The other day a friend posted a link to a blog that had something to say. The blog was interesting, well-written, and had several cogent points that I wish had not already sunk to the bottom of my fishbowl of a brain. However, despite having read it three or four times, the only thing I can remember about the blog post is the author’s non-standard use of capitalization.
After every period, he began each new sentence with a lowercase letter. It distracted me, made me twitchy, and interfered with my ability to retain what I was reading. Instead I found myself thinking, “Why did he choose to do that? Is he too lazy to capitalize? Is he writing on something like an iPad where shifting is a pain in the ass, and it’s faster just not to bother? Is he making some sort of statement? What sort of statement does not capitalizing the beginning of sentences make? Is he trying to call attention to himself? Does he feel strongly that a period is enough? Why am I obsessing about this?”
I feel as though I should apologize to the author for being so hung up on form that I couldn’t get past it to the beauty and function of his essay. I worry that this is a stick-in-the-mud type shortcoming, like judging someone on their clothes. I worry that it says something about me, and that what it says isn’t good.
But I can’t help it. I have two English degrees and have taught language arts for over a decade. I read incessantly. In my head, there is a way things are supposed to be, and when writers choose to use non-standard forms it creates a barrier between me and their work. Sometimes the barrier is temporary or flimsy. Sometimes I can consciously set it aside and go on. And sometimes my editor brain just will not shut up.
It’s my hang up, and I realize it may be a problem I will increasingly have to struggle with as more and more books are self-published to their authors’ specifications. Maybe the entire publishing industry is less than a generation away from becoming a bubbling cauldron of standardless soup. I’ve got to say, though, I hope not.
Standards make the author invisible and put the spotlight on the writing, the story, the characters. Standards eliminate formatting distractions that eat away at the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Standards make writing harder so that reading can be easier.
A post script in which I obsess about the capitalization in my title . . .
If I’m going to be snobby about capitalization, I thought, I should get the capitalization in the title right at least. So, the rules I remembered from school required that I capitalize the first word, the last word, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and pronouns. So, “In” is definitely capitalized. “I,” “Am,” “Snobby,” and “Capitalization.” Check.
Huh. What part of speech is “which”? Adjective, describing the invisible noun “essay”? Pronoun, replacing “essay”? Either of those would be capitalized. As long as it’s not a preposition, I’m fine, right?
But “about” definitely is a preposition. So it doesn’t get capitalized? That just looks stupid. Maybe I should look up the rules. Turns out, you can basically find a rule to support any sort of capitalizing you want to do with your title, including one where you can capitalize any word five or more letters long, which seems random. But, hey, now at least it doesn’t look stupid.