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Archived Author Help > Writing Dilemma - measurements

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message 1: by Ellison (last edited Nov 29, 2015 04:14PM) (new)

Ellison Blackburn (ellisonblackburn) | 130 comments Here's my dilemma:

My story contains quite a few mentions of dimensions. For example, an object is this wide and tall, a person is this tall, a car drives this far ... But I'm American so everything is described in feet, inches and miles and the majority of my readership (25-30+ years old) is American too.

My story, however, is placed in a country that uses the metric system.

So, if you were writing a story based on the above facts would you describe someone as "six feet tall" or "one point seventy-nine meters tall" or even include both, "six feet or one point seventy-nine meters tall"?


message 2: by Martin (new)

Martin Wilsey | 447 comments Is it important to be precise for your plot? If not just say "Not quite two meters tall, so the doorways were not a problem."


message 3: by Ellison (new)

Ellison Blackburn (ellisonblackburn) | 130 comments Yeah there will be quite a few descriptions that will require precision and while I could get away with a vague measurement once I couldn't do that a bunch of times.


message 4: by Sam (new)

Sam Friedman (sam_ramirez) | 83 comments I would use the metric system of the country you're writing for. If you need, put a one-page guide on the front noting the exchange (2.56 centimeters per inch, for example). It will make the story more authentic.
Six feet tall is fine. That's a universal measurement. It's meters vs. yards you lose people.


message 5: by Martin (new)

Martin Wilsey | 447 comments People in metric counties measure their height in centimeters, speed in KPH, weight in Kilos, small stuff in millimeters. Liquid for drinking in Liters.


message 6: by Adelaide (last edited Nov 29, 2015 05:06PM) (new)

Adelaide Hipwell (adelaidehipwell) We're on a metric system in Australia, but it's still exceptionally common for (human) heights to be given in feet and inches. I find millenials think and describe in metric, but my age and older (I'm in my thirties) seem to use a blend of old and new - both for some things, and one in particular for other things, and probably quite idiosyncratically. For example, baby weights are generally given in BOTH pounds and kilos. Or the height of a building might be talked about in either feet OR metres. Milk is now always metric, it would be very rare to hear otherwise. Whereas alcoholic beverages are a complete hodgepodge of measures (eg. pint vs millilitres vs the type of glass or bottle).

With all this mixing of old and new measures, my advice would be to stick to whichever seems a natural fit for the character - eg. if Prof Robert Langdon ever visits Australia in a novel, I would still expect him to think and talk about feet and inches, except you might want him to convert into metric if he's conversing with an Australian. I would write what you think sounds natural and then get someone from the relevant country to read it carefully with just this issue in mind. For example, in some circumstances, I would describe a 170cm length object as 1.7 metres and in others I might say 1 metre 70. It's very context dependent.

Sorry about my ramble! I hope it helps!


message 7: by Morris (new)

Morris Graham (morris_g) If it is written from a British perspective, spelling words like traveller, centre, or colour, I say, make it metric. But if the narrative is American, make it standard.

But, this is a judgment call.


message 8: by L.S. (new)

L.S. May | 55 comments Where I'm from we use metric, however we do use feet and inches for heights, and I often find 'a few inches away' etc. creeping into my own writing, both from the fact that I read mostly American written things and that inch is a useful size that stops me from being too specific and saying ten centimetres.


message 9: by Ellison (last edited Nov 29, 2015 07:00PM) (new)

Ellison Blackburn (ellisonblackburn) | 130 comments Thanks, all of you! Your feedback has really helped. People heights in feet and inches; this seems fine from various perspectives. Then objects sizes in centimeters/meters and amounts in pints and liters ... with these being spelled as centimetres, metres, litres, for added authenticity.


message 10: by Frederick (new)

Frederick Finch | 99 comments Well, I'm using the one from my character perspective. If one is from France, then it is meter. If he's from USA then it will be feet.


message 11: by Anthony Deeney (new)

Anthony Deeney | 437 comments I'm from the UK. We drink milk in litres and beer in pints. We measure height in feet (mostly) and rooms in metres. Roads and roads speed in miles and miles per hour. Weight (or more correctly mass) of potato in kg and people in stones and pounds (mostly).

