Symbolism has been used in writing pretty much from the beginning. It adds an additional layer of depth and tweaks the subconscious with possibilities. And while a story doesn’t have to have symbols scattered throughout, writers have a variety of ways to express them.
Numbers have long held symbolic value.
That doesn’t mean every number in a story has to mean something, but sometimes deciding upon which number to use could be influenced by a subtle point the writer would like to get across. Different cultures can have different associations, so that could add some color as well.
One could even dabble in a form of numerology to add value to numbers, a form of mathematics with an ulterior motive (hmm, that sounded suspiciously like statistics). It has the earmarks of superstition or a kid’s dumb game, but you add numbers together until you condense them to a single digit. That sum, or even all the numbers in conjunction, is your symbol.
For instance, in my book Darkness upon the Land, the time was 7:18 when the electrical grid crashed where the protagonists were located. 7+1+8=16, and 1+6=7. What’s the insinuation? Look at the symbolism (in western culture) attached to numbers, and see what you come up with:
One: Divinity and unity. Not only can it represent a single something, it can also refer to a group or collection of something.
Two: Division and duality. It’s the smallest number that be divided, and yet the two can still unite as one.
Three: Completion and also divinity. Utilizing triads underscores thoroughness. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Jokes, which are flash humorous fiction, have three components (A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walked into a bar….).
Four: Representative of the material world. We divide direction into north, south, east and west when we contemplate traveling the globe.
Five: Humanity has five fingers on the hand, five toes on the foot, and five senses. A very human number, and therefore an illusion to weakness. Just think of all the ways we screw up when we get full of ourselves.
Six: One short of seven (see below), so it falls short of perfection. Ergo, humanity. Yet despite all our flaws, we are the pinnacle of creation.
Seven: Divinity and perfection. The seventh day perfects the week, when all of creation was present.
Eight: New beginning. The first day of the next week is in a sense the eighth day.
Nine: This one is a little tricky. In pagan circles it represents rebirth and reformation. There’s not much Judeo-Christian reference to it, which gives an allusion to insufficiency. Mix those two viewpoints together, you wind up with a concept of valuing a gift more than the giver. Chew on that for a while….
Other numbers can also have symbolic value, but for the sake of brevity we’ll stop here.
Oh, and the time of 7:18 … as far as the characters were concerned, their world ended (figuratively) at that time. Later in the story, one of them mentions how God is most hidden during a crisis. So those numbers about divinity and a new beginning (after everything comes crashing down around their ears, of course) was just hiding God inside a crisis.
You might never look at numbers the same way again….