Should Dad Be Lowercase?

Read time: 2 mins

Illustration courtesy of sketchrobin.com

Speech can bring difficulties when it is written and one area of difficulty is that of whether to capitalise some naming words. This is because words Mum, Dad and Grandad have different forms. These words can be used in their proper noun form, and this is when they should be uppercase.

Proper noun form

Sentences where these words are used as proper nouns:

Did you like the flowers, Mum?
Can I borrow your glasses, Dad?
I asked Grandad to pass the map.

To check that a word is being used in this form you can keep the sentence the same but swap out the proper noun form and swap in their proper name, if the sentence still makes sense then the word was being used in its proper noun form.

The same sentences with the names swapped in:

Did you like the flowers, Mary Gilesbie?
Can I borrow you glasses, Ian Telling?
I asked Alfred Potter to pass the map.

Generic noun form

However, these words can also be used generically – as generic nouns or regular nouns and when they are, they are lowercase.

Sentences where these words are used as generic nouns:

If theses sentences are given the same swap test they don’t work because the word was being used as a generic noun.

My mum does not like red flowers.
All dads have children.
My granddad called on us.

Sentences where generic nouns have been swapped for proper names:

My Mary Gilesbie does not like red flowers.
All Ian Tellings have children.
My Alfred Potter called on us.

                   

Rules of thumb

  • Whenever these words are preceded by a possessive adjective like (my, your, his, her, its, our, your, their) the noun will be lowercase.
  • Whenever you use these directly as a name, they will be uppercase.
I brought this for your mum.
The coat was from my dad.
These are from Grandad.
  • When there is determiner preceding the word (such as – a, an, the, this, that, these, my, his, their, much, many, some, two, seven, all, every) use lowercase.
Some mums drove the car.
Seven dads ate the pizzas.
His grandad was in the play.

This works for other similar words in the same way, these include: uncle, aunt, father, mother, daughter, cousin etc.

Is it a name?

Changing between upper and lowercase depending on usage happens with other words. This applies to when the word is a title or political entity.

Where a word is used as a name it will be uppercase:

They followed Captain Wilson over the bridge.
We walk up the steps to meet Queen Bess.
Come on let’s go Governor. (instead of name)

Where a word is not when it is not being used to replace a name and is being used as a description it will be lowercase.         

Our old captain turned to fight.
The girl was a princess.
The governor was going to the meeting.

Style guides often have requirements regarding capitalisation and these should be followed where applicable but as with general rules about writing it is important that the rule is applied consistently or the writing can be jarring and the reader can be distracted from the meaning of the content.

How to Use Dashes

Read time: 3 mins

I have checked back to my references for crystal clarity, referring to the New Oxford Style Manual (2012) and to the Chicago Manual of Style, although these do not state every instance and are only conventions adopted, or not adopted, by publishers. There are also instances of exceptions so these are far from being strict rules.

How to create dashes

The en dash can be found on the ribbon on the Insert tab and at the right hand side. Click on Symbol and the then on More symbols.

Select the Special Characters tab and the top two offerings are the Em dash and the En dash, select the one you want and click Insert.

The keyboard shortcuts are:

Alt+Ctrl+Num for Em dash and Alt+Ctrl+Num for the En dash.

Alternatively hold down the Alt key and using the Numbers Pad:

key 0151 for the Em dash or 0152 for the En dash.

When introducing a phrase at the end of a sentence

A phrase at the end of a sentence can be introduced with an em dash (closed up) and the example given in New Hart’s Rules which, in my copy of the New Oxford Style Manual is p81 (4.11.2)

            Everyone understands what is serious—and what is not

So, this is a single parenthetical usage and replaces a colon and is widely accepted in UK English.

When used as a pair of dashes

Where you use em dashes with a space before and after, these would be parenthetical. This is not currently a general UK English publisher’s preference.

New Oxford Style Manual (2012) 4.11 p72 states:

‘The en dash … Many British publishers use an en dash with space either side as a parenthetical dash, but Oxford and most US publishers use an em dash.’ And

(p80) ‘The em dash … Oxford and most US publishers use a closed-up em dash as a parenthetical dash; other British publishers use the en dash with space either side. …

A pair of dashes expresses a more pronounced break in sentence structure than commas, and draws more attention to the enclosed phrase than brackets:

           ‘The party lasted—we knew it would!—far longer than planned’

And

… Use an em dash spaced to indicate the omission of a word, and closed up to indicate the omission of part of a word:

            ‘We were approaching — when the Earl of C— disappeared.’

So, both the em and en dashes can be used to set off an augmenting or explanatory word or phrase in a sentence that could stand alone without the insertion. Examples include:

That small flower – the pink one – is as fresh as can be.
That small flower—the pink one—is as sweet as can be.

He knew the price of that rare vintage – everyone did.
She knew the price of that rare vintage—everyone did.

In the UK, it is conventional to use a SPACED EN DASH. This is not a law but is the conventional style used my many (although not all) UK publishers (an exception being Oxford).

In the US, it is conventional to use a CLOSED-UP EM DASH. Not a law just a convention, but one which many US publishers follow.

