Ask Daphne! About Numbers

January 16th, 2009 • Kate

Friend of the blog J.O. writes:

I have a question for your blog. It is a formatting question which, sadly, has me pulling out my hair. One of my manuscripts has a lot of numbers. With some instances, such as time, dates and measurements, I know the standard for formatting. However, when I come to other instances, it seems as though there is a variety of ‘standards’. For example, to write out 288 as ‘288’ or ‘two-hundred and eighty-eight’. I know this may sound anal, but it’s begun to drive me crazy. Is there is a ‘standard’ in publishing? For example, do they use APA for numbers in fiction publishing or is it a ‘whatever works’ and ‘looks good’ sort of situation? Do you have preferences as an agent?

You know, there may be a Strunk and White-esque standard, but here’s my thoughts. In dialogue, feel free to use 288 rather than spelling it all out. If we’re talking about using a number in narrative, consider the voice you’re using. An omniscient narrator may spell out the whole number, but if your 16-year-old protagonist is also the narrator, then again, I think 288 is fine.
Honestly? Go with what looks good and feels right to you. I think little details like this are for the copy editor to correct if need be. Leave your hair alone!
And remember, for more writing advice, don’t forget to check out “January is Writing Advice Month” on Justine Larbalestier’s blog. And feel free to send me more of your pressing agenting and publishing questions either via email or on Facebook!

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2 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About Numbers”

  1. jeanoram Says:

    Thanks Daphne!
    I like the "looks good and feels right" approach. I can handle that.
    *sighs and pulls her hands from her hair in deep relief*
    You're the best, have a good weekend.

  2. divasinthedirt Says:

    …standard copy-editing rules say that numbers one through ten are spelled out; everything else is done in numbers, EXCEPT in dialogue. (logic being that you can't *say* "288.")
    ergo: my mother told me that she had one cupcake, five carrots, eight Diet Cokes, and 288 chocolate sprinkles for breakfast. why, yes, she *is* OCD, why d'you ask?
    but: mary snorted. "whatever, dude, you're the one who told me you had five shirts, two skirts, and a whopping, Imelda-Marcus-defying, three hundred and two pairs of shoes."