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The Case of the Capital in Fantasy

When going through the final edit of a galley, the tension mounts. This is the last opportunity to make changes, fix rogue quotation marks, commas and capitals. It is during the ‘line’ edit that most arguments occur about capitals. At least that is what I am finding.

For fantasy writers, the names of races, countries, religions etc are fairly simple. They get capitals when proper nouns, and also when adjectives. Less obvious is the use of capitals for nicknames, common titles, like ‘outlaw’, ‘thief’, ‘captain’. At times they will be part of a title like Captain Jack, and that’s simple. It is when they are used to identify a person spoken to, they are often given capitals when really they don’t deserve them.

Anyhow, I digress. There are rules to help sort out the use of capitals and since they are now one of my pet peeves, I thought I would address their usage here. Comments are welcome!

Basic Rules For Using Capitals

1. Start each sentence with a capital letter. Can’t go wrong with that one.

2. Most lines of poetry start with their own capital letter. Not all, but in most cases. Not quite so simple, but not too difficult to follow.

3. When referring to titles of films, plays, books, works of art, or events the most important words each get a capital letter. Game of Thrones, Chronicles of Caleath, The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean.

4. Proper nouns always get capitals. George, Tolkien, Marshall, Mother, Dad. With Mum and Dad, if you refer to them as my mum, my father, they don’t get the capitals. Only when used as their name. This is where it starts to get confusing. ‘His mother told him to tell Father, it was dinner time’. But it would be ‘His mother told him to tell his father it was dinner time’.

Of course, if it was Father Ted, it would always have a capital, a religious title for a priest is Father with a capital. See how it becomes confusing?

5. Place names, cities, streets, countries, tourist destinations, all get capitals. George St, Sydney, Australia, The Opera House, The Harbour Bridge. Easy?

6. If an adjective is formed by the use of a proper noun then it claims a capital. Australian, French, American, or from the Chronicles I use, Ferran, Vergöttern, Karadorian etc. Pretty straight forward for capitals. Gets more complex when using possessive tense.

7. Ok, don’t forget yourself. The pronoun ‘I’ always gets a capital. Hey, because you’re worth it.

8. When using titles or abbreviations of titles, always give them a capital when they come before a name. Master Phillip, Mister Jones, Mr and Mrs Middleton, Miss Marple, Captain Tennant. When they are alone, they aren’t treated with the same respect.

9. If you break down words into acronyms they get capitals. RSVP, SWAK.

10. Days of the week, months of the year, and days we celebrate get capitals. Only when they are referred to as a proper noun. (second Wedding Anniversary, but on her anniversary he gave her…)

11. Trademarks or brand names get capitals. Mattel, Marvel.

So that’s not too bad. Easy enough to follow?

When do we decide we will NOT use capitals?

1. Don’t be tempted to use a capital after a semicolon. It’s not the place. UNLESS it’s a proper noun. A list of names, of course, would rate capitals.

2. The fantasy author often has a chance to refer to kings and queens, dukes, archimage, captains etc. So, you have, ‘The queen grants you an audience.’ But, “Queen Anne, grants you an audience.’ Unless accompanied by a name, or they are a proper noun, they don’t rate a capital.

3. Ok, the days of the week get capitals but for some reason, the seasons don’t. Does that seem fair? So, winter, spring, summer, fall/autumn… lucked out.

4. When giving directions, or setting your heroes off on their quest. Directions don’t rate capitals either. ‘Take your quest north, till you reach the crossroads, turn west, ride into the setting sun. When you reach the coast head south.’ Unless you are referring to an area, ‘The inhabitants of the South have been hit by plague’, or ‘the North Pole’.

My friend Wendy Laharnar author of “The Unhewn Stone”, commented on another rather confusing usage of capitals. Where ‘west’ becomes a proper noun, by placement. ‘The army approaches the West Gate, Sir Rudolph.’ But loses it in ‘at Altdorf’s west gate,’ where it is only a common noun.

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Now, although setting down points like this seems simple enough, when you come to editing, things become debatable. What seems simple now can become confusing when facing a query. If you like to use words like outlaw, captain, princess, maid, lady, my lady, bosun, shipmate, boy, mage, miss, master, sir, etc, be prepared to consider each usage. Unless they have a name with them, they shouldn’t rate capitals.

Whatever you do, if you choose to use capitals and it’s not questioned, be careful to keep whatever you use CONSISTENT. Many editors will accept your choice of capitalization, because it can vary from country to country. Germanic styles will always use capitals and rightly so because in German all nouns common and proper have capital. They have it easy! Fantasy can have its own set of rules. So, whatever you decide. Keep it consistent.

