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Rules of Capitalization for Fiction Writers
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
1. Capitalize proper nouns (including
initials), the first word of a sentence, and the pronoun,
I was running behind, Bob
had to mail the manuscript to my agent, L.M. Smith,
before she left for her vacation to Death
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.
trust Uncle Bill or Dad
to remember delectations.
Every dad ever born has gotten lost at
3. Titles which precede names are
capitalized. Follow the same rule for family names for
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).
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.
House of Representatives
and the Senate passed legislation which
the National Rifle Association
and the Federal Bureau
of Investigation agreed would benefit
The President of the United
States signed legislation which the NRA
and the FBI agreed would benefit the
6. Capitalize the names of languages,
nationalities, and definite sections of a country or the
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
Examples: It is
generally agreed that Christianity, Judaism,
and Islam dont recognize Zeus
or Odin as legitimate deities.
Since childhood, my mother reminded me
to pray to God every day, so Ive
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.
you ever heard of a pro-Communist, Jewish
chef who specialized in preparing both Syrian
and Chinese foods using General
Electric ovens and Ginsu
9. Capitalize the first word of dialogue even
if it follows a dialogue tag. If a dialogue tag is in the
middle of a characters statement, the first word
after the tag is not capitalized unless the rules
discussed in this article require it.
said, She is happy.
Beyond that, she said,
Even if you get it, she
said, John wont.
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 viewers 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
Mystery Anthology Magazine
The Magazine of Fantasy
& Science Fiction
of Toledo by El Greco
The Birth of Venus
in Purgatory by Terry W.
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 dont
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 isnt 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: http://www.ervin-author.com
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