KING OF THE CAPITAL

Time and again in fantasy novels, authors misuse capitalization in regards to titles, offices, ranks, and organizations. Why? I don’t know—probably a 50/50 mixture of their just not knowing the rules, and an effort to create some kind of emphasis that makes the King so important that he can’t just be the king.

Neither reason is valid, frankly, so let’s discuss the rules for the real world first, as established in The Chicago Manual of Style:

“Titles and Offices

Capitalization: the general rule. Civil, military, religious, and professional titles are capitalized when they immediately precede a personal name and are thus used as part of the name (usually replacing the title holder’s first name). Titles are normally lowercased when following a name or used in place of a name  . . .”

Then, in fairness, some exceptions are cited, but for me at least the more style and grammar exceptions you make in the service of your own worldbuilding the worse your writing becomes. Unless it’s made clear in some way that you’re breaking the rule on purpose, no one will know you aren’t just making a dumb mistake. But if you tell us why you’re making an exception to the rule, and it doesn’t really matter to the story in some way, if it’s just something that puts your story on pause while you elaborate on a style point—well, that’s actually worse than just making the mistake.

Also from The Chicago Manual of Style, on the subject of the names of organizations:

“Overview. The full names of legislative, deliberative, administrative, and judicial bodies, departments, bureaus, and offices, and often their short forms, are capitalized. Adjectives derived from them are usually lowercased, as are the generic names for such bodies when used alone.”

Examples are given, including this one:

“the Chicago City Council; the city council”

So what does this mean to a fantasy novel, which has, presumably, a whole system of invented titles, ranks, and organizations? Chicago doesn’t exist in my fantasy world, so why do I need to know the rule for when to capitalize its city council?

Again, so you don’t look like a knucklehead.

Advice: When creating your fantasy organizations and the ranks and titles within them, find the closest real world allegory to that organization, rank, etc. and follow the rule as you would for that organization. So, sure, Chicago doesn’t exist on your world, and neither does its city council, but the Stellar Hegemony does, and so does the Prime Parliament. So, we know this sentence should look like this:

He was a citizen of the Stellar Hegemony, though he didn’t think the hegemony’s parliament was worth a damn.

Not like this:

He was a citizen of Stellar Hegemony, though he didn’t think the Hegemony’s Parliament was worth a damn.

How about an uber-example?

As cheers rose up from around the assembly hall, assemblymen, civilians, and men-at-arms alike proclaiming their loyalty to Empress Bronwyn and the empire itself, Legionnaire Galen felt the need to swear undying allegiance to the Empire of Falconhawk. Galen drew his legionnaire’s sword and shouted, “For the empress!”

You’ll note, too, that I didn’t capitalize assembly hall, either. But I might have if Assembly Hall was its proper name, like Madison Square Garden, or the White House, and not just a description of what the room is used for.

Again, thinking in terms of what is this person, place, or thing most like in the real world allows you to make use of reference sources like The Chicago Manual of Style to help you find the right way to express yourself, even across the far flung star systems of the Stellar Hegemony, or the windswept mountains bordering the Empire of Falconhawk.

 

—Philip Athans

 

SOURCE:

The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition, The University of Chicago Press, 2003

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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One Response to KING OF THE CAPITAL

  1. Bob Fleck says:

    Maybe too many people read German, where nouns are capitalized all the time.😉 Big pseudo-European fantasy worlds often seem like something out of a Wagnerian opera.

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