7

For example the scene takes place in the future and the year is 24,356. Would it be written as:

"The year is 24356," said Bob

OR

"The year is twenty-four thousand, three hundred and fifty-six," said Bob.

What would be the correct way to express such a large number in a dialogue?

  • 2
    When have you ever seen the numbers of a year written out in words? Write the way that will be simplest and most familiar for your readers to read. – user16226 Jan 8 '17 at 21:16
  • I agree with what you are saying, but after doing some research some sites say it's better to write in words and others say it's better to use the numeral form. So even if the character is saying the year, it should be written in the number form, not word form? – Osiris93 Jan 8 '17 at 21:20
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    Search long enough on the Web and you will find people saying something idiotic with great authority. As a writer you have to have a basic confidence in your ability to write in a way that is clear to your reader. It is impossible to be clear by following rules that make no sense to you. Which form do you think is clear? Which form have you seen other writers use in published works? – user16226 Jan 8 '17 at 21:34
  • @MarkBaker I've seen both ways in, for example, two different Star Trek novels, both published by the same imprint. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Jan 8 '17 at 22:54
7

Digits tend to be read faster and are less important. Spelling out numbers takes longer to read and are emphasized. So there are two things to consider:

1) How do people think of dates? Do you think of this year as "twenty seventeen" or "two thousand seventeen"? Was Bill Clinton president in the "nineteen-nineties" or the "one thousand nine hundred nineties"? Use the intuitive phrasing.

2) How much emphasis do you need to put on the date? If they're jumping forward a few hundred years, then you can use digits, because it's close enough to be relatable:

"The date appears to be late April 2432," she said.

If they've advanced several thousand years, then spelling it out will underscore just how far ahead they are:

She looked at her screen in astonishment. "According to these readings, it's approximately the year twenty-four thousand, three hundred fifty-six."

3

Dialog is what people say. If you write

"The year is 24356," said Bob.

I read that as "The year is two four three five six," said Bob.

If you want Bob to say twenty-four thousand three hundred fifty-six, write it like that.

If you find that awkward to read and write, then maybe your characters would, too, and they wouldn't actually say the year like that. Think of how people say years in real life. Do they always say the full thousands? No. If you asked me, when I was born, I would say something like eighty-nine, not nineteen hundred eighty-nine. That kind of relative date is completely sufficient, because you know what century we are in and that I cannot possibly be born in 1889. Or if I were.

Why would the characters in your book behave differently? Their long awkward dates would make it extremely likely that they would use relative dates. Bob, in your example, would say something like "The year is fifty-six."


When it comes to writing numbers, there is a difference between fiction and non-fiction. The purpose of non-fiction is to convey information. In non-fiction, numbers are written in whichever way they are most easily understood. Therefore, long numbers are written as numerals and structured with dots (25.356).

The purpose of fiction is to depict a world and evoke emotions. In fiction, numbers are written in the way that they appear in the world. A number that a character says is written as a word, because we cannot speak numerals. A number that a character sees written is written as the character sees it:

     John followed the hallway until he came to room number four. Or rather, where he thought room number four should be. Because there was a big yellow 5 painted on the fourth door.
     "Five," John mused. "Now where is four?"
     He turned around. And there he saw it. 4. Number four was on the other side of the hallway.


And a note.

I find it extremely unlikely that people in twenty-five thousand years will still count time following conventions of a long dead culture. Other things will be more relevant to them than the birth of a religious figure they no longer believe in. Just as there have been countless calendars in human history, people in the far future will have their own reckoning of time. In Thailand, the current year is 2560.

  • Great example using both forms - one is "spoken" and the other "visual". Also very good point about calendars being civilization/event dependent. – Joe Jan 10 '17 at 20:43
1

i feel that in a dialogue nobody will say "The year is 24356," maybe they will say "it's 56", "we are in 56"

also such a large number for readers that are not used to it, makes almost no sense, it is just a random number, that's why most writers use something like "year 1405, new galatic era"

But if you want to emphasise the distance from the present, use "24th millenium", or "24th millenium, 400th century", "24.4 millenium", and then later the more precise "24356" or better for accentuating the date, "August 9, 24356"

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