Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tip O'Day #429 - The Numbers Game

Guest blogger Jacquelynn Gagne of Ambrosia Arts on “numeric numbers versus alphabetical numbers in fiction.”

Have you ever read a novel published by a big publishing house such as Penguin or Random and seen a lot of numeric numbers?

Unless the book is about numbers somehow or an educational book, then you rarely will. At most, you will only see a numerical number if it is a year (even then sometimes it may be written out alphabetically) unless it is a ridiculously long number such as 86,346,249. Writing out eighty-six million three hundred and forty-six thousand two hundred and forty-nine can just be confusing. One other exception is when it is in reference to a sign or a time of day. (Times we will discuss in a moment)

Take for example a road, such as I-149. However this could also be written as interstate one-forty-nine, and written as such is perfectly acceptable. Using numerical numbers may be considered unprofessional in the case of a standard novel. It can be considered lazy. It can be difficult to remember if you are already in the habit of going for the number key.

Let’s take a moment and discuss how to properly write times. If we are giving a general time of day, we would write it alphabetically every time. Eight o’clock in the morning, five o’clock in the afternoon, three o’clock in the morning - the time was seven a.m., the hour was two p.m. If you are being specific you can write this out alphabetically but depending on the type of book it may be accepted numerically as well but it is always advised to write your numbers alphabetically in a novel. Example: 4:39 a.m. Example four thirty-nine a.m.

On a side note, since we are discussing times I constantly see a.m. and p.m. written incorrectly as am or pm, You must include a period (dot) after each letter. If your sentence ends with a.m. or p.m. you do not add an additional period dot. As you can look in the paragraph directly above, the last two sentences are examples of this.

This may not seem like a big deal and I am not trying to say that it is. However it can make a difference in you looking professional or amateurish. If that doesn’t concern you, then you may wish to reevaluate your priorities and decide how you wish to be viewed, not just by readers but in the literary community as well. Our words are how we are viewed as writers. Books are judged by their covers and writers by our words. The plus side of this is that unlike a bad hair day, we have complete control over our writing.

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