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Ten Rules of Capitalization for Fiction Writers
by Terry W. Ervin II

While writing and self-editing a novel or short story, questions about what should and should not be capitalized often crop up, causing frustration. This article lists and illustrates basic capitalization rules along a few of the less common situations fiction writers may encounter.

- 1. Capitalize proper nouns (including initials), the first word of a sentence, and the pronoun, I.

Example: Because I was running behind, Bob had to mail the manuscript to my agent, L.M. Smith, before she left for her vacation to Death Valley.

- 2. Capitalize family relationship names when they precede a name or when they are used in place of a name. When the relationship name is not used to replace a name, the word is not capitalized.

Examples: Never trust Uncle Bill or Dad to remember delectations.

Every dad ever born has gotten lost at least once.

- 3. Titles which precede names are capitalized. Follow the same rule for family names for not capitalizing.

Examples: Both General Johnston and Captain Sanders agreed upon the need to deploy the tank company.

The prince and his subordinates agreed upon the need to commit more cavalry from the reserves.

- 4. Capitalize days of the week, months of the year, and names of holidays (excluding prepositions).

Example: My family celebrated the Fourth of July on the last Sunday in June because Aunt Rita and Uncle Jack never get off work on Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.

- 5. Capitalize the names of specific organizations and agencies, including abbreviation, but excluding prepositions, conjunctions and articles.

Examples: The House of Representatives and the Senate passed legislation which the National Rifle Association and the Federal Bureau of Investigation agreed would benefit the nation.

The President of the United States signed legislation which the NRA and the FBI agreed would benefit the nation.

- 6. Capitalize the names of languages, nationalities, and definite sections of a country or the world.

Example: Fred tried to convince me that fewer Mexicans in the Southwest and Oregon speak both Spanish and English fluently, as compared to those who live in New England or the Caribbean.

- 7. Capitalize the names of religions and deities. Capitalize pronouns when referring specifically to God.

Examples: It is generally agreed that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam don’t recognize Zeus or Odin as legitimate deities.

Since childhood, my mother reminded me to pray to God every day, so I’ve learned to pray to Him every evening before bed.

- 8. Capitalize proper adjectives formed from names of geographical locations, languages, races, nationalities, religions, and brand names. Prefixes attached to a proper adjective are not capitalized unless the prefixes are formed from a proper noun.

Example: Have you ever heard of a pro-Communist, Jewish chef who specialized in preparing both Syrian and Chinese foods using General Electric ovens and Ginsu knives?

- 9. Capitalize the first word of dialogue even if it follows a dialogue tag. If a dialogue tag is in the middle of a character’s statement, the first word after the tag is not capitalized unless the rules discussed in this article require it.

Examples: John said, “She is happy.”

Beyond that,” she said, “who knows?”

Even if you get it,” she said, “John won’t.”

- 10. Capitalize the first word and all of the words in titles of books, magazines, works art, and stories, excluding short prepositions, conjunctions, articles and often linking verbs.

Check out novels on bookshelves, magazines on the racks, and paintings at the local museum. Sometimes this rule is broken in an attempt to catch a viewer’s attention or for stylistic reasons, especially the titles of a novels printed along the spine or across the front cover where every letter is capitalized.


Novels: A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny.

The Book of Bright Ideas by Sandra Kring

Magazines: Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Paintings: View of Toledo by El Greco

The Birth of Venus by Botticelli

Stories: Tethered in Purgatory by Terry W. Ervin II

What is Done in Secret by J.A. Stardust

An astute reader will note a number of capitalization concerns have not been addressed, including business letter contents such as salutations and closings, scientific nomenclature, quotations, and using punctuation marks such as a colon. They are beyond the scope of this article as they generally don’t pertain to works of fiction. Such issues are better addressed through books and articles which focus on composing business letters or writing scientific reports and essays, rather than those such as this article that focuses on writing fiction.

Copyright Terry W. Ervin II. All rights reserved.

Terry W. Ervin II is an English teacher who enjoys writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is a frequent contributor to Fiction Factor and his fiction has appeared a number of places, including The Sword Review, Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and MindFlights.

When Terry isn’t writing or enjoying time with his family, he can be found in his basement raising turtles. To contact Terry or to learn more about his writing endeavors and recommended markets (among other things), visit his website at:


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