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I respect that with the power of language, we don't necessarily need to capitalise anything, because a description of how a character is speaking is more powerful.

Take my example:

The hooded man took another hard right through a thin gap between two stalls, forcing Rett to speed up again. With the man out of sight, he sped up, half in desperation, half in fear of losing him permanently.

“Watch it!” a man cried as Rett pushed him out of his way.

He bumped into a woman as he shoved past, spilling the contents of her bag onto the ground.

"Sorry, ma’am!” Rett shouted back, without stopping to help. He wove his way through and between more shoppers, and quickly took the same right turn that the man did. He ground to a halt when he realised that the man was gone.

His breathing quickened. “DAMN it!”

I've already got Rett shouting back toward the woman after spilling her bag, but his final words are a curse. A different type of shouting; a real exclamation.

What should I do? Is capitalising here okay, or should I return it to normal case and give explanation?

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  • 3
    Are you constrained to plain text only, or can you use formatting like italics? Nov 24, 2013 at 19:05
  • Sure, I could use italics. What would be the difference in terms of what the reader interprets?
    – Dan Hanly
    Nov 24, 2013 at 20:48
  • Thanks -- just wanted to know what your formatting constraints actually were before working on an answer. Nov 24, 2013 at 20:53
  • Typically all caps = shouting is an e-mail etiquette or for any writing where you are writing communications with another person in lieu of a face to face conversation. If I use it in my fiction, it's normally to denote someone who has yet to be party to the conversation, entering via a yell that draws attention to themselves from an existing conversation, and quiets the initial speakers. It's similar to the use of sudden onomatopoetic sounds.
    – hszmv
    Dec 9, 2022 at 18:20

5 Answers 5

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I'd be fine with all caps here. It's emphatic in a different way than italics. To me I hear the volume and force behind the word, not just the intensity.

Compare:

His breathing quickened. "Damn it!"

His breathing quickened. "DAMN it!"

The first one could be under his breath — vehement, but not necessarily meant to be heard. The second one is definitely a shout.

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Text in all capitals is harder to read than text in mixed case:

A 1955 study by Miles Tinker showed that “all-capital text retarded speed of reading from 9.5 to 19.0 per cent for the 5 and 10-minute time limits, and 13.9 per cent for the whole 20-minute period.” Tinker concluded that, “Obviously, all-capital printing slows reading to a marked degree in comparison with Roman lower case.” (found via this post on UX)

In the case of a single word this probably doesn't matter, but for consistency you will want to use the same style everywhere in your work that calls for extra shouting. Will that always be just a word or two? Full sentences in all-caps are likely to impede your readers.

Another option is to use italics, which has long been the typography standard for emphasis. Emphasis isn't the same as shouting, but it may convey your intent in context. However, in fiction specifically, be aware that sometimes italic text is used to convey thoughts rather than speech.

So there is no perfect solution. In making a decision consider all the places in your work where you will need to apply it.

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  • Thanks for this. It's very useful. I wanted to convey both a shout, but also a sharp curse. If I follow by example throughout my story I wouldn't envisage this style being used in circumstances of more words. For prolonged shouting, I probably wouldn't emphasise at all, sticking with description instead. The link to the study is very useful.
    – Dan Hanly
    Nov 24, 2013 at 22:27
  • 3
    You can have more than one use for italics. When the text is in quotes and it's clearly the person saying something emphatic, nobody is going to think that the speaker suddenly thought one word mid-sentence. Nov 25, 2013 at 0:21
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His breathing quickened. "Damn it!" he shouted.

or

His breathing quickened and he shouted, "Damn it!"

All caps reads as amateurish, at least to my eye.

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There are different styles of emphasis: underlining, spacing, italics, bold face, all caps and small caps, change of font face, color etc. Some of them can be found in printed magazines, others have been in use in the past, yet others are common on the internet or in typewritten manuscripts.

The question, which style of emphasis you might want to use is a question of usage: What do publishers do, and what, therefore, do readers expect?

If you go to a book store and flip through a shelf of recent publications, you will notice: Most novels do not use emphasis at all!

Some novels use italics for something like thoughts. And that's about it. Sometimes SF novels use other kinds of emphasis to mark brain-to-brain thought communication, computer voices etc. But no novel I remember reading uses any kind of emphasis to mark change in volume or intensity of speech.

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Sorry for being late to the party. I've been researching this and finding little that is useful, recent or makes any sense. I don't care how carefully you have described the scene. The reader may fully understand that the characters are on board a speedboat, throttle all the way open, engine rpms spiking as they catch air over the waves then slamming back down, desperately trying to be heard saying, "Would like a spot of Tea?" That just doesn't do it for me! Come on, THEY ARE SHOUTING! Why does that make it bad writing?

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