November 13, 2023

The Beauty and Complexity of Drop Caps in Books

Ever since I was getting my first book ready to publish, I’ve had a fascination with book design. There are a lot of elements in book design that are there to ease the reading experience, make the text easy to follow, and let the rest of the page disappear. But one of my favorite elements not only looks pretty but also better draws you into the story. And that lovely design element is the delightful drop cap.

What are Drop Caps?

Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’ve probably noticed drop caps before—they’re the large initial letter in a story with the next few lines of text wrapped around them. Whenever I see a large initial letter, it makes me want to immediately start reading—which is something that good book design strives to do. In practice, drop caps are usually two to three lines of text tall, but they can be much taller in some instances for a more dramatic effect. 

 Drop caps have been around for centuries, even gracing medieval manuscript pages with ornate filigree and colorful images. Once typesetting became commonplace, an area would be left blank so a scribe or artist could fill in the initial letter later, or decorative letters would be carved on blocks of wood in order to stamp the drop cap onto the page.

While drop caps can be found in any type of book, they are especially common in genres that lend themselves to a touch of the traditional or fantastical, such as historical fiction, fantasy, and classical literature. Regardless of the genre, when I put together design samples for a formatting client, I always try to include at least one design that showcases a drop cap.

Drop Caps Today

Modern typesetting software makes adding drop caps easy. The initial letter can match the rest of the text or be in a more decorative font. The drop cap can also be in a different color or weight than the rest of the text to add interest. 

There’s one special case with drop caps (in the English language) that book designers have different opinions on. The drop cap should always be a letter, but when a chapter/story/text begins with a quote, the first character will be the open quotation mark. One way to deal with this is to simply omit the beginning quotation mark, but I don’t like this option since it makes the sentence grammatically incorrect. The other option is to make both the quotation mark and the first letter of the quote in the drop cap style. This does make the quotation mark larger, but it’s in proportion to the initial letter, which looks nice. I always go with this option when formatting books. (There’s the secret third option of asking the author to rewrite the beginning of each chapter so none of them begin with dialogue, but I would never ask an author to change the text of their story for the sake of the design.)

Drop Caps in Ebooks

After professing my love of drop caps, I must also whole-heartedly admit they do have a major shortcoming, and that’s their appearance in ebooks.

Ebooks are made to be flexible. Readers can choose their fonts, the space between lines, the margins around the page, and even the color theme of the book they are reading. On top of that, ereaders come in different shapes and sizes and can be read in landscape or portrait mode. Additionally, ereader apps can work on smartphones that have tiny screens and PCs using 4K displays.

Because of this need for flexibility, ebooks are coded using HTML and CSS—languages that give webpages their inherent adjustability as well. CSS can handle making beautiful drop caps, but there’s a certain level of control needed over the text style in order for them to look right. In ebooks, some of that style is taken away from the book designer and given to the reader, so there’s no way for the book designer to ensure their drop caps look consistently nice in an ebook.

My workaround for this—since I’ve already admitted to adding drop caps to almost every book—is another initial letter style called the raised cap. While the top of a drop cap aligns with the top of the text block, the bottom of a raised cap aligns with the bottom of the first line of text. It has a similar effect as a drop cap and still looks intentional and nice regardless of the font and spacing chosen by the reader.

Some more observant readers may point out, “Hey, Beth, I’ve read ebooks with drop caps and they looked great!” There are a variety of ereaders available, but Kindle readers have the ability to recognize the styling for drop caps and force them to display a certain way to match the reader's settings.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into drop caps and their role in typography. If you like content like this, let me know! There are so many topics in book design that I could babble about endlessly, and I would love to share some of that information with you. And if you’re a writer looking for someone to turn your finished manuscript into a beautiful book, check out my formatting services here.

November 1, 2023

Surviving November with a Writing Survival Kit

I’m excited to introduce my theme for the month of November: Writing Survival Kit. My plan for this month is to draft my next sci-fi thriller novel, and since I’ve written several novels before, I have lots of experience and advice pertaining to the matter. Throughout the month, I’ll be sharing writing tips, my favorite writing tools, updates on my novels, and fun movies about writers, all on my social media.

