Capitalization might seem like a no-brainer, but if you happen to write science fiction or fantasy (and possibly historical), odds are you've found yourself wondering if something should be capitalized or not. All those made up names feel like they ought to be capitalized, but then you end up with a bit of a mess.
Grundark made his way through the Emporium, carrying his Pouchblade and three bags of Elbonquin wine for the Regent's Flowering Ceremony. Crowds of Hillmen bumped into him, but the shy Filmori stayed at the edges of the street.While this paragraph is also a good example why you shouldn't name everything (do you have any idea what most of those things even are?), all those capital letters feel off, calling too much attention to things that shouldn't be focused on so much. It's just awkward.
One trick I use is to replace the made up words with their real counterparts. It makes it a lot easier to see what's actually a proper noun (a specific thing vs a type of thing) and what's just a noun.
George made his way through the Mall, carrying his Pocketknife and three bags of Chardonnay wine for the King's Birthday Celebration. Crowds of Humans bumped into him, but the shy Dutch stayed at the edges of the street.Some of those capitals look pretty silly now, don't they? Let's look at the pieces individually.
Grundark: Given names of specific people, of course, should be capitalized. Easy peasy here.
Emporium: This one could technically go either way. If the particular shopping area is called "Emporium" then you'd be okay with capitalizing it. If it's just a fancy way of describing where people shop in your world, it's lowercase. People go the mall, but the also go to Rodeo Drive.
Pouchblade: It is possible for the knife to be a particular kind of knife, like Bowie knife (named after a specific person, so Bowie is capitalized). But keep in mind that that's different from a butcher's knife (a general type of knife, so it's lowercase). If someone named the knife (like Excalibur) then you'd capitalize it.
Elbonquin: Similar to the type of knife, a description of something generally isn't capitalized. Wines come in many flavors and grow in many regions, so unless it's a specific place (like a Burgundy, from Burgundy, France) it's lowercase. If they can make it anywhere, it doesn't need that capital letter
The Regent: Titles are capitalization nightmares. If it's associated with a name, it's capitalized, if not, it's lowercase. My personal test here is to replace it with "president" to see which it would be.
- President Whitmire (title + name = capitalization).
- The president was in a meeting. (reference to general role, so lowercase)
- "Can I get you anything, Mr. President?" (used as a proper name, so uppercase).
Flowering Ceremony: Another very tricky area. It's a ceremony, and it's a specific ceremony, but so is a birthday party and you don't capitalize that. Context will matter here, so look at how it's used in the story. Is this something that happens on a regular basis? Like an inauguration or a coronation? If so, it's lowercase. But the specific day might be capitalized, like:
Plans for the flowering ceremony were going well. They expected it to be a beautiful Flowering Day.If you're unsure, look for the closest real world event and see how that's handled.
Hillmen: This one is probably the worst of the capitalization offenders. Species are not capitalized. Humans are lowercase, so if this is a race of "person" in your world, odds are its lowercase as well. You'd have elves, dwarves, orcs, fairies, vampires, etc. Of course, if it's a specific group within that species, you'd capitalize that: It's a dog, but that dog might be a German Shepherd. So you'd have elves, which might contain High Elves and Wood Elves.
Filmori: If you're referring to a particular resident of a region, then it's capitalized. Americans. Germans. New Yorkers. This also applies to organizations of particular people. The Fae, the Mob, the Sith. So you might have orcs after you, but they could be the Bloodthorn Orcs.
Let's go back and see how we'd write that opening paragraph now.
Grundark made his way through the emporium, carrying his pouchblade and three bags of elbonquin wine for the regent's flowering ceremony. Crowds of hillmen bumped into him, but the shy Filmori stayed at the edges of the street.Quite the difference. It also helps put these terms in context so the reader has a better sense of what they are. Filmori likely come from Filmor, while hillmen are a race of people. A pouchblade is probably a small knife, and likely bought at the emporium. I bet you can also get elbonquin wine there, too.
There might be times when you choose to break a rule for the sake of emphasis, and that's okay. I'm pretty sure "the Duke" was capitalized all through my trilogy, when technically, in many cases "the duke" was grammatically correct. Sometimes you want to make sure readers are clear on who someone is and that they're important. The Duke was a specific person of great importance, so I wanted him to stand out. If you have a similar situation, feel free to capitalize away.
The goal of a capital letter is to make sure readers know the word refers to something specific, not just a general group or type. They're a bit like exclamation points that way. Use too many of them and the emphasis vanishes.
Do you struggle with what to capitalize in your story? What words do you commonly see capitalized that probably shouldn't be?