Sunday, March 05, 2006


the copyedited Pale Immortal arrived Friday and I've spent the day working on it. The copyeditor did an excellent job. I actually think I've had her before. the ms itself isn't as tight at this stage as I'd like to see it. That's mainly because the freelance editor put us in such a time crunch that there wasn't adequate time for me to go over the ms and tighten it the way I normally do. So I'm taking extra time at this stage hoping i can catch most things. I've found some scenes i'd love to go in and really rewrite, but it's too late now. that's a bit frustrating.

but anyway--

It seems that every copyeditor has a pet peeve or something that seems kind of strange that pops up throughout the edit. this one is her handling of numbers. If something like English 101 appears in dialogue, she's changed it to this:

English one-oh-one.

is that right?

i've never seen anything like that. anybody else know? Right? Wrong?

it looks very strange to me.


Mark Pettus said...

No. It isn't right.

Numbers are, as I'm sure you're aware, a tricky part of writing. I use two different approaches to numbers - one when I'm editing the newspaper, another when I'm writing fiction. In my fiction, almost all numbers are spelled out, three-thirty p.m., seventy-five degrees, one hundred and one dalmations.

In the paper, anything over 100 is written using digits, anything less is spelled out - ninety-nine dalmations plus two equals 101 dalmations - so long as the number is a tangible quantity. Time is written as 3:30, temperature gets a similar treatment.

Your copy-editor is making a simple mistake here, though, and in the process is trampling on both the Chicago and AP manuals of style.

English 101 isn't really a number, per se., it is a title, and as such must be written as origninally published. If it is English 101 in the course catalog (and we both know it is)then it must be written as English 101. e.e. cummings must never be capitalized for a similar reason.

One other problem with your copy-editor's efforts. You say this is dialogue, spoken word, and "English 101" is not the same as "English one-oh-one." She has altered the beat of your dialogue with her spelling out. I read the first as English wonOwon, and the second as English one --- OH --- one, with a pause between each word. Similar to the way Pete's cousin Wash, in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? tried to hide the truth from his son when explained the disappearance of his wife by saying, "Mrs. Hogwallp up and r-u-n-n-o-f-t." Dialogue must be treated different than narration because your reader's minds will spell it out in dialogue.

Kelly Parra said...

I've seen numbers suuch as: 9-1-1 in books with the slashes. "One-oh-one" does look kinda funny to my reader's eye. But I see there are some freelance editors around here that would know better. =D

John R. said...

Mark's got it. Some editors want numbers done in text form rather than digits - it varies (and back in my journo days, we'd do anything up to about 4 or 5 as words, anything higher in digits), but that's a proper title.

Christa M. Miller said...

I've seen that before. I think the dialogue-only text numbers are because people can't "say" numbers. I tend to go that way with words like "twenty." But "one-oh-one" just looks silly (apart from style manuals, of course).

Anonymous said...

That's nuts. I'm a traditionalist. Ten and under are spelled out. Anything larger is given numerically. Do we really want to see this in dialog?

Jenny said, "for a good time call eight six seven five three oh nine."

Anonymous said...

It just occurred to me...does this extend to letters also? Same issue.

Sting said, "sending out an ess-oh-ess."

anne frasier said...

mark, thanks for the very helpful post. and thanks to john, kelly, christa, and jason for backing it up.
jason -- LOL. i'm thinking we could really have some fun with this.

now my confidence in the copyeditor has waned. luckily she seems to focus primarily on continuity.

Jer said...

As you know, I edit magazines, newsletters and journals (online and hardcopy). I'm with Jason who said ten and under are spelled out, and anything over ten is displayed numerically. For example, I'm in my 50s, but won't be in two years.

one-oh-one looks just plain silly. (With apologies to your copyeditor.)

We use the American Psychological Association (APA) style book, and back it up with Chicago and AP.

anne frasier said...

thanks, jer.

i have another one!

i say:

she had a blood-alcohol level of .05.

CE says: point-oh-five.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

STET. English 101.

Jeff said...

English 101.
As far as the blood alcohol level, all lab chemistries are written in numerical form.
Example: Sodium level is, Na+ 136, not one- hundred and thirty- six.
Potassium is K+ 3.5, not three-point-five.
This is the proper way for them to be written, both on the lab result form and when dictated as part of the patient's medical record.

emeraldcite said...

Mark hit it on the head.

one-oh-one to me as a reader seems odd. I don't like the look of it and I don't like the sound of it in my head.

damn voices.

anyway, from all the books I've read, I've come across different ways that numbers are represented. I don't like this one. But Mark's way sounds right.

I second Rob's stet English 101.

anne frasier said...

101 it is!

Jeff, thanks for the info!!

Shesawriter said...

Same with crit partners. Everybody has a pet peeve. Some hate contractions. Others have that ONE WORD that drives them bonker. However, it's the ones that try and rewrite my paragraphs and stifle my voice, that give me the hives.


bekbek said...

It's interesting that you mention consistency. If you had had a character spell it out in dialogue, i.e. "Jane carefully repeated the message aloud while jotting it down, 'okay, you'll be in room one oh one,' her pen making sharp scratching noises against the yellow paper," and then your copy editor checked for consistency through the text... she'd still be dead wrong, but she'd be dead wrong in a predictably systematic way --namely, that the bitch trusts find-replace more than actual proofreading.

Style guides are for newspapers and technical writers. I've been learning about them as a result. But they're not for novels. Period.