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Metric or Imperial ... a question of consistency?

In my current novel, when describing distances, I find myself sometime using 'yards' and 'inches' but sometimes going metric. The novel is first person narration with a contemporary UK setting. I am tidy-minded and feel maybe I should go for one or the other. The character is a 30 year old from London born in the UK. I think in both metric and Imperial, but I am older than her, any thoughts?

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  • What is the timeframe? And what kinds of measurements are we talking about?

    Given that the uK is all over the shop in this regard, there's nothing wrong with mixing it up a bit, so long as you are consistent in how you handle each type of measurement.

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    • Hi Rick, the novel is set in the present. My character, a 30-year-old woman born in England, is the first-person narrator. The measurements are for distances, used in contexts such as 'I ran a couple of metres to get to...', or 'it was inches from my face...' I think in both measurement systems because that was how I was brought up but does a 30-year-old think only in Metric?

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      • Not being a 30-year-old, i can't answer that for certain. As long as you are consistent for each category, you should be ok. Just make sure you explain why you choose each. Then, when your manuscript is in front of an editor, you can explain the logic. Or go with their suggestion and adjust all to a single pattern.

        If you're using Word, you could put character styles on them - with no formatting - so you can change that to quickly highlight and find them throughout the entire document. Or even do a metric and imperial style for each situation, one of which you set to hidden, and that way you can quickly toggle them to test the mix.

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        • Thanks Rick for the suggestions. I think from the posts here as a whole, I'll go with the following mix: miles / metres / feet / inches / centimtres / millimetres / centigrade / kilogrammes and avoid kilometres and yards. I think that will be right for this book. Everyone's responses have been really useful and cleared up a matter that has been niggling!

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        • In the UK people do use a random mix of metric and imperial in day to day conversation. Even my teenagers still talk in miles because that is how things are labelled on signposts etc. (weirdly they run in km but cycle in miles). I think they would always use metres rather than yards, don't think I've ever heard them speak in yards, but they can still talk about feet and inches, in fact I think they still default to imperial for height - I remember my son being excited when he was finally 5 feet tall and is now quite chuffed to be nearly 6 feet. They always have to google convert if someone wants their height in cm! Having said that they weigh themselves in kg! very strange country we live in, but what I'm saying is that I think you have it right. Real people do not strictly stick to one system so why should your character?

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          • Thanks Kate for insights. I haven't even thought to ask my 18 year old son, will do so now!

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            • Hi Paul I have just read Kates post and I think in a similar way. Miles for large distances, meters for shorter distances, feet and inches for height and body measurement, and centimetres for other small measurements. I always use metric for weight so kilograms and grams. I am in my late 30's. Hope it helps.

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              • Hi Alison, indeed 'yards' do seem to be losing ground to metres. I asked last night my 18-year-old-son and his reaction was 'our generation don't do Imperial' but then when I asked him how tall he was it was feet and inches and he was for miles not kilometres. He did however favour metres over yards. He also didn't do fahrenheit. He wasn't sure about units for weight but that's maybe because he doesn't need to think about it! Your response is really useful, thank you.

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              • I was born outside UK and started reading novels in English in my teens. I remember coming across miles and inches, etc. in my readings and looking those up in the dictionary to see what was the metric equivalent (we didn't have internet then). I think those words gave the stories a feeling of another culture, another way of life that was very apealing to me, rather exoctic.

                Today after having lived most of my life in the UK, I use both metric and imperial, and sometimes I get odd looks when I'm outside UK and say things like "That's not far, just about 10 miles." People's faces glaze over, even if they've all learned in school about other mesurements and numeric systems, they are not used to do the equivalence in their heads.

                I'd say, stick to the way you are doing it, because that's what life is like in UK now. It's more realistic. International readers might not understand the exact equivalent of imperial measurements, but they'll know they are measurements, and if they are curious enough, they'll google it up. You could even create a situation where one of your characters misunderstands some vital information because of a mix up in measurements, highlighting reality.

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                • Thanks for this, very interesting.

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                • An assessor told me to stick to metric where possible and it doesn't seem totally wrong.  I think people are always 6 feet in this country, as others have said here but distances are migrating to metric

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                  • Thanks Jaye

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