Say, I mention the following equation in a novel/short story:

(Direct Cost / (100 - Desired Profit)) * 100

How should I format that in narration? In capital letters? Italics?

First variable to tackle: Direct Cost/direct cost or Direct Material Cost/direct material cost. What was the raw material of her body?


At last. Anna had calculated the Direct Cost/direct cost. Now she had to deal with the Desired Profit/desired profit.

2 Answers 2


Don't mention it. Seriously, don't mention it. No one wants to read a short story or a novel with equations in it. Tell us that your character calculated the result if it is really central to your story arc, but seriously do not put the actual equation into the story.

If you are writing about the equation itself, then a short story or novel is the wrong vehicle to use. Novels are not about the solution, they are about the challenge and the danger of finding the solution, the obstacles faced and overcome, the pain that drives the hero to find the solution, the hopes and fears of the people who depend on the solution, anything and everything but how the solution actually works.

  • Well, if I just mention the variables of the equations in the narration. (e.g. Direct Cost and Desired Profit). Should I use italics or capitals?
    – alex
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 5:57
  • 1
    Just report the words the character actually speaks. No special formatting and no capitals. But only have the character say them at all if it is absolutely necessary. In the context of a story, they are essentially going to function as color -- like describing what sort of car a character is driving. If you describe the car it is because it tells us something about the owner, not because the make and model are important in themselves. Similarly when characters talk technical it is to show us something about who they are, not because the tech matters in itself.
    – user16226
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 6:04
  • There are some exceptions to this, when the plot actually turns on the tech itself. Certain types of crime story and certain types of sci fi fall into this category. But this only really works for sexy tech. Economic formulas are not sexy tech, or at least, not for the vast majority of readers.
    – user16226
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 6:06
  • 1
    Well, I thought adding formulas would be funny, since the main character is calculating the selling price of her body (she's an accountant who decides to become a sex worker). There are also formulas like: ((Breast size + Buttocks size) - Waist Size) / Weight
    – alex
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 7:57

How did your teacher in second grade taught you subtraction?

Your teacher used words. It's as simple as that. You don't write any formulas in there. If you are bent on making it a little mathematically because that's what your character is about, as indicated by your comments, you can easily do that.

(Direct Cost / (100 - Desired Profit)) * 100


To get a first estimate I have to get an idea of the direct costs involved and my desired profit. There are also some fixed costs that I have to be aware of. This is going to be a bit tricky, but if I subtract my desired profit from the 100$ fixed costs I will have the basis to...

Here we see one problem with your initial approach: I have no idea what you are talking about. The formula doesn't make any sense without any explanation, but using words you can see that my description doesn't make any sense. But this is still a bit awkward and you should probably skip over some of the stuff. Let's try a different approach:

Wait... that doesn't work. Let's see... First I have to define my desired profit, let's say 200$ per night, and my fixed costs, roughly 10$ per night. Now I can find out how many customers I need by looking at the average price in the region and then I - holy crap?! So many?! This is going to be rough...

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