1. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    How to Tell the Time

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Charisma, Dec 25, 2014.

    Quick question: how would you write time properly in a novel?

    Long version:

    Here's a sample dialogue~

    “Tonight at 7:30 PM. You should be at the airport around 6, though.”

    To my knowledge, in story-writing, numbers should always be written as words except in certain cases (writing a phone number, for instance). How would you write this dialogue? Would it differ when switching from dialogue to narration?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I would spell it out. So it would be "seven thirty p.m." and "six" (notice how "p.m." is written: no capitals and with periods).
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Tonight at seven thirty. You should be at the airport around six, though.
     
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  4. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is that correct about phone numbers? What about a street address, an IP address, an account number, etc.?
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I were writing a stylebook, the IP address and count number would use digits. I'm not positive about the street address.

    "So you're at sixteen West Terrace, right?"
    "Nope, twelve."

    "So you're at 16 West Terrace, right?"
    "Nope, 12."

    There, I'd vote for the first. If a character were reeling off a whole address ("Please ship it to 16 West Terrace, San Francisco, 99999.") then spelling out the numbers would feel weird, but reeling off a whole address in written dialogue feels weird on its own. So I'm undecided.
     
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  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You should write out the numbers if they aren't too large or if it can be done without awkwardness. The Chicago Manual of Style says that "when writing direct discourse for a drama or a work of fiction, numbers that otherwise be rendered as numerals can often be spelled out." However, for years and phone numbers, they actually suggest using numerals.

    You would also want to spell out the numbers if the character pronounces the numbers in a very specific manner (i.e., he says "oh" instead of "zero").

    There's no mention of how to tackle addresses in dialogue, but I would use their "awkwardness" criterion as a guideline.
     
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  7. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Thanks for your input, everyone. I'm most convinced with @thirdwind (seven-thirty p.m.) for dialogue purposes, though not really sure about narrative. I think, in narrative, if it's something the narrator is telling us (FP or TP), it should follow the same rules as the dialogue, whereas if its a written somewhere (in a letter, carved in a tombstone, etc) it should be stated as such (digits). What do you think?

    I guess it's unlikely the character would say nine-nine-nine-nine-nine, unless they're sort of weird. So, I think, if its being spoken, we should write it like someone would say it, "five times nine" or "penta-nine" if he's/she's a real dork. In fact, even if the number is not as repetitive (56783), I think it should be spelled out. After all, who would speak an address flat out like that? He'd probably go like, "that's five-six-seven-eight, and three." Looks bulky but seems more appropriate for a dialogue!
     
  8. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Don't get caught with hyphens in the wrong place. Seven thirty p.m., not seven-thirty p.m.

    But you would hyphenate in this case: seven thirty-five p.m.

    Google throws up a lot on style from a range of disciplines, so I try and follow the concensus.
     
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  9. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I may be weird then, because that's exactly the way I would say it: "My zip code is nine-nine-nine-nine-nine." I would write it (in dialogue or narrative) as 99999. I would also say, "My address is one-six-six-two-eight Thorngate Avenue". Also digits when written.
     
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  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nine-oh-two-one-oh.

    The only American zip code I know. If I had to represent it in dialogue, I guess I'd write it that way? Maybe? It looks terrible, but how else to make it clear that my character is saying 'oh', not 'zero'? Maybe it's not important that my reader know that, of course, in which case I might use the digits. I'm not sure.

    But if it were in the narrative, I'd write 90210. Absolutely.
     
  11. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    That would engage the reader more, because the reader can render it how they want.

    Figures spelled out and hyphenated - style aside - are only important to show how a character would render that phrase.

    'He was a funny bugger - always said, Nine nothing two one nothing. Prick.'
     
  12. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Aren't we all?

    I guess there's truth to the purpose of the long number being spelled out, or not. If it's just another detail, perhaps its better just put as numbers. On the contrary, if it somehow contributes to the story or character, one could benefit from spelling it out.
     
  13. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    So is the hyphen used because it references minutes as opposed to the hours? If it were left out would it be considered an error, even a minor error?
     
  14. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    The hyphen is used as a convention of writing numbers in English language e.g. since 21 is one number, but is spelled as two words, they are hyphenated i.e. twenty-one. It has nothing to do with minutes or hours, but since hours only range from 1-12 it is unlikely in any instance of telling the hour.
     
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