Fiction Q&A: Styling Royal and Noble Titles

Q: When referring to a king or lord, when do you capitalize—if at all—for sire and your majesty and such? For example:

All we can do now is wait and pray that you and your healers can help my sister, your majesty.

I’m so confused. Thanks for your help.

question answer

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A: Titles are tricky, because it depends how you’re using them.

Generally speaking, the title will be capitalized if it’s being used with or in place of the person’s name. So in your example, Your Majesty would be capitalized. That’s what we call “direct address.” But if you and I are talking about the king, “king” isn’t capitalized because we’re using the word to talk about him, not as a name when talking to him.

Similarly, “Prince Charles” is capped because it’s part of his name, but when you refer to “the prince” it’s lowercase because you are not addressing him directly.

This is also true of military titles. So you might write:

Next, Admiral Akbar will give the briefing
(capitalized because it’s part of his name)

“Good morning, Admiral.”
(Capitalized because it’s a direct address in place of his name.)

But:

“The admiral said it was a trap.”

The exceptions—I see a lot of people get these wrong—are these:

  • sir
  • ma’am
  • my lord
  • my lady

Unless they’re at the start of a sentence, these are lowercase, even in direct address, per The Chicago Manual of Style 8.32. So “lord” is capitalized in “Lord Fauntleroy” and “Your Lordship,” but lowercase in “my lord.” Chicago doesn’t include “sire” in this list, but the usage example in Merriam-Webster shows it lowercase, presumably because it’s akin to “sir.”

Generally speaking, the “Your” forms are capitalized (Your Excellency, Your Majesty), as are “his” forms (His Excellency, Her Majesty), while the “my” forms not (my lord, my liege).

This post originally appeared at my other blog.

Using Words as Words

Often when we’re writing nonfiction we need to refer to words in such a way that the term being used is itself the subject of the discussion, rather than the concept the term describes. If I say “My Sunday school students have difficulty understanding the concept of propitiation,” it means something very different from “English is her second language, so she has difficulty understanding the word propitiation.”

words

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When in your writing you need to discuss the word or phrase itself rather than the concept described by the term, put the term in italics. Continue reading

Capitalizing Deity Pronouns

One more post on editing books for the Christian market, and this one’s a touchy subject. The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style calls for lowercase deity pronouns (that is, he and his when referring to God). This deeply offends some people, who see it as a sign of disrespect, despite the fact that for 1800 years no one ever capitalized these. Pronoun capitalization first turned up in the Victorian era and faded out in the mid-twentieth century. CWMS notes that it therefore gives text a dated feel.

But many people feel very strongly about capitalizing these pronouns. Continue reading

Finally, a writing guide for the 21st Century

Last time I taught my Edit Like a Pro: Elements of Fiction seminar, one of the students questioned the absence of The Elements of Style from my recommended reading list.

“It’s a primer,” I said. “If you’re writing novels, you’re beyond Strunk and White.”

That little book is such a milestone for most of us that we often forget that the text on which it is based was written almost a hundred years ago by a college professor whose freshmen students couldn’t write. Prof. Strunk was so irked by the inability of his incoming students to write a coherent paper that he put together a little pamphlet with some basic writing advice for them. Continue reading

Choose Your Style Guide

I wrote before about three of the most common style books: The Chicago Manual of Style, The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, and the Associated Press Stylebook.

Two others are worth considering if you do most of your work online.

The Yahoo! Style Guide is a huge compendium that not only deals with spelling issues (it recommends capitalizing Internet but omits the hyphen in e-mail, which I think wrong-headed) but also with web-specific issues like search engine optimization and user interfaces. Continue reading

Can a person be a “that?”

© Igarts - Fotolia.com

© Igarts – Fotolia.com

Ever had critique partners question a sentence like this?

The waiter that spilled coffee on my new dress offered to pay the dry-cleaning bill.

Some will say you shouldn’t use “that” for a person. But Garner’s Modern American Usage and other expert sources say it’s acceptable.

Are your critique partners wrong?

That depends. Continue reading

Fiction Q&A: Using italics for character thoughts

Hey Kristen —

Sorry to pester you, but I didn’t know who else to ask. I was going over a critique someone gave me, and they mentioned that top editors teach to never use italics, even with internal thought. Some say never to use italics at all.

question answer

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Here’s my concern. Almost everyone else I’ve run into says italics should be used for internal thoughts that would normally be spoken as words. Continue reading