In the interest of keeping the 'veil of believability' intact where distance and basic measurement nomenclature is concerned;
I am sure it is recommended to use terminology with time-period relevance, but where is a good dividing line when the time-period is less clear. Obviously the 'mile' would be out, but so too with the 'meter'... furlong, league, fathom, foot, etc.? I know what these mean but how clearly would the distinction need to be emphasized for something like; a hundred leagues (300 statute miles). Would a simple stating of 100 leagues be enough to show the distance?
I imagine this subject has been discussed at length so if anyone knows of a Hatrack topic, please interject. My search of the topics has proved fruitless.
fyi - here is the NIST weights and measurement reference;
In a post-apocalyptic story I wrote where our current units of measure are 'lost' in history, I simply used the term 'paces' to indicate distance, and described height relative to the height of a grown man, and smaller units would be hands-breadth or hands-length. All the units are anatomy-centric because these people have little in the way of material possessions.
So perhaps, think of your setting, and think of the day to day things the people interact with. If your society is a fantasy war-like society, maybe they think of distances in terms of sword-lengths.
[This message has been edited by Osiris (edited December 23, 2010).]
[This message has been edited by Osiris (edited December 24, 2010).]
I've generally used leagues and paces. Although I still use them, a lot of people frown on saying gold or silver pieces due to the fact they're used in Dungeons & Dragons.
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I've always loved the foot, cause it's the size of my foot, so it's easy to remember. Furlong sounds cool too. Or leagues. Or Squaddles, which you just have to make sure people know what that means. (Which is the length a Squadd will run after you kick it.)
Also something to remember is that there is a level of thought where the story we are reading has been translated into English. That leaves us a little wiggle room.
Although I still use them, a lot of people frown on saying gold or silver pieces due to the fact they're used in Dungeons & Dragons I like to use what's stamped on said coins. In one set of stories I'm working on, it's something to the effect of Kings, Crowns, Bishops, and Barons. Something valued at five electrum (gold-silver alloy) coins, therefore, would be worth "five crowns".
In Dark Tower, Stephen King referred to "wheels" as a unit of distance.
Mile, or the terms from which the modern English is derived, has actually been around since ancient Roman times, originally referring to 1000 paces (mille meaning 1000 in Latin).
There's always the 'bowshot length' which could be everything from 10 to 100 meters.
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Great input... thanks to all.
Lewis and Clark travelled from St. Charles, Mo. (St. Louis) to Portland, Or., aprox 2100 miles in aprox 18-20 months. Using this as a base-line reference should my characters expect to need 18 months to travel across a 2100 mile (700 league) stretch of territory? Average the month to 19 and the rate of travel becomes about 110 miles (37 leagues) per month.
It is 82 miles from Austin, Tx to San Antonio, Tx. According to this model someone could expect to travel about 23 miles (7.6 leagues) per day or about 3.5 days en route. This model is roughly based upon the L&C timeline in order to account for all the troubles and delays they faced.
Even with only a few people travelling together on horseback the rate of travel would not increase a great deal. It is very Hollywood`esque to run horses throughout the day and horses don't walk much faster than we do. Especially when a pack horse is along. I would venture an estimation of <30% increase in overall speed on horseback vs on foot.
Is all of this really necessary for plausability? If the journey is not the story? As a reader, how much of this stuff do you pick up on? When characters spend 7 months on a journey stuff happens, pretty much everytime I would guess. How would you handle this with regard to 'show &/or tell'.
A similar problem: in SF that does not take place in the Known Universe or Terran space, how do you set your measurements?
Yeah, "Credit" is pretty standard for a unit of money. I think we pretty much all take it to mean 'about a dollar' (or whatever is your local base currency unit). Good enough there.
And for time, a "year" is understood to be "one circuit of Main Planet around Primary Sun", a day is "one whirl around the planet's axis" and so forth. Dividing it up into fractions to replace hours and minutes isn't too much of a problem, and in any event it doesn't jar to see "hour" or "minute" in such a work.
But distance is another thing entirely. The only one that translates reasonably is "light year". What about foot, or meter, or mile, or kilometer? They're all Terran constructs, with no broadly universal basis.
I gave up fighting the smeerps of distance and settled on using meter and kilometer (klick for short), as that seems to be about as much of a broad convention across fictional universes as we're likely to get. I certainly didn't want to spend a bunch of reader braincells memorizing new units.
In fantasy, "league" or "a day's travel" work pretty well, if it's a horse-and-shank's-mare culture.
I have to agree with the culture based aspects of your measurement dilemma. I have struggled with that question in my early stuff and always had to fall back on "that's how they saw it" measurements, especially if my stories were not of this earth or very pre-history.
quote:Is all of this really necessary for plausability? If the journey is not the story? As a reader, how much of this stuff do you pick up on? When characters spend 7 months on a journey stuff happens, pretty much everytime I would guess. How would you handle this with regard to 'show &/or tell'.
