Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Dingbat Approach

By Bethany Maines

This month at the Stiletto Gang we've been talking about transitions and how moving to a new stage of life can affect writing. But I have to admit that as I sat down to think about the topic all I found myself pondering was the actual literal transitions of writing. One of the primary tasks of a writer is to choose not just what to include, but what to leave out. There are very few (if any?) novels that are told in one long continuous stream of time. And every time the writer skips over the trip to the bathroom or the drive from point A to point B she must choose how to indicate that transition.

Chapter 1
The Hard, Fast Break

Some writers like to make each new location or time switch a new chapter.  It's concrete. It's self explanatory. And pretty hard for the reader to get confused. But others like to the soft break.

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In the typography world those little asterisks are called dingbats. They come in all shapes and sizes and can be themed to the text. Karen Harris Tully's series The Faarian Chronicles is a sci-fi young adult adventure centered on a planet that was settled by Amazon warriors of Earth. This gives the featured culture of the planet a Greek historical context (and strong feminist heroines) and makes the transition dingbats of the omega symbol fun and appropriate.


The softest break of all is the extra space.  As a graphic designer, I'm not in favor of these. It's far too easy, in a longer work, for the extra space to get buried at the end of the page. Then what does the designer do? Force the text to start lower down on the next page? That looks awkward and can lead to confusion on the part of the reader. In other words, if I see these in a book I immediately think the writer is a jerk who doesn't care about how much extra work their designer has to do.
Foolishly, when I first got into the publishing biz I found myself incredibly surprised when my layout manuscript came back for proofing that the designer had kept all of my transitions as I had typed them. Somehow I genuinely thought that I would send off my MS and somewhere out in New York someone would do something clever with my transitions.  I was kind of sad.  I didn't want to manage my own transitions - I wanted someone else to do all the work for me.

Which when I think about it, is about what I think about life transitions as well. How unfortunate that there's no magic wand or designer to outsource those problems to.  I guess I'm just going to put my lifestyle setting on "dingbat" and see what I get.


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Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Wild Waters, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.



1 comment:

  1. I love signals that make it easier to follow the plot, so let's hear it for dingbats!
    In real life, I like the GSP's "recalculating."

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