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  1. gorweave
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    gorweave New Member

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    Spelled-Out Numbers in Fictional Dialogue

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by gorweave, Mar 19, 2014.

    Would you support these? Please, again, no recasts. I want to ensure that I have acquired a solid foundation with regard to spelled-out numbers used as compound modifiers. Fingers crossed! I hope that you support every example. Thank you! [​IMG] :)
    1. The service manager reported a one hundred dollar cash shortage on register one and a two hundred fifty-five dollar cash shortage on register three.

    2. a one hundred thirty-five to one hundred sixty thousand dollar a year business empire

    3. a forty-five to fifty billion dollar a year increase in national spending

    4. a fifty-five to sixty-five percent a year decrease in slip-and-fall accidents

    5. a ten percent a year increase in taxes

    6. a two hundred thousand dollar a year position with IBM

    (Only the ordinals between twenty-one and ninety-nine are hyphenated; forget about the compound modifiers because we're dealing strictly with numbers, correct?)
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    are all of those examples really meant to be dialog?... if so, then yes, the numbers have to be spelled out, because we don't speak in numerals, only in words...

    and yes, the hyphenation is correct...
     
  3. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    What if it was something like, 401K or 1040 tax form?
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    "Four oh one K"

    "Ten forty tax form"

    Although far less likely, the character could have called it a "Four hundred and one K" or "Four zero one K", or a "Form one oh four oh." In fact, those odd ways of expressing common terms would say something about the speaker. For instance, what would you guess about someone who asked what a "four zed one K is?"
     
  5. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    The rule I tend to go by is spelling out any number from zero to twelve and write all the rest as numbers. It makes linguistic sense because those are the thirteen "unique" number words in English, and are almost always shorter than the others. It feels to be like it's in the ballpark of how large numbers it's reasonable to spell out. Writing "eleven horses" is easy on the eye and simple to understand, whereas "eight thousand five hundred and seventy-four horses" is borderline ridiculous in both in terms of waste of paper and ink and because our brains doesn't need to process numbers that way; we understand 8574 just fine.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Dialogue is different. In dialogue, ALL numbers should be rendered as words.
     
  7. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    Why would you even need to write that? Who's being so specific? I'm sure thousands of horses would suffice in that situation and if not, regardless of your personal style, seeing 8574 in dialogue or prose would be more jarring than reading that long number.
     
  8. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Why? Is there some omniscient writing god hanging around that I wasn't aware of? Why aren't we also saying there should be any punctuation in dialogue, for that matter, if the goal is for it to seem more like speech? What about ridiculously huge numbers, like the number of sand grains on a beach? And what counts as dialogue, anyway?
     
  9. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    1p=1000 is for math. One picture paints a thousand words is for literature. Speech is punctuated by pauses and inflections which are represented by punctuation.
     
  10. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    A logical exeption are terms like "a hundred", "one hundred", "hundreds" and equivalents for 1000, 10000 and so on. Those are ballpark estemate numbers akin to "several" and "a dozen". What I'm talking about is the random numbers above twelve. "Billions of stars" doesn't count because it's not a specific number. The same goes for numbers that are deliberately chosen because they are round, such as books with titles like "A Thousand Ways to Survive a Zombie Uprising" (although you're free to use numbers instead if you prefer), but if you were to measure the height of a mountain and it happened to be exactly 3000 metres tall I would write it as numbers by analogy of 2999 and 3001. When using both numbers twelve or below and ones above that in the same context, I'd write them as numbers. When explaining math problems or equations or whatnot I'd also use numbers, as it's the most practical. I'm not at all claiming this is the only or best way, but my suggestion and the way I've done it since I was taught it in school.
     
  11. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    If you're measuring a mountain's height exactly, I'd say you're writing non fiction, in which case, numerals are probably fine. But there is generally no need to be that specific in fiction, and if you do, it would seem a significant enough description to warrant a 'waste of paper and ink' anyway. Of course you are allowed to write whichever way you please, but numerals in dialogue are not typically acceptable and will be edited if you get your manuscript published.
     
  12. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Be your own editor, then. :p As for the mountain thing: it was just an example, and I see no reason why a character who is a surveyor, hiker, mountaineer or explorer or something couldn't in the right context tell another character they measured the mountain at 3000 metres exactly.
     
  13. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    Just some advice from someone who has experience :p
     
  14. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    I'm calling bullshit right now. If you can find a published work where someone refers to their government forms in way that totally breaks the flow and makes the reader stop and sound everything out I'll believe it.

    Most of my research shows, 1-10 write it out, and it's open season on everything else.
     
  15. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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  16. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    This is my practice. I spell out years in dialogue, as well: "Remember how we were in eighty-four, Diane?"
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    punctuation is not said aloud, so your comparison doesn't make any sense... when people speak, they speak in words, not numerals... and that's why numbers have to be spelled out in dialog...

    no matter how large the number, you are going to be using words to say it, not symbols [which is what numerals are], so if the number is too unwieldy to use in a character's dialog, you should change the wording of the dialog, not change the words to numerals, as that makes no sense in re reading what a person is saying...

    i can guarantee that if you submit a ms with numerals in the dialog, any decent editor is going to change it for you...
     
  18. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Oh, man. My two main characters are a mathematician and an accountant. I have a lot of numbers in their early dialogue.
     
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  19. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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  20. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Exactly, so why include it in dialogue?
     
  21. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Is there an agreed upon standard for what constitutes a decent editor now all of a sudden?
     
  22. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    From the beginning of that article: "We’ve got rules and standards for everything we include in our novels—how to start those novels, how to increase tension, how to introduce characters, how to format, what to include in dialogue, how to punctuate dialogue, what to exclude from the first chapter."

    I loathe that so many writers are concerned about the rules rather than the effect. It doesn't matter what tools you use as long as the result is the best it can be. If that's numerals, odd punctuation, comedy or flashbacks or wthaever, then fine. We should be able to think for ourselves enough understand this and what it means. Rules aren't there to be mindlessly obliged to, nor to be broken, but to guide. And there IS such a thing as a stupid rule, and some rules even contradict eachother, but most fall into the category of those that are sometimes good and sometimes not.
     
  23. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    If you read a bit further, you'll find that the author agrees with you:

    And we have rules for numbers. Or maybe we should call all these rules conventions....

    Yet we’re talking fiction here, not a treatise or dissertation or scientific finding. You have choices. And style choices sometimes get to stomp all over the rules. If you want to flout the rules, do so for a reason and do so consistently every time that same reason is applicable in the manuscript.
     
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  24. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    To convey the intended meaning to the reader. Compare:

    Without punctuation:

    Why don’t you do that


    With punctuation:

    Why don’t you do that?

    Why don’t you? Do that!

    Why? Don’t you do that!
     
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  25. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    Yeah, and, like punctuation, having more possibilities when it comes to how to write numbers is only a good thing, so you can avoid confusion and waste of time processing the information alike.
     

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