You asked, if it's necessary even if the journey is not the story. I'm of the opinion that it can be glossed over most of the time. I have only done 'show and tell' if I need my MC (or other strong character) to have 'think' time. Mull over events and form strategies for upcoming conflicts. Beyond that, I skip over it in one or two sentences. Not that I'm a master at all this. It's just my opinion.
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"Credit" always sounded very video-gamey to me. Probably because I've played a ton of video games in my day. Other words that sound ripped straight out of the XBox include Gil, gold (as in, I have 100 gold).
Credits actually do sound okay to me in a scifi setting, but if you're doing fantasy, it sounds like far too advanced a concept for a more ancient society. It implies the common existence of lines of credit, for instance.
In my modern-ish fantasy story, I have "marks." People also call them "notes" and "stones," the latter of which only makes sense in the context of the story. In that same story I use feet, inches, and miles, on the basis that you're reading a story translated into English. Paces don't make sense for me because this is a society well past the age of enlightenment; most people can read, measurements are precise, etc. In scifi, you're doing yourself disservice if you don't go metric. In medieval times... handspans, paces, and feet are fine (feet being the approximate length of a foot, not twelve inches).
Distances in space are measured by astronomical units (distance from Earth to the Sun), then light years, then parsecs (3.26 ly), then kiloparsecs and so on. Of course the parsec is defined using the astronomical unit.
Edit: I've used megameters (Mm) for space distances. It's a thousand kilometers. So the radius of a geostacionary orbit of a satellite orbitting the Earth would be 36 Mm. You could try having this as your small type unit: the height of a geostacionary orbit of your home planet. It's different for every planet (you would have to calculate it).
You can define many such units. Just make sure they make sense, meaning they are useful.
[This message has been edited by MartinV (edited December 29, 2010).]
I'm thinking there are a lot of archaic terms of measurement (and money) out there...in a fantasy, you might seek out one you can adapt for your own purposes.
I write (mostly) SF (or so I claim)...I've found "meters" acceptable, but find "kilometers" an awkward neologism, four syllables long, subject to at least two different forms of pronunciation. I usually write "clicks" or "klicks"---a habit I picked up from some SF writer or other, but I don't remember who. (For weight, for "grams" you can say "grams," and for "kilograms" you can say "kilos"---which negates use of "kilo" for anything in distance...)
However, to figure out height and weight of a character, I still have to resort to English measurements, then translate them into metric...I don't think in metric.
The greater part of the question in my mind has to do with balancing between keeping the writing easily readable and wholly believable. My target audience relates to miles, feet and inches. Like me, they know what 100 miles 'is', but would have to stop and think about 33 leagues, maybe grab a calculator once or twice to 'get it'. The same applies to the metric system of words. 'Leagues, etc' sounds cooler, but does it actually take away from the readibility? (readability?) OR, do fantasy readers WANT a complete departure from everything typical/mundane where this topic is concerned? If Gandalf told Frodo, "We have 110 miles to go", would we all cringe and wonder what was happening with Tolkien?
I would guess very few modern day readers are able to relate to how far someone could travel in a week on horseback, or on foot through the wilderness. I have done that a little and still have only a vague 'feeling' about it. The same would seem to apply to SF/space travel phrasing. Hollywood has kinda wrecked the horseback/time/distance thing.
Doug - you say in your opening post that "obviously the mile would be out" - why? The Romans used a mile (though not quite the same length as the current standard mile). It's got history.
Using Lewis and Clark as an example is also open to question. How far you can travel in a day is highly variable, the two most significant factors being the terrain you are passing over, and the method of travel you are using. The covered wagons that crossed the plains, for example, would often only make 8-10 miles in a day. There's also the questino of whether your protaganists are truly venturing through fantasy's traditional "wilderness" where no-one lives. On this planet there's been no truly uninhabited wilderness to speak of for about 40,000 years (it's one of the annoying traits I find in fantasy, to have these great tracts of inexplicably unpopulated land). If there are people, those people will have trails of some kind that they use to travel and communicate.
In most early societies, measures were based on some body part. The "foot" is common, for example, and I decided that (based on how I do rough measurements) a "span" (i.e. a stretched hand from thumb-tip to pinkie-tip) is very practical - it works out around 9 or 10" so is easily workable. There's also ells and cubits. Weight-wise, there are all sorts of old units like pecks and bushels you can play with. The measurement I tend to have most difficulty with is time. I need to look into historical measurements of and references to time. I think to a great extent people didn't actually think of time the way we do in the modern world, but it's hard to convey that in a story.
It's not really important that readers have the idea at how far your characters are going to go, as long as something interesting happens on the way.
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Just out of my World Almanac, twelve inches make one foot, three feet make one yard, five-and-a-half yards make one rod (or pole or perch), forty rods make one furlong, eight furlongs make one statute mile, and three miles make one league. How many of those are in common use?
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Robert - of those measurements, only rods and leagues have pretty much dropped out of sight. Furlongs are still used in horse racing. Also, there are four rods (22 yards) to a chain, which is still the distance between wickets in cricket.
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