Sunday, 12 July 2015

Take This, You Italicized, Bold-Faced, Jumbo-Fonted @#$%&'s--Reb Macrath

Hello, my name is Reb. And I'm a wanton Fontaholic. I'm addicted to experimentation with type fonts in hopes of seducing the reader by force. Furthermore, I'm a multiple stylistic substance abuser. Like a crackhead who's also hooked on alcohol, cigarettes, junk food, texting, unimaginative sex and Hannibal, I am helpless against the temptation to use italics, bold face, CAPITAL LETTERS, different type fonts and type sizes.

For example...I'd like to stop right here and get your attention by screaming

Image result for true confession images

I faced the full scope of my Fontaholism when I set out rewrite my third Kelley Wilde horror novel, Mastery (now MonsterTime). I'd experimented in previous books--in fact, I'd been fascinated by typographical stunts since I first read e. e. cummings. And I'd won praise for my skill in conveying sound effects in my second novel, Makoto. But the third time was the anti-charm. My sales weren't what they should have been. Other, younger writers didn't want to play with me at conventions. And I couldn't afford a long black leather duster like horror rock star David Schow's. So I became a maniacal Fontaholic in a rage to take my career by the throat. And I didn't go the battle unarmed. My Mastery arsenal included:

1) Hundreds of italicized words: the names of book titles and newspapers...lines that I wanted readers to know were a character's thoughts...scads of words I felt needed to be emphasized so readers would accent them my way..
2) Bold-faced words and passages. It hadn't been enough for me to state that someone roared or shrieked, I had to put the words in if readers wouldn't know what I meant by roars or shrieks.
3) Capital letters: fine, just fine, for newspaper headlines and okay for special words. The train trip in Mastery is always called The Trip because the hero is stuck in the Sixties. Likewise, fat men are rendered as Fat Men for valid narrative reasons. But, again and again, I went over the top capitalizing bold-faced roars to further crank up the volume: TAKE THAT, YOU GODDAMN HYENA! 

It isn't easy dealing with our little inner devils, no matter what sort they may be.

For three months I wrestled with my Fontaholic sins in Mastery. But I was guided by my growing awareness of ebook realities.
1) It's absurd to seek complete control when readers can change type font/size and background color on their ebook readers. Furthermore, Amazon dictates the type sizes writers can use.
2) Bold-faced type, one formatter warned me, should be used with the greatest of care. Its effect, if overdone, is simply far too heavy. I saw the truth of this advice when reading a book by a colleague who rendered all indirect speech and expressions of thought in bold. Not a pretty sight.
3) Italics are easier on the eye--but we need to lighten up in how we use them in an ebook. For example: in rewriting Mastery, which involves time travel, I italicized expressions that were alien to my time-warped characters--cow yards or cribs in Chinatown--and I did this throughout the paperback version. But after introducing them in the new version, I put them in regular type from then on. I changed most italicized expressions of thought into regular font, adding "I (or s/he) thought" where required. And I always bore in mind that quotes from articles or diaries are best set apart in italics since we can't use different fonts. But if we've 'blown our budget' elsewhere, the total text may be perceived as 'girl' in appearance.
4) On the Kindle screen, whole sentences in capital letters result in a SCREECHY effect. The writer soon looks like a desperate klutz.
5) Stunt typography isn't an option. The 'chiller' or 'spooky' type fonts used for ransom notes in printed books aren't on the Amazon menu. This leaves skillful writing to do the same job--and that shouldn't be seen as a hardship.

All that said, there are exceptions:

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My gifted formatter, Yvonne Bettacourt, referred once to my complex formatting needs. And, even in recovery, I haven't forsaken all of Mastery/MonsterTime's tricks. The hyena vampire's first almighty whoop is all over the page, one letter per line, starting low and then rising, then falling. Here and there, sentences are split into several lines to convey the impression of
someone going...
                       O                              O
                   O      O                     O
                O             O             O
          O                      O      O
       O                             O

Not everyone will approve of these choices--but now they are conscious decisions, not Fontaholfrivolity. And my recovery continues.



Leela Soma said...

Fontaliciously brilliant blog. I had a blast reading it. THANK YOU!

Bill Kirton said...

Some fonts are so seductive but, as you say Reb, need to be used with care and, especially, restraint. I beta-read a friend's novel a few years back and asked her why she capitalised all her nouns (as in German). She gave a long explanation which I didn't find convincing. Worse, though, was the fact that, as I read, the stylstic tic became more and more irritating and actually came between me and the story.

Lydia Bennet said...

Fonts are a dangerous addiction for some writers - and it's become a 'thing' for people to react negatively to varied fonts (especially comic sans), they are often said to be the mark of an amateurish author, and I've seen this tendency taken as a typically 'self-published' trait too. Poets despise poems with varied fonts for similar reasons, ditto centrally justified layouts. Capitals are shouty and considered bad etiquette online, eg on facebook, where anyone who uses caps is instantly checked for 'shouting' regardless of their actual words, so it's a very risky thing to use caps in ebooks. However, I've found many books by 'big' publishers very off-putting when they have tiny fonts in greyish print, I can read them but I hate to, and I'm sure many people can't read tiny print. I tend to stick with good old Times New Roman 12, though when reading on my imac screen I boost them to 125%.

Wendy Jones said...

These fonts sneak in whilst you are not looking. They're slippery little suckers.

Reb MacRath said...

Thanks, all. My rewrite of Mastery is stretching closer to four months, not three--mostly because of this issue. But it's been time well spent. The lessons I've learned will stay with me. And I hope the fontalicious (thank you, Leela) stunts remaining won't cost me too many readers. WHOOOOOOOP!