Not following me on Social Media yet? Check me out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter/X If you missed my theme last month, “Ghost Stories,” you can still download the ebook of my flash ghost stories here.

Although my next Puzzling Escapes book is coming along, I’m taking a break from it to work on a new fiction novel this month since November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. November is an exciting time of year because many people, from casual hobby writers and teens to seasoned authors with countless published novels, all work toward the same goal: writing 50,000 words in a single month. Since I’m definitely not the only person buckling down to get words written this month, I thought this would be a good time to feature a writing survival kit as my theme.

As always, I’ll share writing tips on Tuesdays, this month focusing on tips to help get words down for the first draft. Then on Wednesdays, I’ll share some tools, both writing-related and otherwise, to help ease the novel-writing journey. When you need a break from writing, check out some of my favorite films that feature authors and writers I share with the #filmfriday hashtag.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, let me know! Feel free to add me as a buddy: my handle is bmart07. I’m excited to participate in this writing event again and wish all of you luck in your writing endeavors!

October 27, 2023

Halloween Goodies for All My Readers

Last year for Halloween, I posted about why I always include a non-food item in treat bags for trick-or-treaters. You can read that post here. This year, I returned to my original fun handout—a booklet of Halloween-themed mazes. All the mazes are new and made specifically for this year’s booklet. Since so much time and effort went into it, I thought it might be nice to share it here with all my readers as well.

Note: these booklets are for personal use. Feel free to download them and print out copies for yourself, your family, and friends. Please do not sell these booklets, use them for commercial purposes, or repurpose or modify the booklets in any way. If you’d like to share the booklet with others, please direct them to this page.

Download Halloween Maze Booklet

If you’ve been following my social media this month, you might have come across some of the flash ghost stories I’ve shared. As a bonus treat, I’ve put all four stories together in a collection. I hope you enjoy these fun little stories as much as I enjoyed writing them!

Download the Ghost Story ebook

View Ghost Stories on the web

I hope you all have a fun, festive, and safe Halloween this year. See you in November—I’ll be introducing the theme soon!

October 2, 2023

October's Theme: Embracing the Ghostly Vibe of the Season

Halloween is the ideal holiday: you get to decorate, the spooky vibe is a fun departure from the normal, role-playing as a variety of characters is celebrated and even encouraged, you don’t have to worry about buying a bunch of gifts, people are encouraged to get out and meet the neighbors, and the whole focus is collecting lots of candy. Although Halloween would be a great theme for the month, I wanted to pick something a little more specific.

As the leaves change colors and the nights grow longer, October brings with it a sense of enchantment and mystery. It's a month that welcomes the supernatural, making it the perfect time to explore all things ghostly.

Yes, October is the ideal backdrop for exploring the realms of the supernatural, so I’m excited to reveal the theme for this October: ghost stories! The boundary between the living and the departed seems to blur during this magical month, inviting us to embrace tales of ghosts and spirits. Join me as I delve into the unknown, and let’s discover the thrill of the paranormal.

Classic Ghost Stories and Spine-Tingling Movies

Throughout October, I’ll feature classic ghost stories that have stood the test of time. These tales will transport us to haunted mansions, eerie graveyards, and mysterious realms where spirits roam freely. Get ready to explore the chilling worlds created by master storytellers.

But that's not all! I’ll also explore the world of cinema with films where ghosts and specters take center stage. Get ready to revisit (or discover!) some of the most iconic ghostly movies ever made.

Flash Fiction for Your Spooky Delight

I’ll also be trying something new this month: I'll be sharing original short and suspenseful flash fiction stories! Each story is designed to send shivers down your spine and ignite your imagination. These quick reads are perfect for a dose of October chills. I’ll only be posting these flash stories on my social media, so make sure you follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter so you don’t miss them!

So, my dear readers, prepare to be enchanted by the ghostly vibes of October. Whether the written word or the silver screen, we’re in for a month of spine-tingling tales, classic hauntings, and captivating flash fiction. Stay tuned for the eerie and the extraordinary as we celebrate the supernatural this October!