The 9th Circle of Hell – Capitalization and Punctuation

Finally, finally, finally, the edit is done. I have obsessed over it long enough. I have made enough changes. It’s time to let it go. Evermore: Call of the Nocturne is ready for its final edit. All I need now is another editor. I’ll give myself the rest of the week and weekend off and then start searching for a new editor. It’s too bad that Erin won’t get chance to edit it again. I think she would have loved some of the changes I made.

Part of the reason that it took so long is that I was constantly struggling to establish consistent rules for myself on Capitalization and punctuation. My lifelong habit has been to capitalize for emphasis. For example, “oh my God!”; or “Protect the King!”. However, based on Erin review, I have had to make many uncomfortable changes to the capitalization style because I was using them incorrectly and inconsistently.

Let’s take for example the word sovereign. In Evermore: Call of the Nocturne, the Sovereign of Evermore is an individual who leads the government in Evermore, known as the Consortium. Now in my earlier drafts, I had always capitalized sovereign, no matter how it was used in the sentence. So “Sovereign”, “the Sovereign”, “my Sovereign”, “Sovereign Klein” and “Sovereign of Evermore” were all capitalized. But according to my editor Erin, and the Internet sites that I visited, only the last two should be capitalized. In everything else, the word sovereign, like king or prime minister, should be lower case. Only when the word is used as a proper noun should a title should be capitalized. Thus “Sovereign Klein” becomes “the sovereign” or “my sovereign”.

But then I ran into another problem. For one word in the English language, these rules are allowed to be broken. That word is God. But they can only be broken based on what you mean by the word god. If you are referring to a general omniscient being, then god should be lower-case when used in a sentence. The confusion comes from one of the unusual traits of Christianity. We quite literally call our god “God”. When you refer to the Christian conception of god, then it is considered a proper noun, like Zeus or Ra, and thus must be capitalized.

I had this capitalization problem with god, sovereign, strider and kernel. Going through the text and over again until I was using capitalization correctly (I think?) and consistently proved to be a major time sink.

The second major problem that I had was with punctuation. More specifically, I had problems with periods and commas. When I was growing up, I was always taught to put two spaces after a period and so when I wrote the novel I put two spaces after every period. It was instinctual. I didn’t even have to think about it. However, the current standard (due to the influence of the Internet) has been to put one space after a period. I suppose it looks much better on a typed page. So due to Erin’s suggestions, I went back and removed all of the extra spaces. The result: a much more consistent-looking document.

Commas proved to be far more challenging. Again, I had always been taught to use liberally, to add one whenever I want the ready to pause. However, Erin notified me that in some circumstances, such as when the comma would precede the word “and” in a list of items, the comma is not necessary. For example:

“I went to the store to buy some eggs, bacon, and hashbrowns.”

can be rewritten without the last comma. Like so:

“I went to the store to buy some eggs, bacon and hashbrowns.”

Having always grown up putting the comma before the word “and”, I was fairly uncomfortable with this change. But for those of you who remembered my rule from a previous post, “The editor is (almost) always right”, I decided to give it a try. I went through my document and removed all of the unnecessary commas. The only exception that I made was for commas that were in the song lyrics that Vanessa sings during the Goddess Pageant. I left those commas in because the reader to know that there was a slight pause in that place. Otherwise, the song lyrics would not flow correctly.

The end result from removing all of these commas was a prose that was relaxed, uncluttered and far smoother to read. The text simply looks more attractive to the eye. I believe that it was a good change.

Cormac McCarthy has gone even farther than this. In his novels, it eliminates as much punctuation as possible, including quotation marks. He believes that punctuation gets between the reader and the story. From my own experience, I can definitely understand what he means.

Prose style is something that is incredibly personal for each author. While there are rules, there is room for each writer to experiment and find what works for them. In my case, my novel’s long gestation period has forced me to confront my old ideas about prose and try out some new ideas. This process has led to a far better novel, but has been as excruciating as the 9th circle of hell.

2 thoughts on “The 9th Circle of Hell – Capitalization and Punctuation

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