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….