Writing by Numbers

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….

4 thoughts on “Writing by Numbers

  1. I like to look for hidden meanings but, unless obviously stated, I do not look for it in numbers. What did I understand from your numerical explanations? That all the numbers are divided into human or divine. Imperfect and perfect. If half of them mean the same, then what is the point? (As you can tell, I am NOT a numerology fan.)

    Liked by 1 person

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