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17 Comments

  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Fantastic article!!!!!! Actually really helped me out because I’m doing a fantasy based in a guild and there is lots of Sir and Master references, lol.

  2. Avatar Erik Lundqvist (@erik_lundqvist) says:

    Nice
    Now do one for how to use commas and ; correctly 🙂

  3. LOL, Erik, Please.. I need one on commas and ; too!!!
    Thanks Overlord, glad to be of service!! Hope this helps.

  4. A very useful argument. King and Queen are the ones I’ve had most arguments about with editors. I’d say you use a capital if they’re being used in a way that could only refer to one person. The media would report, for instance, that “The Queen opened the country’s first frog-training school this afternoon,” but as soon as you start having the possibility of different queens, the capital vanishes. Not all editors agree, though.

    • That is where I get hung up on their use too. I think once you decide, and your editor agrees, keep it consistent. But that is exactly the problem I get into. Hence my seeking out the rules. I still feel like using the occasional capital. 🙂

  5. Avatar Shanothaine says:

    Ah, capitals. I love you so.

    How I wish people knew how to use you properly. Maybe one day, when this article has taken the world by storm, they will.

    Until that day, I salute you, and I promise never to take your name in vain.

  6. Avatar Bets Davies says:

    Wow. I’m really proud of myself. I got all that. I even use all that. Except I’ll nitpick on the poetry. The choice to capitalize or not at the beginning of a line of a poem is an artistic decision. I would imagine a lot of fantasy poetry would be rather traditional, in which case it’s a good bet it will be caps. But these days, whether or not a word in a poem is capitalized is more a conscious decision for a measured effect.

    • Bets, Poetry has it’s own rules and of course, rules are made to be broken, once you know what they are, why they work and decide not to use them. Artistic licence will always take the rules and look at them, and probably turn them upside down. Thank goodness, even authors of Fantasy are allowed to break the rules once we know them, we can argue WHY.

  7. Avatar Cas Peace says:

    Great article! I get so irritated when I see capitals misused; they really interrupt the flow of reading when they’re in the wrong place, almost like a rogue period. And don’t expect all professional editors to know the rules either – some interpret them in a very subjective way!

    • Cas, I agree, if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time… they can halt the flow. Interpretation can vary from style to style, country to country. Makes it all the more interesting trying to get it right.
      BTW… I am reading King’s Envoy now… and loving it!

  8. I’m not always sure, I tend to use Capitals in some places where it sounds like I should. For example, “Yes, Sir, we are ready to land.” “Have you seen my car keys, Dear?” “I’m home, Honey!” It seems to me these are stand-ins for proper names so they should be capitalized like it was the actual name.

    But if my editor changes these, I’m not going to fight too hard. I can live with either capitalized or non-capitalized … I write it the way I think it ought to be, but cave in easily.

  9. Avatar Wendy L says:

    I’m with James, here. Apparently we get it wrong, James but respect is respect. In my novel I say ‘Happy Birthday, Son.” To me ‘son’ is used instead of his known name ‘Stefan’. But then even without the respect element I have to write, “Listen up, Innkeeper!” Even “Bow before the Queen, peasants!” seems acceptable to me.

    Even though this was criticized by other authors, I couldn’t let it go. My editors (two) didn’t mention the use of capitals for the form of address, so I didn’t ask. Now that I think about it, would I say, “Happy Birthday, Daughter.”That just doesn’t look right. If I’m pressed I will use lowercase in future, reluctantly, and keep it constant. It’s easier typing lowercase. 🙂

    But honestly, what is wrong with, “I’m home, Honey!” Nothing, imo, but I think the exclamation mark might not be necessary. (only 6 to a novel, I’ve been told. In my 1st draft I had 210. Won’tadmit to how many I had at the end.)

    What about, “Can’t stay, the Wife expects me home by ten.” or “My Better Half has the dinner ready”?
    “My better half has the dinner ready” doesn’t work for me.

    Is there such a thing as Writer’s Style. Just chalk my discrepencies up to that. 🙂

    • I feel the need for capitals when you want something stressed, or emphasised, eg “I hope you have a good day.” is fine, but I would like, “He now understood the need for Hope.”
      Maybe I can use ‘writer’s style’ too!!! 🙂 Thanks for your comments Wendy. It is easy to see why it looks like a simple subject but very soon can become complex.

  10. […] The Case of the Capital in Fantasy by Lady Rosalie Skinner.  (Just went through a bout of this myself for POM! lol) […]

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