To make sure we had plenty of time to ask questions, we took the first bus to Mrs. Mann's house. By the time we arrived it was 11:00 a.m. Seven hours before the planet apocalypse.

We sat on the lower part of the beach, nestled in the sand, the tide occasionally kissing our feet. It was already 5 p.m. and once again I had a bloody ocean before me.

Some novels include them some don't. So, I'm a bit confused. Should I decide based on the context/available information (e.g. the reader knows is daytime/nighttime)? Or I should always include them to avoid confusion?

2 Answers 2


If it's important enough to mention the hour then it's important enough to be clear which one you mean, but using "AM" and "PM" in fiction may not be the best way. If the scene already makes it clear which one is being talked about -- on the beach you talk about the sunlight dancing off the waves, for instance -- then you don't need to say anything and "PM" might just get in the way. If you find yourself reaching for "AM" or "PM", stop and ask yourself if there is a more-descriptive way to narrate the scene. The person lounging on the beach probably isn't thinking "PM", after all; he's just noticing that it's 5:00.

One exception: if I were writing about a scene where the characters would be thinking about "AM" or "PM", rather than afternoons on the beach or late nights at a bar or the like, then I would consider using these designations. Consider, for example:

The woman gave one final thrust and the baby flew into Dr. Jacobson's arms. As the child let out its first cry ("good lungs", the midwife thought to herself), Karen reached for a pen and glanced at the clock. 11:58PM -- no, this baby would not be the first baby of 2014. Karen had once again lost the betting pool


If this were a question about usage in a technical paper or an essay, I'd suggest referring to a style manual for guidance. However, outside of formatting and punctuation rules, I don't think there are any absolute rules for fiction.

Narrative writing is meant to show people in real world believably, and people don't always use exactly the same terms for the same things. I might mention that it's "ten AM" or "ten in the morning," depending on the context of what I'm saying, or my mood at the time.

Also, is the character speaking referring to a digital clock, a train timetable, or a sundial? Is a scheduled event a rocket launch, which will have a precise time; or a dinner party, where is expected to be fashionably late?

While this sort of inconsistency is most pronounced in dialog, remember that the narrator of a book is also a character: The tone of the narration--even when the "narrator" is an omniscient narrator--sets the tone of the story. If the narrator is finicky, you might want to be utterly consistent; if not, you can treat the narrator's words like they're coming out of the mouth of an annoyingly fallible character.

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