Hey Mythcreants! My question is short: How can I put in fantasy measurement units without comparing them to real-life units (like the mile, the foot, the minute, etc.)?


Hey Evan, great to hear from you again! 

Units of measurements are one of those things that normally fade into the background, except for when they don’t match expectations. Everyone learns these units as children and then rarely thinks about them, so drawing attention to them can be really jarring, even if it’s for explanatory purposes. In stories, you basically have four options. 

1. Use Real Measurements 

While a fantasy setting wouldn’t actually have minutes, hours, inches, miles, etc., you can usually just include them and no one will notice. This is the simplest option, though it tends to work better for units that are not also proper names. “Meters” sounds a lot more natural in a fantasy setting than “Friday,” for whatever reason. And, of course, American readers (possibly also British, Liberian, and Burmese readers) will accept imperial units more easily than metric, and it will be the opposite for everyone else.

At the very least, this method is better than using made up units that correspond exactly to real units. Farscape did that, with “microns” and “microts” instead of minutes and seconds, which was just annoying.* 

2. Use Fantasy-Sounding Measurements 

You can also use historical units of measurements that, to an American audience at least, sound more at home in fantasy. “League” or “pace,” for example, have a more historical feeling. The downside is that readers won’t automatically know how long those actually are, so it may get confusing. 

3. Use Descriptive Measurements 

Most units of measurement have fairly arbitrary sounding names, but they don’t necessarily have to. In your setting, you might use “ten-day” to refer to a set of days which is ten days long or “moon cycle” in place of “months.” This gets a little trickier for smaller units, but you could still do it. Perhaps they use “heartbeats” instead of “seconds,” that sort of thing. 

4. Explain Your Fantasy Measurements 

Finally, you can dedicate space to explaining your fantasy units. You might have a character take five steps, say they’ve moved one “letra,” and readers will know a letra is about five steps. This is by far the most involved and intrusive method, so I’d only recommend it if having a unique system of measurement is very important to your story. 

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!

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