Schools teach all metric, but the pint of beer and the mile will take some shifting. The foot, inch and pouund not so much.


message 12: by W. (new)

W. Boutwell | 157 comments It depends entirely on two things: where are you publishing and the POV as you are writing. My current sci-fi has two American countries, one uses metric and the other English. The MC uses metric throughout, the male MC uses English unless he is talking to her and then he translates it for her. This is how most people work. You don't convert measurements but rather convert systems. One would never say "give them 2.5cm and they'll take 1.6 km" but you might say give them a cm and they'll try to take a km."
If I was publishing for EU I would probably have flipped the usage of the two characters.


message 13: by Frederick (new)

Frederick Finch | 99 comments Ahem... as most Indie authors publish mainly through 2-3 major book sales services, I believe there is no point having several versions of the novel, each for specific market. That would rather have sense if published traditional way, when translated and edited for that specific country.
I find the plot and the characters more important and there is no harm if some of them uses the wrong measure unit from time to time. It makes them more believable.
However, if measurement system is of crucial importance for the understandig of the plot, then I would sugest using the one originating the writer's country. I like to learn new stuff, and books should be educational. :)


message 14: by Jody (new)

Jody Rawley (southerncrux) | 8 comments The consensus, to my surprise appears to be to mix the standards, which is exactly what I suggest, narrator in your reader's native system, characters in theirs:
Five hundred feet down Dr. Andrews said, "Even if we can get him up that canyon wall it's eighty kilometers to the station."

- and add clues for readers too lazy to look up conversion figures: "Sí Señor, please come inside for the air conditioning. It must be twenty-eight degrees out there, and sun barely up."


message 15: by Morris (last edited Nov 30, 2015 12:19PM) (new)

Morris Graham (morris_g) I was surprised when Anthony said in UK they mix it up, but I shouldn't have been. It is commonly know that they drink beer by the pint over there.

However, I would strictly stick to metrics in futuristic science-fiction. It is the thought that metrics will be the universal int he future. Time will tell if that is correct, but futuristic science-fiction is always that: future and not today.

Anthony, how much is stone weight? I've read that in old, English boxing stories.


message 16: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 2491 comments Morris wrote: " It is the thought that metrics will all be done away with by then, with a universal standard the metric system..."

It sure is going towards that direction. The USA is one of the very few countries that hasn't changed to metrics yet. According to the net there are only three left: USA, Liberia, and Myanmar.


message 17: by Ken (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) As an aside, I've always wondered if conversion to metrics in the US would affect American football. Citing "meterage" gained on a play seems lose the spirit, if not the flavor, of the struggle.


message 18: by Morris (new)

Morris Graham (morris_g) America is quite the stubborn hold-out. If America had been a second-rate power, we would already be metric.


message 19: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments On the OP, I'd say do it all in metric (cm for height, kg for weight).


message 20: by Ken (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) Morris wrote: "America is quite the stubborn hold-out. If America had been a second-rate power, we would already be metric."

It was seriously attempted, I think back in the '70s, but never took hold.


message 21: by Anthony Deeney (last edited Nov 30, 2015 01:01PM) (new)

Anthony Deeney | 437 comments Morris wrote: "America is quite the stubborn hold-out. If America had been a second-rate power, we would already be metric...
Anthony, how much is stone weight? I've read that in old, English boxing stories."


16OUNCES= 1 POUND
14 POUNDS= 1 STONE

SO;

1 OUNCE= 28.4 g
1 POUND= 0.454 Kg
1 Stone= 6.34 kg

I measure my mass in kg, my wife measures hers in stones, pounds and ounces! Yes, she measures to the ounce!

In the (not too near) future, I agree, it will likely all be metric.


message 22: by Micah (last edited Nov 30, 2015 01:04PM) (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments G.G. wrote: "The USA is one of the very few countries that hasn't changed to metrics yet."

Well...That's not exactly true. Sure, we're not metric for a lot of things, but we have never been completely non-metric.

Medicines have pretty much always been measured in grams in the USA.

And quick, how many fluid ounces is in that 2 liter bottle of Coke you bought at the grocery today?

Electricity use is measured in kilowatt hours.

Standard bottles of wine and liquor are sold in ml. And though a 750ml bottle is known as a "fifth" (as in 1/5th of a gallon), a true fifth is 757ml.

And as was pointed out above, the UK is usually listed as a metric country but they also use a mix of metric and non-metric systems.

...Although--jut to make things even more complicated--a UK pint is actually about 20% larger than a US pint because their Imperial system is different from our US customary measuring system.


message 23: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments Morris wrote: "However, I would strictly stick to metrics in futuristic science-fiction."

I agree. When I finish a rough draft one of the first things I do is find/replace accidental US customary measurements with metric. If you don't do that kind of thing your Mars probe goes off course and ends up slamming into the side of a canyon on the wrong side of the red planet.


message 24: by Anthony Deeney (last edited Nov 30, 2015 01:26PM) (new)

Anthony Deeney | 437 comments Micah wrote: "...Although--jut to make things even more complicated--a UK pint is actually about 20% larger than a US pint because their Imperial system is different from our US customary measuring system"

20% Lol. The imperial system kept changing with every new king! until they made the standard yard. The American yard was the tiniest bit different, but it didn't come to light until aeroplane parts from both sides of the atlantic didn't fit together!


message 25: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 2491 comments Micah wrote: "Well...That's not exactly true. Sure, we're not metric for a lot of things, but we have never been comple..."

I'm afraid that is only because they don't want to have to make entirely new containers to export their products. This goes also for products that are imported such as wines. It's a matter of convenience, I'd say.


