Friday, 17 February 2012

Kerning and other sources of irritation

xkcd: A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language
I'm sure all my blog readers know what kerning is - okay, one of you at the back there doesn't. Sit up straight and pay attention.

 Kerning is the adjustment of space between characters in a line of text, using their shape and relationship to each other to 
make them more visually appealing.

I use it when doing the lettering for my book covers; Adobe Photoshop allows you to fine tune spacing to a high degree. 
Once you become aware of the possibility of bad kerning, you will be irritated by it whenever you come across an example.

Another thing that once noticed, bugs you forever is incorrect apostrophes - unnecessary apostrophes are even worse than missing ones, as they demonstrate an inept striving for accuracy.

Getting more esoteric, indents should not be used at the start of chapters and after scene breaks. A traditional refinement subliminally indicating a break to the reader, this is the convention in printed books but many formatters of ebooks don't seem to know about it. I can't help noticing it as I read. I wish I didn't.

(What was that you just said? Pedantic, moi? Plih.)


  1. You're absolutly right about the lack of an indent after a break in the story but the problem is that many documents are produced from Word files and use styles for the formatting. It's not a simple matter to change so that no indent is used after a break.

    Maybe we indie authors will just have to learn to do Shift Return twice where we want to produce that break in the story.

  2. I like a space between paragraphs as well as no indent for new scenes. It looks more professional. When formatting I use Mobipocket and tinker with the indents in the HTML which is fiddly but doable. (I don't know how anyone produces decent formatting from a Word document, as Word has so much hidden formatting.)

  3. I don't know why people get muddled with the indent-thing. You only have to look at every decent book, see how it's done, and copy it.

    I suppose there are those who think these conventions don't apply to them, that they have a right to individuality. But the indents and line breaks are a message about the pace and direction of your narrative - a communication that readers will understand. And it's not that hard to get them right!

  4. Jo, you are a fellow spirit - totally agree :o)

  5. I think I'm the sister of the person in the back with their hands up cos they've not heard of Kerning.

    I have now! I am taking down note's! I'm kidding! Notes! LOL!!

    Well it is Friday.

    Take care

  6. Kitty, you made me laugh. And now it's Saturday. Onwards and upwards.

  7. It is possible to write a book in MS Word and use styles to get the spacing between paragraphs. Once completed, save it as filtered html and it can then be converted to .epub or .mobi documents.

    Kerning should be taken care of automatically, but Word allows you to fine tune kerning. You'll find it under Fonts > Advanced. It's only really useful in title pages where you have letters such as AW next to each other.

    The real problem is getting those line indents after a break in the text correct. Normally a style is used on the body text to indent the start of each new paragraph. This shouldn't occur though if there is a break in the text. The way I've found is to use Word's Quicktext option to insert a linefeed (Shift Enter), the separator and another linefeed. You can then carry on without getting that indented paragraph.

  8. The unnecessary apostrophe is what Lynne Truss calls The Greengrocer's Apostrophe (as in “Brussels Sprout’s”, “Open on Sunday’s” etc.). This and many other punctuation abuses are covered in her excellent and entertaining book - Eats, Shoots & Leaves; I thoroughly recommend it. As for commas, Truss says that although they’re often overused, they can be essential to convey a sentence’s meaning. She cites another shop window notice: “No dogs please” which, she says, without a comma after "dogs" is wrong because clearly so many dogs DO please…

  9. John, the only formatting method I understand is the one I use - but it gets the results I want :o)

    Patrick, Lynne Truss is brilliant. As well as E,S & L, I have a collection of her articles which make me laugh out loud.

  10. Formatting is so frustrating! Glad to learn from your hard work, though.

  11. Frustrating yet rewarding - I get quite obsessive about formatting. Adobe Photoshop too is an interesting challenge. I'm doing some of the most amateur vector art you've ever seen right now.

  12. May I confirm, please, that, in most circumstances, except, of course, those in which they do not, it is true to say, generally speaking, that dogs please. Too many commas, on the other hand, generally do not.

  13. And we know Gentlemen Lift The Seat.

  14. I'm afraid I'm one of those writers, Lexi. I never go back and remove the indents in my formatting, not even in the paper versions. It's already so much work to do the basic formatting (and all the different versions). To be honest, it never occurred to me that the indents would actually bother anyone. I always thought the absence looked kind of strange anyway. To be honest, it bothered me. Why were those paragraphs somehow special? Why did the formatting change and distract me from the story like that?

    Well, it's not the greatest literary sin I've committed, no doubt, but now it's going to lurk in the back of my mind haunting me forever unless I reformat everything. Let's see, I have nine active titles right now, all on Kindle and most in paperback, some of those available on Smashwords and Barnes & Noble... hmm. Maybe I'll wait on that. Or maybe I'll make poor formatting my trademark? No, that doesn't sound great either.

  15. You are not alone, Jamie. But you are Wrong.

    We may see the convention change as ebooks gain ground. Alas.