 8000 years ago,in your culture that's 200 earth years"

Sometimes you don't need to have an absolute year. It doesn't matter if you are in the year 2000 or 5128, because it's just a number. Maybe you just start telling your story and when you refer to past/future events, you just use relative time: He was born 200 earth years before he met the girl of his dreams. The galactic elections will be in 2 months from now, and the elected chancellor will be in office for 5 years. With this description you just set an "epoch": a man and woman meet. All other dates are relative to this point in time, wherever it is.

Basically, you can just make up a number. Pick an event, either one that happens in the story or one that has/had a great impact on the fictional universe. You don't have to give that date to the reader if you don't want to, but it will help you greatly to keep consistency, otherwise you will encounter that a character is too old or that an event happened too long ago to be witnessed by your character. Having a calendar helps greatly.

Some Universes did fine without a consistent calendar.Star Trek's Star Date for example is completely inconsistent between the various incarnations and doesn't translate. Most people don't care, I think it's sloppy.

So my recommendation: pick an event as your epoch (year 0), plan all other events against this one, and decide if you want to disclose it to the reader or if you just want to give relative dates based on that event. You can have both options of course: year 0 is when the war ended and the first chancellor reunited the tribes, but your story happens 500 years later when your character meets his future wife when he tries to rob her store, and all events you describe in the book are relative to the failed robbery.

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    Meh, typing on an iPad is still hard, sorry for the typos, will try to correct them tomorrow. Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 8:59
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    If that works for you, do that. But don't be afraid to later change the numbers to make them "feel" better or because you want to give the year or whatever. Unless the reader knows the absolute year, it's just a number that can be changed. Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 9:09
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    @John I thought this is a site for Writers :D Can't help it, once I start the first sentence the next 5 paragraphs just flow naturally. Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 23:17
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    You don't even need a single epoch. You could (just an example) count years/time during the rule of different, well, rules. Or even have (if it's more epic) different calendars for different regions/realms (with some opportunity for cheap and bad jokes and confusion ;-) Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 15:01
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    Of course, the previous comment refers to "in-story" timelines. For you, if you have multiple in-world calendars, pick one as reference, and relate the other calendars/timelines to this. Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 15:04

If you look to Tolkien, you see no time. Everything is long ago, far away, in the past, whatever. I am a dork of the numeric kind, so I'm forever trying to squash my tendency to use "real" numbers, because I think it's mostly unnecessary, limiting, and a little jarring...When you speak, you never use exact time. The closest you're going to get is "a few days/months/years ago" and after that it's just "a long time ago".

So I never use exact time, for that reason.

However if you really read Tolkien, all the way down to the indexes, you'll find that he has detailed...to the year...chronologies. Very specific. And I think this is a good thing. Peg your world on a detailed chronology, so you know who could have known who, when, and don't get messed up. Very easy to get confused if you hold your timeline in your head.

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