The written language is a fundamental method of communicating. We use the written language to share new ideas through essays and papers, to tell stories of fictional characters living in haunted hotels and to convey various philosophies and theologies to a wide audience. In fact the printing press itself played a huge role in the cultural shift of our society from a tool-using culture to one that is being led by technology. Nevertheless, the written word is about conveying information. Typography being the forms of the Latin alphabet is the process of making this information, more visible.
Typography and typesetting is only successful when the information that is being communicated is clearly legible. The most important aspect of a novel is the story itself and so typography should in a sense make itself invisible to the reader. Beautiful typesetting does not call attention to itself and allows the reader to get lost in the story. Poor typesetting forces the reader to backtrack lines because they lose their place or find the next line with their finger. Poor typesetting makes the reader work too hard and they lose focus on what the author is trying to say.
So what is typesetting?Typesetting is the process of selecting and arranging type for a particular document. In our case, that document is a novel. As I write this it sounds incredibly simple, but be aware that type-setting is a laborious process that requires exceptional attention to detail, something all designers should be striving to acquire.
So how do we set type effectively?Being a technical process there are some key ‘rules’ or tips that we can follow to ensure that our typesetting isn’t sub-par.
1. No Widows or Orphans.
Perhaps the worst terminology used in our industry but one of the most important things to avoid. A widow or orphan is a very short line, usually 1 – 3 words at the end of a paragraph or column. (Even worse if it is on a new page). Whether the word is short or long avoid these guys at all costs. They create uneven space and interrupt the reader.
2. No 2-letter hyphens.
Hyphens can be your friend, they allow for better spacing within a block of text; however, a hyphen that has been created with two or less characters at the start or end create odd shapes and thus distract from the overall reading of the copy.
Leading is the space between lines and although people suggest minimum amounts, I think the best way to assess whether your leading is good is to read the content. I akin leading to rhythm, the looser it is the slower it is to read, the tighter your leading the faster, find a balance and set a good pace for the reader.
4. Line length.
If your lines are too short or long then the information becomes hard to read. A good rule of thumb is anything shorter than 5 and it becomes too hard to read as your eyes need to shift constantly, anything over 15 and it becomes too hard to read because your eyes get lost in the next line. Again, find a balance.
5. Punctuation formatting.
This is my personal pet peeve. Use curly quotes for quote marks or apostrophes, not prime marks (straight ones used to indicate inches or feet). Use option+colon for ellipses, not 3 periods, Use En-dashes for duration where you can substitute “to” and “through”. Em-dashes are for a credit line or for a break in thought in a sentence. These three marks are not interchangeable and are akin to using the wrong pronouns for people, these things need to make sense. Although a small detail the use of the correct ones is a mark of professionalism.
Tracking is the space between characters as a whole within a word. If your tracking is too loose you end up with too much space and the text becomes laborious to read. If your tracking is too tight then the type becomes too hard to read as the characters begin to merge into each other. Like everything else in Type, you need to find a balance.
These are just a few of the key guidelines to setting body copy in an attractive way. If you remember one thing it is that the less obvious your type is, the more successful your typesetting is and the more enjoyable the experience for the reader.