Bird Face Wendy

Things relevant to reading, writing, publishing or marketing teen fiction.

How to Tell Time in Fiction

on December 1, 2014

ClockFace  Here we are near the end of another year, and I must confess to Father Time that I sometimes become confused about how to tell T:I:M:E in my fiction. So I decided to look up the rules in the Chicago Manual of Styleagain–and post examples on this blog that I can easily reference , if not remember.

If a character must catch a train, plane, or other mode of public transportation, give the exact time in numerals. For example, Bob waited in the rain for the 8:15 a.m. bus. (Use lower case “a” and “m” with periods.)

If I had to mention the time a court convenes or adjourns, I would do the same, although I didn’t see a rule expressing that specifically.  The judge declared that court would convene again at 9:00 a.m. I’ve often heard it stated that way on TV and in movies.

Spell out numbers when stating an unscheduled time in narrative or dialogue. Writers have options for how to do so.

Wendy arrived at school at eight fifteen. (No hyphens, unless the number has a hyphen, such as eight forty-five.) We assume the time is morning because my character Wendy is fourteen years old. Otherwise, Wendy arrived at school at eight fifteen in the morning, or, in the evening.

In my 1920s historical manuscript, The Other Side of Freedom, I imagine at least some of the characters might use the more formal arrived at a quarter past eight. Eight thirty would be half past eight. If it were eight forty-five, that would be a quarter of nine.

It is correct to use o’clock with whole hours spelled out, such as nine o’clock. For example, He had a nine o’clock class (or meeting) that morning. But I think we can use our discretion in Class starts at nine o’clock or Class starts at 9:00 a.m., because in this case the time is a standard set for each day, much like the time set for a particular public transportation vehicle.

For any given instance requiring the mention of time, I will try to be consistent among similar instances.

Do you have many occasions to mention time in your fiction, and how do you handle the style? How about military time?







2 responses to “How to Tell Time in Fiction

  1. In fiction, I think I would leave off the zeroes for anything at the top of the hour (ex. 9 a.m.). It may not be proper but it feels more natural. Military time would only be for characters or settings that require it – but essential for setting tone in those situations. 🙂


  2. I agree that the zeros may be optional, depending on the circumstances. In mentioning an official time for government proceedings, perhaps keep the zeros. In casual situations, perhaps lose them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: