Marchbooks' Blog

October 12, 2009

Even The Prettiest Font Won’t Rescue Weak Prose

Filed under: On Writing and Publishing — marchbooks @ 4:48 pm
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Just a short post today. I received a children’s story from a member in a writing group I attend. A aggressively bold 16 point font screamed across an 18 page document. I had to laugh, because I can well remember making the same mistake when I started writing. I would painstakingly search through dozens, nay hundreds, of fonts looking for just the right one to display my lovely words.

Of course, I can see, did see the attraction. There are 50 million, fun and exciting, fonts out there (that’s not an exact count of course – I’m just saying that there are a lot). That does not mean we should use them. I don’t remember if it was a writing teacher, an agent or an editor who first broke the news to me, but the plain and simple fact is that you should keep it plain and simple. Any serious writer should stick to a handful of standard fonts.

It was not until I opened this story on my computer that I fully realized the rationale behind this. When I first opened this document, I have to be honest, I had no desire to read it. I felt as though I was being assaulted by this hard-hitting type. It took over 15 minutes of formatting and removing hard returns for me to reduce this 18 page document to six pages.

As a purely environmental point of fact, using three times the necessary paper to print your story is not a good idea. Sure, if you only intend that your work be read online, it doesn’t matter. In this instance, the writer wants feedback. The best way to provide feedback (at least for me) is to work from a hard copy, with a red pen. Many agents and editors still prefer to receive hard copies of submissions. Even on a computer, someone with anything less than a 20 inch monitor would spend all of their time scrolling back and forth because of the size of the font. If you want to dress up a one page poem with a font that catches the mood of your poem, have at it, but believe me, no one wants to read through your 5000 word story in a large, ornate font.

Looking at these unconventional fonts for long periods of time can cause eye strain. Imagine being an agent or editor; their desk is covered with manuscripts and they are all printed in a different font. How old would that get? I know, you want your manuscript to stand out – find another way.

Lastly, and I cannot say this emphatically enough, a fancy font will not compensate for bad prose and it will only distract from good writing. Do yourself a favor, stick to Times Roman, Garamond, Palantino, it doesn’t matter which but stick with a conventional font and let your stories stand on their own merits.

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  1. The best way to stand out is to write something very well, original, and have fun with it. The readers, whether they are agents, editors, or you average Joe, can usually tell if the author had fun or not. I know that when the writer enjoyed what they did I enjoyed what I read. Authors almost always let it known which books they loved writing and which they did not.
    Great post,

    Comment by sarahwinters — October 17, 2009 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

    • Tis true that an author’s enjoyment of what they are doing is usually evident in their story. As with most things in life, you can get a pretty good gauge of how much someone loves (or doesn’t love) what they are doing by looking at the fruits of their labor.

      As for the original part, I, for one, do not think that there is any such a thing as an original thought anymore. With very few exceptions, it has all been done or said before. The great thing about fiction, however, is the tremendous effect a writer can have on his/her audience by the way they say something (case in point – the hundreds of books with a vampire theme). Although most of these stories work off of the same basic premise, each author applies their own variation on the theme, having a dramatic impact on the end product.

      Drawing attention to that unique voice can be a challenge though. With so much literature vying for the attention of publishers/editors/readers, it can be difficult for new authors to get the recognition that their work might merit. But, as tempting as it might be to try to make a manuscript stand out from the masses, I don’t think that funky fonts are the way to go.

      Thanks for reading Sarah. I hope your editing continues to go well.

      Comment by marchbooks — October 18, 2009 @ 3:27 pm | Reply

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