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Styling Text Messages in Fiction

Styling Text Messages in Fiction

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Your protagonist’s phone vibrates. It’s a text from her best friend, but how? He died exactly one year ago in a car crash. The words come into focus.Wait a second. How should text messages be styled in a manuscript? Boldface? Italic? Can we just use quotation marks? With the irruption of apps for messaging and social networking in real life hatching a spate of electronic correspondence in fictional lives, the real mystery for editors and writers is how to display texts in a manner that’s clear, consistent, and minimally intrusive.
Because new situations aren’t burdened by dicta or tradition, formatting and design logic can be customized for each story universe.
The Chicago Manual of Style has no official position on how to style texts, but according to one Chicago Style Q&A, “Unless a designer wants to create a special typography for text messages (as is sometimes done in books for children and young adults), just use quotation marks. It’s never been considered necessary to have a separate style for phone conversations, e-mails, or other types of communication, and texts are nothing new in this regard.”Unnecessariness aside, I was curious as to how this problem has been solved elsewhere. A number of contemporary epistolary works tell stories entirely through emails, texts, IMs, social media posts, and tweets. Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson renders each type of communication in a contrasting design, giving its pages a digital-scrapbook feel. It’s freeing to realize that, because new situations aren’t burdened by dicta or tradition, formatting and design logic can be customized for each story universe. Editor and writer Amy J. Schneider, who gave a talk on “Copyediting Fiction for Traditional Publishers” at the ACES 2017 conference, says, “My approach on handling e-text in fiction is to first follow any existing style and then apply my own.” This freedom (a.k.a. winging it) allows manuscript-specific rules to breathe with a stylistic integrity that reinforces the tone of the book.
Italics are the reigning solution for cuing a shift.
Take these examples from recent YA novels, ordered by degree of visual impact, and note how it’s possible for one publisher to adopt drastically different styles. (Some excerpts are edited for length.)

Hey, the text reads.

Hey yourself, I text back. I miss you.

—Juliann Rich, Gravity, Bold Strokes Books, 2016

Italics are the reigning solution for cuing a shift; that’s why they’re often used to display letters and book passages. However, if italics also signal inner dialogue, memories, thoughts, and flashbacks, you might achieve more clarity through using another style for text messages.

Kim: He used to get picked on.

“What?” I whispered.

Me: He’s never said anything about that.

—Kenneth Logan, True Letters from a Fictional Life, HarperTeen, 2016

A rare and revealing chat midway through a novel of (italicized) letters was pedestaled in a block quote, the texts distinguished from regular prose by a sans serif font and script-style attributions.

I grab a sketchbook, but my phone vibrates.

U free? No name attached.

Depends on who u are.

—Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Original Fake, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

In-line text messages in bold might feel disruptive, but Original Fake is visually bold elsewhere by design, incorporating art, comics, and graphical elements throughout to engage the audience.
What happened to “mind your own business”?

I wrote back right away.

Sorry about that.
I don’t need the hassle.

—Rahul Kanakia, Enter Title Here, Hyperion, 2016

Here, per texting convention, the primary point of view is flush right and the other is flush left. This is how the Kindle version appears; in the print book, the messages are also presented in shaded bubbles, like an actual text conversation.
Focus on choosing sustainable styles that support your editorial intention.
If you are inclined to mirror other texting practices in fiction—all caps, abbreviations, emoticons, kaomoji, other emoji—a light hand is more effective. Even when there’s little chance of misreading, wading through slang and shorthand is a lot of work, for editors and designers as well as readers. And remember, design that goes beyond basic manuscript prep requires a conversation, by text or otherwise. Unless your editorship has a broader-than-usual scope, focus on choosing sustainable styles that support your editorial intention.
Beyond Kerning: How to Proofread Design

Beyond Kerning: How to Proofread Design

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

If you love catching a zero in place of a capital O, a curly quote in place of a prime, or two single quote marks in place of a double, you can hone your eagle eye by learning to spot flaws in design.Why should copyeditors care about design? Design directly correlates with function. A core part of the plain-language movement, good design enhances usability. And let’s be honest: We judge books by their covers because doing so works. Poor design hints at below-par contents, whereas good design suggests professionalism and credibility—results we strive for in copyediting. Errors in typographical or graphical style might not be as awful as, say, a typo on a book cover, but those who believe this have never been haunted by not stopping a gap in 96-point type, a misaligned photo grid, or a low-resolution logo from going to print. Scrutinizing design and layout from a designer’s point of view helps us expand our roles and usefulness as editors and proofreaders.Building on the methodology in The Chicago Manual of Style’s “How to Proofread and What to Look For” on checking typographic style inconsistencies, here are some tips for proofreading design that I developed from years of working closely with and training more than a hundred designers and editors in the advertising industry.
Good design suggests professionalism and credibility—results we strive for in copyediting.

