Widows, Orphans and the Lost Art of Book Layout
Finally the layout for our second book, Sick, is complete! After a huge sigh of relief I began to contemplate the totally thankless nature of book layout. If you do it right, no one should notice. The recent boom in self and small press publishing has been great for variety but is often hard on the eyes. If you’ve ever picked up a zine where each page of text is crammed to the gills with tiny letters you know what I’m talking about. Scientists have actually studied the effect of layout on a reader’s mood and found that poor layout can cause the reader to become irritated and angry, even if they don’t know what they’re angry about. It turns out there is even an optimal text column width and long lines of text can cause eye strain. Even the most exciting, imaginative fiction can be a chore to get through if it’s poorly presented.
The text size, line length and distance between lines are all important factors in making text easy to read. The eye should land effortlessly on the next line of text. Having to search for it or accidently skipping a line can be very frustrating.
The object is to get the smoothest read by avoiding stumbling blocks for the eye. You would think book layout is simply pouring the text into a document with page numbers but then again text isn’t a fluid and doesn’t fill up the space consistently. For instance, sometimes you wind up with a single short word on a line by itself at the end of a paragraph, this is known as a “widow.” Or you get “orphans”, the first or last line of a paragraph by itself at the bottom or top of a page. These instances force the eye to jump through hoops and break a reader’s concentration. Too many hyphenated words at the ends of lines can also cause the eye to stumble. To correct these problems designers play with the distance between the actual letters, tighten it and a word can be brought up to the previous line or make it looser to push the text to the next line. But there is only a little wiggle room before the letters will become crowded or look like they’re floating in space.
So sometimes you just have to live with widows, orphans and hyphens. Getting the most easily readable text involves a constant game of compromise.
current mood: thoughtful
current music: Dusted by Screw