Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Sampler - April 2012 - NUMBERS

"Every writer must fashion an editor's hat and keep it close at hand." --GETTING PUBLISHED by Paul Raymond Martin

When writing fiction, the issue of numbers written out or spelled out can be mind-boggling.  In general when writing numbers for a piece of fiction:

1) All numbers are written out as words.
2) In dialogue, numbers are spoken as words.
3) In internalizations, numbers are thought of in words.

Why is this? Because a person is deeply engrossed in reading what's been written and hears a voice narrating in their head, and then, suddenly, a number appears on the page.  That number is like a red flag waving. Thus for that second the reader is jarred out of the reading enjoyment either consciously or subconsciously. For example, I was reading a Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) book and seven-eighths of the way through the book, my eyes stop on a 5--the number five. This was so unexpected that I stopped and stared at that 5. What was it doing on the page? Hadn't someone edited the book? 

Okay, let's not go there.  Most writers know the quality of manuscripts from the big publishers have deteriorated from what they used to be because editors are processing books, not editing them.  But what about the author?  Hadn't he seen that glitch?

Now, yes, there can be instances where numbers will appear in a manuscript or book, like military time or June 1, 1999, etc. but here's the thing--those numbers don't stop the reader nor do they draw attention to themselves. And that's the key--if you have numbers in your fiction manuscript, be sure they don't stop the reader from reading and enjoying the story.

That being said, I also have to admit that some publishers have their own in-house rules. And you won't know what those rules are until you get a piece accepted by them. Other publishers will state they use the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associate Press Stylebook. Here's the thing, those two texts are the bible for journalists and technical writers, who are nonfiction writers.  (FYI: Both say to write out single-digit numbers like the five.)  So, if you're writing fiction and have been using the journalistic method for writing numbers, it'll be hard to break that habit when writing short stories and novels.  Which means you might want to jot on your "Revision Cheat Sheet" that you should make one pass through your work to look for numbers that should be converted into words.

Stop back to this blog on May 1 for The Sampler's "Paragraphing."  Also check the author-interview that has just been posted at

Catherine E. McLean
***KARMA & MAYHEM- This  paranormal-fantasy-romance will soon be published by
***All updates can be found at my home website -

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