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I'm stuck trying to figure out if I should put numbers or words. Which one looks better?

  1. After it took me 4 hours and 24 minutes
  2. After it took me four hours and twenty-four minutes
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  • Welcome to Writing.SE! Your title and your tags didn't seem to bear any relation to what you were actually asking, so I've taken the liberty of editing them for you. If you feel any of the information I've omitted was important to your question, you're welcome to edit it back in.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Jan 4, 2022 at 23:13
  • The (former) fan fic tag on the question differentiated it from Spell out numbers before times, days, months? which exactly matches this question except that it's about technical writing. I added a link to address creative writing as well to my answer there, so would it be better to make the other question more generic and close this one as a duplicate? (The fan fic tag and original title also makes me question how you (OP) plan to get past far bigger obstacles to publishing, such as copyright, if you are indeed writing fan fic.)
    – Laurel
    Commented Jan 5, 2022 at 3:54

2 Answers 2

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In creative writing it depends on the tone of your writing, the genre and the audience.


Tone.

A more elevated tone usually conforms to spelling out numbers.

It was the eleventh hour of the day...

vs slightly less elevated

It was 11 o'clock

vs even less elevated

It was 11:00

Consider also that choosing numbers whose words are of adequate length can add to the tone of the writing. You can also play with the typing and spelling. The same is not true for digits.

Some examples:

It took me sixteen hours and twenty-four minutes.

Shows how lengthy the process was

It took me more than one hundred steps.

same as above

I did it in two steps.

Shows instead that the process was quick.

Each of your has FOUR pieces of bread.

You can stress the importance of the number

Take exactly O-N-E of each.

Same as above


Genre.

The appearance of a digit automatically gives a text a more technical look.

Feel free to go with digits in tech-savvy genres (science fiction, military fiction, etc...) and rather avoid them elsewhere.

Consider the sentence

'I met with Darcy at 21:00'.

This is fine if you are writing military fiction, or in a steampunk novel about trains, but it would sound out of place if you were writing a fan-fiction of "Pride and Prejudice".


Audience.

A technically minded audience is more open to process numbers.

In addition, young adults fiction is often more open to plain digits, as I imagine that it adds to the simplicity of the sentence.

The enemy was 100,000 strong.

Whereas, for a more adult audience

The enemy was one hundred thousand strong.

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    Great style examples.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Jan 5, 2022 at 13:38
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I always write them out in dialogue. In non-dialogue prose, I write them out if they are short and understandable, but use digits if that would be more understandable to the reader.

Mary said, "I think it was sixteen hundred forty two."

John added 1642 to the sum.

Especially in screenplays, I believe the numbers are written out in dialogue, and in prose all that matters is understandability and fewer typed characters is more important.

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