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.”
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.
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.