Begin by Discovering

Before you zoom in, pull back so you can observe big-picture patterns and deduce the design logic. The logic can differ for each project, designer, or client. Look at all content as shapes, colors, arrangements, and hierarchies. What’s happening? Your role is to uphold consistency and decide if inconsistencies have a sublogic (acceptable) or are mistakes (unacceptable).

Then Check the Basic Components

Text elements include names, titles, taglines, headings, body, quotations, event details, and synopses. Styles to look for: font family, typeface, color, size (vertical), scaling (horizontal), stroke, drop shadows, extrusions, drop caps, leading, tracking, and kerning.Common errors:
  • The direction of the drop shadow is different on one heading.
  • To close the visual gap between a closing quote mark and a period, the space is overkerned, putting the quote mark on the inside.
  • The leading between three or more stacked lines appears uneven. (If the leading isn’t consistent, equalize. If it is consistent, cheat the leading to balance the optical illusion created by descenders and ascenders.)
If possible, stand behind a designer and watch them work. Design errors are often software specific.
Graphic elements include logos, photos, art, figures, snipes (graphic stickers), borders, and rules. Styles to look for: size, color, version, resolution, edges, clearance, thickness, and juxtaposition.Common errors:
  • Similarly sized text boxes have different border thicknesses.
  • The registration mark or tagline disappears because the box containing the logo isn’t open enough.
  • A photo doesn’t butt against the inside border of a box, causing a thin gap to appear.
Arrangement includes position, grouping, alignment, and layering. Styles to look for: centering, staggering, justification, rag, vertical alignment, line breaks and wraps, baseline, and negative space. Common errors:
  • Punctuation is hung without accounting for the width and weight of the typeface.
  • An off-center title treatment looks like a mistake because it wasn’t staggered enough to look intentional.
  • Names that require parity in presentation, such as two stars with top billing on a movie poster, are not resting on the same baseline.
If possible, stand behind a designer and watch them work. Design errors are often software specific, and if you know how things can go wrong—dropouts, distortion, doubling, deletions—it will strengthen your ability to notice potential problems.
But remember: Just because you’ve found a real error doesn’t mean it’s worth marking.
But remember: Just because you’ve found a real error doesn’t mean it’s worth marking. Weigh the consequences of letting it stand with the possibility that new errors might be introduced each time the file is handled.When done artfully, a design no-no can be transformed into a big yes. Stick with straight quote marks to punch up blocky type. Use bad kerning to provoke angst. It’s all about the design logic and the desired effect.
Crafting Citations through Principles, Not Rules: MLA Style, Eighth Edition

Crafting Citations through Principles, Not Rules: MLA Style, Eighth Edition

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

As a student of the humanities, I worked with Modern Language Association (MLA) style long before I became aware of the other styles. So it’s big news to me and generations of scholars that the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook, published in April, breaks from a rule-based format to one that focuses on the principles for crafting useful citations.
Because the universal methodology does not hinge on the medium, MLA style now accommodates all new media.
Half the length of the prior edition, the eighth edition explains the reasoning behind the new approach, centering on the core elements common to most works, such as author and title, rather than publication format, such as book and website. Because the universal methodology does not hinge on the medium, MLA style now accommodates all new media, the migration of publications from medium to medium, nested sources, and special circumstances. This approach underscores the importance of logic, flexibility, and audience in knowing which details are relevant and in what order to arrange them. Therefore, you can document the same source in multiple ways by including, omitting, and ordering information depending on context and purpose. By teaching the overarching philosophy, the handbook encourages users to think critically.Editors who cross over to other style guides in search of solutions can find concrete examples for handling new media, including online usernames, comments on an online forum, email messages, tweets, and YouTube content. Also, the MLA Handbook’s streamlined citations are ideal for authors who find other styles overly complicated.
By teaching the overarching philosophy, the handbook encourages users to think critically.
To help the transition, The MLA Style Center has a Q&A section, examples, and a practice template. The clearer our understanding of the role of citations in propelling academic conversation and insight, the easier it will be to craft citations that are useful to your readers.Note: The eighth edition replaces the discontinued MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, also published by the MLA.
Staying Ahead of Style Guides

