I've noticed that novels and short stories nowadays capitalize the first sentence.

Example (This is from Joe Hill's Throttle):

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Two questions: 1) What's the font size of the capitalized text (right now my normal text is 18px)? 2) Is it common to do this with stories that open with dialogue.

For example, I have a story which opens like this:

“What?” Eri said, eyes narrowed. “There was an earthquake last night?”

I think it looks a bit ugly:

“WHAT?” Eri said, eyes narrowed. “There was an earthquake last night?”

  • 2
    Are you speaking about ebooks or paper books? I read about people having trouble doing it correctly for ebooks (resizing problems). I haven't tried it myself so I cannot say anything about it. But be aware that they do not capitalize the first sentence. They normally capitalize a certain amount of words in the first row. Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 9:47
  • 2
    Yes. In the example, 'they rode west from the slaughter' isn't a sentence, it's a clause. And I'm sure there's not a specific number of words - it's probably just the first few words. In your example you could capitalise '"What?" Eri said, eyes narrowed.'
    – micapam
    Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 0:47

4 Answers 4


In your example, the font size is the same, the capitalized part is done in 'small capitals'.
In my experience, the practice is rare. I wouldn't bother, as it does nothing to improve legibility.

  • Also, plainly capitalizing words (as opposed to using smallcaps) implies SHOUTING. So, "WHAT?!!" Eri exclaimed...
    – SF.
    Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 10:22

Setting the first word, first few words, first phrase or sentence, or the complete first line of each chapter in small caps, sometimes preceded by an initial or drop cap, is done by the typesetter in the course of the interior design of the book. It is never a part of the author's manuscript, unless, for example in scientific essay collections, the publisher explicitly asks for publication-ready, styled manuscripts and provides a style guide.

Practices regarding this vary with publisher, type of book, and/or book designer. There is no rule how this should be done, though there are style guides, like the Yale University SEAS Monograph Styles, that request: "First few words of each chapter: set in small caps" (p. 4). Typophile has a relevant discussion among typographers. And here a book designer explains the use of drop caps and recommends:

You can also add to the effect you’re creating at the beginning of the chapter by emphasizing the first few words following the drop cap. You’ll see this done with small caps, often with some letter spacing. To use this approach, decide on a standard number of words between 3 and 5 and keep all the chapter openings consistent.

Other common ways to emphasize the first few words after a drop cap (or without one) are italics and bold text.

I see the first few words in small caps often. I read a lot of SF&F pocket paperbacks, and it is quite common with some publishers.

Don't do this in the manuscripts that you send in to a publisher!!! Always follow the manuscript guides, usually published on their websites.

  • 1
    This is a good point. It's probably a practice of the publisher and not the author!
    – Dan Hanly
    Commented Nov 7, 2013 at 15:20

The font size remains the same irrespective of the capitalization. Like Hobbes mentioned, it is done in small capitals (for example, if you are using Microsoft Word for writing, you can right click on the selection, click on "Font..." and in the window that comes up, select "Small caps").

I have seen it being done for some novels and I don't believe it is a regular practice. Have rarely seen it for stories, and in my opinion, can be completely done away with if the opening sentence is a dialogue.

You may also find this discussion of some interest:


From the books I read this is quite uncommon (and in my opinion it does not improve legibility), but frequently initials are used. Small capitals would be LaTeXed by '\textsc{...}'.

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