Micah wrote: "Medicines have pretty much always been measured in grams in the USA..."

True. while in the hospital, some nurses would weigh me in pounds others in kilograms. Honestly, I could not understand why.

Micah wrote: "Electricity use is measured in kilowatt hours..."

Honestly, is there another way to measure it?

Micah wrote: "...Although--jut to make things even more complicated--a UK pint is actually about 20% larger than a US pint because their Imperial system is different from our US customary measuring system..."

That has always bugged me. I remember back when I lived in Canada. While the gasoline cost less in the US, people seemed to always forget that the US gallon was also quite smaller. I believe that is one reason what makes the metric system more accurate. A kilo is a kilo no matter where you are or how you look at it.

As for the original question, I agree with the person who said to have someone from the country your story takes place in to proofread it so it's accurate. If you can't do that, you might want to stick with the measures you are familiar with.


message 26: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) Ken wrote: "As an aside, I've always wondered if conversion to metrics in the US would affect American football. Citing "meterage" gained on a play seems lose the spirit, if not the flavor, of the struggle."

It would be 'metes' and pronounced 'meats' which of course would lend itself well to tailgate barbeques. ;p

After reading all the replies, I stand by my original suggestion to measure in the futuristic measurement of standard universal waffles with the unuversal standard being Eggo.


message 27: by Ellison (last edited Nov 30, 2015 08:16PM) (new)

Ellison Blackburn (ellisonblackburn) | 130 comments And I still say height in Pink Floyd vinyls would work just as well with an LP being the standard and proximity measured in 45s. Vinyls are making a comeback, so could be futurist ... although you're probably right about waffles in having an endless future.


message 28: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 2491 comments I'm not sure about waffle measurement. I don't think they stay in my plate long enough for me to actually know their size. :P


message 29: by Joe (new)

Joe Jackson (shoelessauthor) Jody wrote: "The consensus, to my surprise appears to be to mix the standards, which is exactly what I suggest, narrator in your reader's native system, characters in theirs:
Five hundred feet down Dr. Andrews said, "Even if we can get him up that canyon wall it's eighty kilometers to the station.""


That's what I'd go with.


message 30: by Ellison (new)

Ellison Blackburn (ellisonblackburn) | 130 comments That's what I've decided to do, i.e., different voices for the narrator vs. the characters. Thank you for helping me sort this out.


message 31: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1042 comments G.G. wrote: "I'm afraid that is only because they don't want to have to make entirely new containers to export their products. This goes also for products that are imported such as wines. It's a matter of convenience, I'd say..."

Which is exactly how things slowly change over time until the US is almost all metric. The mistake we made when trying to legislate a change is that there was no commercial/daily useage imperative to change. I always said that you either let it change gradually on its own, or you just mandate that on this date everything is metric. Cold turkey. Some people will freak for a while but give them a few years and it will all be OK.

Like now, when people don't even think about 2L bottles of soda being metric. They are what they are.


message 32: by Ken (last edited Dec 01, 2015 10:05AM) (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) Micah wrote: "G.G. wrote: "I'm afraid that is only because they don't want to have to make entirely new containers to export their products. This goes also for products that are imported such as wines. It's a ma..."

I hated when car-engine measurements went metric. If they had done that a couple of decades earlier, the Beachboys would've never sung, "She's real fine, my 409."


message 33: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) Ken wrote: "I hated when car-engine measurements went metric. If they had done that a couple of decades earlier, the Beachboys would've never sung, "She's real fine, my 409.""

You mean they weren't extolling the virtues of multi-purpose household cleaner? ;p


message 34: by Ken (last edited Dec 01, 2015 11:04AM) (new)

Ken Doggett (kendoggett) I think most teenage boys at the time got really excited over only two things, cars and girls. Note that I listed cars first. Rock 'n' Roll was a moderately distant third. Multi-purpose household cleaner got noticed only when they were cleaning the naugahyde upholstery.


message 35: by W. (last edited Dec 01, 2015 11:41AM) (new)

W. Boutwell | 157 comments I am all for chaos, if you must know. Keep as many systems as lend some texture to life. I freely operate in English and Metric and prefer my babies in Kg and my hamburgers in oz. Please!


message 36: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) W. wrote: "...prefer my babies in Kg and my hamburgers in oz. Please!"

And for the love of all that is holy DO NOT mix these up! O_o


message 37: by Anthony Deeney (new)

Anthony Deeney | 437 comments W. wrote: "I am all for chaos, if you must know. Keep as many systems as lend some texture to life. I freely operate in English and Metric and prefer my babies in Kg and my hamburgers in oz. Please!"

I do love a pint of beer, but I was in a local brewery where the served a "stein" of beer. A German measure, I think originally 2 pints, but metricised to 1 litre!

I might be persuaded to give up the 'pint' for a 'stein.'

:)


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