To ‘Fae’ or to ‘fae’, That Is the Question

It’s no secret that fantasy like to capitalize Things of Great Import. This has driven my editor, a science-fiction writer, frelling insane. Science-fiction begs a more modern style of writing, and fantasy, one could argue, allows a more archaic style. However, to give Tammy some credit, she’s made me be cognizant of my capitalization choices in the favor of Consistency, and trimmed out the unnecessary caps.

The first thing she called me on were titles. Covenant is a vampire-heavy story, and I had a hard time not capitalizing “the Count” everywhere. I mean, dude, in a vampire story he’s the frelling Count. Similarly, in Lightfallmy inclination was to capitalize “the Duke” when told from the POV of a character who was the subject of said duke. Well, we looked at the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and A Game of Thrones, and I conceded to the more modern, less British style, and “duke”, “count”, and “king” got de-capped unless referring to a specific title, such as “the King of Hammerfold.”

But, that was only the first untangling. The second applied to race vs. nationality. I opted not to equate race to nationality, and hence elf, dwarf, ratling and troll are not capitalized, in the same way we don’t capitalize ‘human’.  However, Windbowlian, Vemnai, and Artalonian are capitalized, no matter which race. This led to a slight conundrum when dealing with darkling characters, but referencing an old Darkling Empire–however, I have so far avoided this collision.

The biggest challenge I had personally that I lowercased “faerie”, but capped “Fae.” This was a complete style choice peculiar to the Ahmbren Chronicles. I came very close to de-capping Fae before publication several times. However, I decided to keep it as is, and the rationale is this: the Fae refers to a citizen of the Otherworld, a member of a political body and “nationality” under the Fae Court and the Fae King. The faerie is the name for the race. Hence, any faerie who had migrated to Ahmbren (some of which became the sidhe–the high elves) were no longer Fae, because they were no longer under the Fae King’s authority. This particular nuance isn’t explicitly explained in the books, other than seeing “Fae” always capitalized, but “faerie” not. Even though it’s not a central theme in the When Dragons Die trilogy, I do plan future books set in this world, so this might become more important later on. So, for Consistency’s sake for future work, I kept it.

The other capitalization choices apply to the fact that–in my opinion–fantasy is more tightly linked with religion, theology, mythology, and perhaps even philosophy, than science-fiction. (Ok, on philosophy, I concede there’s room for debate there).

CMOS talks about religious capitalization, including some cultural peculiarities like the Catholics capitalizing Apostle if referring to one of the twelve, but “apostle” if referring to anyone else acting in that capacity. It was along these lines that even though every other title (duke, king, etc.) is not capped, “Matriarch” is… for trolls. In Ahmbren, a troll Matriarch has such religious significance for that culture that the title is capped, in the same way that the monotheistic God-King is capped. Yet, were I to speak of an elder gnome, from a different culture, we might talk of a family matriarch, without the ‘M’. Confused? See “Apostle” vs. “apostle” and “Church” vs. “church” in Christian terminology.

But what about other things, like “Light”, and “Life”, vs, “light” and “life”? The key is here in CMOS’s rule 8.93:

Platonic ideas. Words for transcendent ideas in the Platonic sense, especially when used in a religious context, are often capitalized […] Good; Beauty; Truth; the One

Hence, Ahmbren’s four magical elements of Life, Time, Light and Dark are capped, because in magical systems, ideas are real, taking on proper-noun personalities in and of themselves.

However, what eventually got me into Hot Water with the Editor was this: switching capitalization rules based on POV. I had the trolls referring to their goddess Rin as “Goddess”–even as the narrator owing to a fused-narrator perspective–due to Her specific significance to them.  Yet other characters spoke of her as “goddess”, a part of a larger pantheon, in different POV scenes. While this makes sense to me in a religious context, this created an apparent Inconstancy [caps intended].  “Goddess” got demoted to “goddess” to make sure that the book appeared stylistically coherent across the series.

And so finally, at the conclusion of the work on Lightfall and Covenant, Tammy sent me an email that said, “yay Consistency!” and then informed me that Consistency is an ideal as important as Light, Dark, Time and Life, and is worthy of capitalization.

Goddess bless the Editor,

Disclaimer: Tammy has no part in editing this Blog. All errors are my own. 😉

9 thoughts on “To ‘Fae’ or to ‘fae’, That Is the Question

  1. great post, kyle, and gives me better insight into what tammy was working on while editing your novels. i can’t wait to read the copies you sent along and see what all the fuss was about! i kid, of course, no fuss, just interesting discussions on style.

    just be thankful that you don’t insist on typing everything lowercase.

  2. The point about fantasy having a touch of theology mixed into it has always resonated with me, Kyle. I suppose, me being the utterly irreverent, damned soul that I am, I have an ingrained bias against lending primacy—through the use of capitalization or other means of performing deference—to systems or people that subvert logic for power, which has always been my perspective on religious coda as well. Yet, in writing, those tactics of subtlety and nuance are absolutely grand, and your writing in particular has opened my eyes to new ways to deploy language to create those power differentials without having to use broad strokes. Your books have so much richness even in just these small, yet hugely significant, style choices.

    • 🙂 Aw shucks.

      In the case of the Ahmbren and the trolls, they get immediate confirmation of their goddess’s existence… very tangible answers to their prayers through the runestones.

      I hear you on the logic aspect… and that dichotomy is precisely what we’ll see come to full fruition in the concluding volume, The Tides of Artalon. 🙂

  3. I’ve had some problem with US editors on capitalising titles, since I think UK and US rules are slightly different. Over here, for instance, we’d refer to “the Queen” attending a ceremony, since she’s “the” Queen, not “a” queen (some even call her “The Queen” but I think that’s overkill). Basically, if the title’s being used in lieu of a name, it’s capitalised (as in your “the Count”). However, when I suggested to the editor that she’d refer to Obama as “the President”, she said that wouldn’t be correct. I did get my way in the end, though.

    • Indeed, the US and UK rules are different… as you yourself reveal in “capitalisation” vs. “capitalization”. 🙂 I grew up on Tolkien, and spent time in an international job where the Queen’s English was standard, so my writing style was inconsistent. “the Count”… I’ve seen before, and I know the Brits like to cap the Q when referring to their own queen. I was surprised, but I picked up Game of Thrones, and all the characters were referring to Robert as “the king”, even though he was their only king. So, a stylistic choice, and I think the idea is for consistency. 🙂

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