Behind the Scenes of Somewhere Only We Know: Capitalization

When I started writing Somewhere Only We Know, without making the conscious decision to do it, I made all of the first-person narrator’s pronouns lowercase (i, me, my). Frankie, the narrator, is a very young girl and has already been abused for several months when the book begins. Because of her youth and the fact that she has already been a victim for some time and hasn’t been able to do anything about it, I knew that Frankie would feel powerless in her situation. And I made the unconscious decision to show this by not capitalizing her pronouns.

Likewise, whenever Frankie refers to her father—her abuser—his pronouns are always capitalized (He, Him, His). Frankie only refers to him as “Daddy” when her sister makes her, and she only tells us his actual name once—Carl. The rest of the time he is merely “He” or “Him.”

An excerpt from Somewhere Only We Know that shows the capitalization

As I wrote about here, my crazy capitalization was a nightmare when it came to proofreading the book. I got so used to typing the incorrect capitalization that I had used lowercase “i”s when other characters were speaking and uppercase “H”s both when other characters talked about the father and when referring to any other male character throughout the book. It’s been almost a year since I finished writing Somewhere Only We Know, and I only just recently stopped typing lowercase “i”s in everything I write.

However, even though I had to read the book many many times to catch all of the capitalization errors, I am so glad that I wrote Somewhere Only We Know this way. I believe the capitalization has a profound effect on how you read the book.

When a book is written in first-person, readers get to almost become that character, seeing everything they see and doing everything they do. I believe that the lowercase pronouns help readers to really feel what Frankie feels when they become her through reading the book. When you constantly see lowercase pronouns, you begin to think of yourself as a little bit “less than,” which is exactly how Frankie views herself because of her abuse.

An excerpt from Somewhere Only We Know that shows the capitalization

She feels powerless in her situation, and she shows this by referring to herself in lowercase letters. At one point in the book Frankie is writing a story and her friend asks why she writes her “i”s lowercase. Frankie responds, “i shrug. i never really thought about it before. i guess i just think i don’t deserve a capital. Maybe in some ways… i view myself as worthless too. Or if not worthless, at least unworthy.”

Because Frankie feels powerless, her father has all of the power, and so that’s why his pronouns are all capitalized. A couple months ago my husband said to me, “I like how you made the dad faceless.” Faceless? I hadn’t even realized I’d done that. We don’t really get to see what the father looks like in the book. Frankie refers to him as a “bear,” big and strong. We know he works in a factory and that he has dark hair. And we only get to hear his name once. He is just Him, with a capital “H.” The father has become this big scary monster, faceless and hidden behind the mask of his capitalized pronouns. Frankie has no power against him, no way to fight him. When we constantly see his capitalized pronouns, he becomes this unknown, powerful thing that no one can fight against.

The best part of the book is when Frankie finds a way to gain some power, but I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll have to read the book to see what happens.

I don’t recommend trying to mess with capitalization with your writing, because it took a lot of work to make sure it was done right, but I am so glad I did it for Somewhere Only We Know. I love the way it makes you read the book.

Proofreading Methods and Tips

I didn’t realize how hard it would be to proofread a novel for publication. Even now, as I am going through the proof of my novel, which should be practically ready to go, I am finding more typos than I’d like to admit.

Normally I am a decent typist, but I tried to do something interesting with the capitalization of Somewhere Only We Know. My first-person narrator, because she feels powerless in her situation, refers to herself with lowercase pronouns (i, me, my), even at the start of sentences. Likewise, she refers to her abuser with uppercase pronouns (He, Him, His), even when not at the beginning of sentences. I really like this idea because it has a profound effect on how you read the book, but it is a nightmare to proofread. Because my fingers got so used to typing the technically incorrect punctuation, the book is full of the wrong capitalization in the other character’s dialogue and in reference to other male characters. But I am doing my absolute best to make sure this book is typo-free come publication.

I just wanted to share why I think proofreading is so important and to give some ideas for how you can best proofread your own writing.


Why Proofreading is Important

I am a perfectionist, so proofreading everything I write is really important to me. Even these blog posts are read four or five times before I post them just to be sure. Proofreading is important because:

  • It makes your writing easy to read.
  • It clears up any confusion readers might have.
  • It shows you take the time to make your work the best you can.

The clearing up confusion is the one I am most concerned about with my book, because I really don’t want readers to get the abuser confused with another male character.

Proofreading Methods/Tips

There are so many ways that you can go about proofreading your work. Here’s a list of some methods you can try that I made when I worked at my university’s writing center:

  • Aloud—Try reading it aloud. When we read in our head, our brain fixes mistakes for us. Form becomes from in our heads and spell check doesn’t catch it because it is a correctly spelled word. Reading aloud helps you catch small mistakes like these.
  • Backwards—Sometimes when we proofread we get trapped in the flow of our own writing. When we read, we know what is supposed to come next, so it is sometimes hard to find grammar or spelling (or capitalization) errors. Try disrupting the flow of your work by reading it backwards, sentence by sentence, to find these errors.
  • Print it out—If you have trouble proofreading on a computer, try printing out a copy of your work and mark it up as you read. Having it right in front of you and having a pen in your hand might be more helpful than staring at a computer screen. Marking up a printed draft also allows you to see what you had originally, rather than deleting and replacing your text on a computer.
  • One kind at a time—Try to proofread your work for one kind of error at a time. This will help you keep your focus and be more effective in your proofreading. Try looking for spelling mistakes the first time reading through your work, grammar the second time, punctuation the third, and so on.
  • Get some distance—Always give yourself time after finishing the piece before going through to proofread. It is always helpful to get some distance from your work because if it is too fresh in your mind, you might skip over errors.
  • A little at a time—Try proofreading your work in short blocks of time so that you are able to address each part of it with your full concentration. If you try to do too much at once, you are likely to miss errors.
  • Change it up—When revising your work, try changing the color, spacing, size, or style of your font to trick your brain into thinking that you are looking at a new piece. This could help you get a fresh perspective on your work by thinking that you are looking at something different.
  • Circling—As you proofread, try circling each punctuation mark to draw your attention to them, then ask yourself if they are used appropriately.

Something else I have tried with proofreading Somewhere Only We Know is doing searches in my document using the control “F” command. Because most of the incorrect capitalization of “I”s would occur in dialogue of other characters and most of the incorrect male pronouns would occur when talking about other male characters, I was able to do searches for quotation marks and the male characters. That way my computer highlights the sections I need to look at for me and draws my attention to them.

There are so many ways you can go about proofreading your writing, but the most important thing is that you do it. Proofreading to make your work the best you can shows that you care about what you’re putting out there. So make it great.