Staying Ahead of Style Guides

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Were you delighted by the ruling on Internet by The Associated Press Stylebook? Effective June 1, 2016, Internet became internet, no longer capitalized. Though many reacted with trepidation, others have desired this change for the last decade or so. Susan C. Herring wrote in Wired last year that “the lower-case version will eventually win the day . . . driven by age-old principles of language change.”Because certain patterns are predictable, you can stay ahead of the game by altering style before it becomes convention.
Consistent inconsistencies in well-edited works will be understood to be deliberate.
Following popular usage helps publications appear progressive but won’t serve ones aiming for a buttoned-up style. Departing from the dicta of style guides is best done with the client, employer, and publisher on board and when it supports the tone and mission. (See the In Style column “Consistency vs. Flexibility” in Copyediting’s February−March 2015 issue.) Here are examples of safe style departures:
  • Closing compounds. The typical progression for compounds is hyphenated, open, closed. Google’s Ngram Viewer bears this out, as seatbelt and rollercoaster rise and seat belt and roller coaster dip.
  • Not overitalicizing non-English words. Consider your audience before italicizing non-English words not in your dictionary. For example, leave Sanskrit names of asanas in roman for yoga magazines and Spanish words in roman when italics might distract.
  • Using portmanteau words. Chances are you don’t blink at spork, emoticon, or mockumentary. A coinage becomes accepted when usage is wide and sustained, so if it works, use it.
  • Breaking patterns. It’s nice when style is consistent across the board, but it doesn’t have to be. Maybe you resisted email because it deviated from e-book, but the latter has been falling out of favor, with ebook rising steadily on the Ngram Viewer.
Pedants and sticklers may not like it, but some will find fault even when spelling, grammar, style, and usage are correct. Consistent inconsistencies in well-edited works will be understood to be deliberate.
Nine Obscure (but Useful) Recommendations from The Chicago Manual of Style

Nine Obscure (but Useful) Recommendations from The Chicago Manual of Style

Note: This article originally appeared in Copyediting newsletter, which explains the low word-to-humor ratio, and is reproduced with permission.

Reading The Chicago Manual of Style while on deadline is different from curling up with it for a leisurely read. If you haven’t had time for the latter, not to worry. I’ve compiled a list of lesser-known but useful recommendations from the sixteenth edition. [Update: Corresponding references for the 17th edition are in brackets.]
In informal writing, a comma need not follow an introductory yes or no: “Yes we can.”
  • CMS 6.39 [6.34]. In informal writing, a comma need not follow an introductory yes or no: “Yes we can.”
  • CMS 6.104 [6.106]. If one of the terms separated by a slash is an open compound, you can add a space before and after the slash to clarify word groups: exclamation point / period.
  • CMS 7.49 [7.53]. Only the first appearance of a non-English word needs to be italicized if, through repetition, readers will become familiar with it.
  • CMS 7.83 [7.87]. In compound modifiers where an adjective modifies an adjective-noun compound, the first hyphen is not necessary if the meaning is clear: late thirteenth-century music.
  • CMS 8.153 [8.154]. Proper nouns beginning with a lowercase letter followed by a capital—eBay, iTunes, iPhone—are considered capitalized and can begin a sentence or heading with the case of the initial letter intact. (Also see the In Style column “Lowercasing the First Word of a Sentence” in Copyediting’s August–September 2014 issue.)
  • CMS 8.163 [8.165]. Colons and commas omitted on title pages for design reasons should be added to the titles in running text, such as the colon between the title and the subtitle.
  • CMS 8.171 [8.173]. An italicized title used within an italicized title should remain italicized and be enclosed in quotation marks. Other italicized terms (e.g., non-English words, species names, ship names) used within a title should be set in roman.
  • CMS 8.196−7 [7.61–2]. Mottos and common short signs—such as Watch Your Step—are capitalized headline style but not italicized or enclosed in quote marks.
  • CMS 14.105 [14.96]. Though a colon usually separates the main title and the subtitle in running text, it does not follow a main title that ends with a question mark or exclamation point: Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life.

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