It is also true that there are some style guides which ask for spaced em dashes, however this is relatively rare.

So how are authors using the dash conventions?

Beyond the reference material it can be useful to look at how published authors’ work appears.

Publishing in the UK

In Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual (2002)

There is an example of the single parenthetical en dash:

(p299)  ‘… for what I’ve done – for what I did to Skipper, even.’

And in Val McDermid’s Killing the Shadows, (2001)

(p159) ‘That someone hated Kit – or his word – even enough to pour out such venom…’

Whereas publishing in the US

In Emma Donoghue’s Room, (2010) there is an example of a pair of parenthetical em dashes:

(p133) ‘Old Nick will carry you into the hospital, and the first doctor you see—or nurse, whatever—you shout …’

And in David Baldacci’s The Finisher (2014) there is an example of the single spaced em dash:

(p1) At first light, I was almost always up in my tree — a stonking, straight-to-the-sky poplar with a full towering canopy.

In conclusion: I recommend using spaced en dashes or closed-up em dashes because that is what readers are most familiar with. The choice of which depends on where much of the target audience are (US or UK) however where there is an international audience either style can be chosen, as long as it is applied consistently.

Should I Use a Prologue?

Read time: 4 mins

Illustration courtesy of Tom French

What is a prologue?

A prologue will delay the start of a book for the reader who, having just opened it, is champing at the bit, or at least more interested than they have ever been up till now or will ever be again, to find out what the book is about. A prologue is a piece of writing separate from the start of a book setting out an early thought that the author really needs the reader to know to be fair to them embarking on this reading.

Rather like a host at a party will mention a whispered aside to the only guest who has not been to their home before, ‘We don’t open the red door, that’s where we keep Grumpy the Doberman when we have visitors, everyone else knows not to go in there.’
Good to know, important to know, the newcomer is grateful to have been clued up so they don’t inadvertently upset the social occasion but finding this out was not the main reason they called at the house.


Likewise, the reader will be better prepared having the information set out in a prologue but that detail is not the main thrust of the story they’ll be reading in this book and it is not usually the thing they are reading to discover. The aside is what should, if it is needed, go in the prologue.
On another occasion a newcomer to the house might call when someone has kindly taken Grumpy on a long hike, there would be no need for any concern that the red door might be opened and on that day no need for the aside – no prologue.

If there is no need for a prologue do not have one do not hold the reader up unnecessarily when they are at their most ready to engage with the content of your book. If it is not needed because you have no secret which they will be at a disadvantage not knowing about at this point, leave it out, let them get on with what they have come to do.

Useful background

Placed at the front of a book before the start of the story a prologue should say all it needs to but briefly and should not take up a great deal of time. A good prologue gives a little extra information about the background of the story which will help a reader fully appreciate the context in which the story is being told. So, it will help to create a satisfying rounded story and used well, will help the reader feel engaged and immersed in the world or setting of the story right away. So, include an event or at most two events which help to draw the reader into the best place to be to start reading the story set out in the book. To write a good prologue consider the timeline of the book and if there is information outside that timeline but which you feel should still be included this is likely to be the right sort of material to make into a prologue.

Particularly in sci-fi using a prologue can introduce unexpected features of world-building or alien characters which are in the early scenes of the story without slowing those scenes down with the description. This also makes for an intriguing context being set out in the prologue which will give more to those readers who do take the time to read the prologue without delaying readers who prefer to dive straight in and try to work the contextual detail out for themselves.

A prologue may be a great place to mention an event which gave the characters their motivation so, for example a character who has lost a young child may have that reason to become over-protective of a child they later adopt. To show this actively the past event could be placed in the prologue making the reader aware of that context for how the character goes on to act.

Another use for the prologue is to give a different point of view from the main story and fill in some detail or insight from a different character’s perspective. So, for example how a murderer feels being taken away to prison, may be given in the prologue when the main character in the story would have no way of knowing that information. As perhaps the story is about the first-person experience of the murder victim’s sister.

You can use a prologue to start the story from a different point in time from the main story if that would be useful for some information which you feel the reader will need as context for your main story but which cannot for some reason be delivered within the main story set up.

Why not to include a prologue

Don’t write a prologue if your story makes sense without it. The content you were thinking of putting into a prologue may fit in the main story and if it does no prologue is needed.
Avoid just using a prologue for mood, atmosphere or for world-building alone. These can be uses for a prologue but there should also be a further reason that a prologue is required because all these things could be done within the main body of the book.

What is a good prologue?

If you still decide a prologue is needed

  • Make it interesting imparting crucial information.
  • Make it short in length (considerably less than any of the book chapters). Some recommendations are between one and five pages, others suggest around 1,500 words.
  • Refer to one or at most two events otherwise you risk overloading readers with too much information.
  • Make sure the language is consistent with the rest of the book, otherwise it will appear odd.
  • Make sure any questions posed in the prologue are answered by the end of the book.

In conclusion, when it comes to whether to have a prologue it is good to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘If in doubt, don’t.’