As you all know if you follow my blog, I have a great faith in the power of small things. Whether it’s the words we use to talk about people or the inspiration that can be gathered from the earth’s orbit of the sun, some of the seemingly less important things in the world can have a huge impact. Recently I’ve been thinking about small things related to the craft of writing, little touches that can have big impacts. One of of these little touches that can add texture to your work is something we almost always gloss over in our everyday lives, and take for granted wherever we find them: capital letters. As commonplace as these are, they can still pack a punch when used correctly. So without further ado, let’s examine two ways capital letters can enhance a work of writing
First off, Capital letter distinguish proper and common nouns or pronouns. Now, this is something we’ve all known since pretty much the first grade: “country” isn’t capitalized, but “India” is and so on. However, when used in the context of a story, capitalizing common nouns or pronouns can hint at the wide world in which the story takes place. The bible actually gives us a perfect example of this. From the first moment we see god mentioned the pronoun referring to him is always capitalized, marking Him as an incredibly important figure, worthy of respect and awe in the context of the Bible. Even anyone could gather from the first mention of the character that he is of central importance to the world of the book. Using capital letter effectively is a way of subtly adding significance to certain words, making them stand out and marking them as important in your story’s world.
Second, there’s a neat trick that Terry Pratchett, one of the best fantasy writers of all time, uses that I’ve never seen replicated anywhere else. One of the character in his novels is a golem in the police force named Detritus, who speaks in a lumbering, heavy, and powerfully enunciated voice. To make this vocal characterization translate onto the page, Pratchett capitalized the first letter of every word Detritus speaks in the novels, allowing us to hear the character’s manner of speaking just by reading it off the page, no description necessary. Another character in the novels, death, speaks in all caps at all times, which seems somewhat fitting for a character who is the personification of the one thing we all approach inexorably. This is a different way to use capital letters, as an ultimately fun way to differentiate certain character’s traits from each other, whether it be their manner of speaking of their status as the representation of an unstoppable, unavoidable abstraction.
Capital letters are such a omnipresent part of the English language that they’re incredibly easy to overlook. However, if you pay attention to exactly what letters you’re capitalizing, you can make this simple construct of language do powerful things to you. This is, I suppose, in some way a metaphor for writing as a whole. Perhaps the most important of writing well, I’ve found over the years, is paying attention to the parts of language most other people would overlook. Whether it’s the subtle connotations of the word, the way the sounds of a sentence work together, or the implications of a minor character’s actions, a good writer needs to be examining and investigating every single choice they make. Otherwise their writing will never reach its full potential.