A few weeks ago we discussed proper capitalization, and I mentioned that I would discuss the capitalization of words you make up for your story. These could be devices or technologies that you thought up, magical spells or items, or fictional illnesses and conditions. They could be unusual offices in a fictional government, brand names from a science-fiction universe, aspects of an alien culture, or places in another world.
The majority of words that require capitalization are proper nouns—names, titles, and the like; and, in most stories, the majority of made-up words will also be proper nouns. This means that a particularly complex science fiction or fantasy story can often end up with a high density of capitalized words.
Now, many experienced writers and editors advise that you avoid having too many made-up words in your story (I gave you that advice in this post). Unfortunately, one of the easiest and most common methods of avoiding made-up words is to take a common English word and capitalize it to show that it is significant. So instead of calling the council that rules your fictional society the Shoraki, you might call it the Council. Thus, while this method does avoid creating extra made-up words, it doesn’t cut down on the number of capital letters. This can sometimes lead to paragraphs that look like this:
Thuum reached into the Golden Cask and removed the Sword of Ramunothet, grinning from ear to ear. When he presented this to the Council, everyone would see that he was the greatest of all the Hunters. And best of all, Norrikis would be forced to serve him as his Du’Shan.
Cradling the sword in the crook of his arm, Thuum turned to leave and paused. Standing in the door to the Temple was a black-shrouded figure—an Ayelet Assassin. The man raised a gloved hand, revealing a Zurasha Gem in his palm. The gem began to glow as the Assassin focused his Mentalis within it.
Yeesh, am I right? That might seem like a deliberately exaggerated example, but it’s not—I have in fact encountered similar paragraphs in the wild.
There are many ways to avoid excessive amounts of capitalization: you can re-word a title or sentence to remove the need for a capitalized word; you can insert more action in order to further space out any capitalized words; or you can just decide that this is your world and these are your made-up words, so you can just not capitalize them if you don’t want to. It’s up to you, after all, to decide whether your made-up words are proper nouns that require capitalization, common nouns that don’t, or once-proper nouns that have reached such a level of ubiquity in the culture that they no longer require capitalization.
Here’s what that example might look like after some toning down:
Thuum reached into the golden cask and removed the Ramunothet’s sword, grinning from ear to ear. When he presented this to the council, everyone would see that he was the greatest of all the Hunters; and best of all, Norrikis would be forced to serve him as his du’shan.
Cradling the sword in the crook of his arm, Thuum turned to leave and paused. Standing in the door to the temple was a black-shrouded figure—an Ayelet assassin. The man raised a gloved hand to reveal a Zurasha gem in his palm, which began to glow with focused mentalis.
We’ve gone from twenty-four capital letters to ten. Hopefully, we can all agree that the second example is much more pleasant to look at and feels a little less like an over-done cliché. So keep an eye out for over-capitalization—remember, neither everything of significance in your story nor every word that you make up needs to be capitalized.
|This is more or less pertinent to the article, right? Eh, close enough.|