First Substance, then Style

Once you have a plain text file, dress it up with MS Word Styles. Just be careful not to fall in love.

Again, that screaming sound you hear is from well-intentioned people (well-informed, even) who simply cannot abide the thought of using MS Word for any part of making a poetry E-book anthology. If you are comfortable in CSS/HTML, then you can ignore this post, and catch up with us once we get into the posts about line and stanza classes.

But if you’re squeamish about CSS/HTML and comfortable in MS Word, then perhaps this step will serve as a gentle introduction to the concept of logical, hierarchical page structure. Many other sites cover MS Word Styles in depth. The main idea, here and later on, is simple: Don’t make text look fancy. Define it as fancy.

The easiest way to understand that sentence is to download the MS Word file and try it out yourself. But here’s the gist of it in screenshots:

Microsoft Word screenshot
The first fake poem in Yellow Buick Review is “Chrome Bumper Reflections.” As you can see, the title looks to be 16 point Helvetica. But what matters is that I’ve defined it as Heading 3. MS Word styles boxAnd Heading 3, as you can see in MS Word’s Format ->Styles dialog box, has all of the attributes for the titles of poems in this anthology.

So far as we’re concerned “Heading 3” = “Poem Title.” The beauty of using styles is that, should I later decide I want all titles to be 18 point, I’ll only need to change the one style. All the titles in my document will adjust to keep up.

You’re free to create all the styles you like, or you can just start from the Yellow Buick Review template (free).

Here are some other things I’ve done:

  • About 60% of the lines in YB Review are going to be “Poem Line” style. “Poem Line” is our “normal” style for poetry: left-justify, hanging indent.
  • Similarly, I’ve got other styles for when lines need to start farther indented or right justified.
  • I have styles for “dedication lines” and prose paragraphs.

Notice that by and large I don’t have an extra “return” between stanzas:

line break screenshot

Instead, I have a special style just for the first line of a stanza: “Poem Stanza”:

line breaks screenshot

That distinction will matter, later.

Conceptually, here’s what matters: The title “Chrome Bumper Reflections” looks to be 16 point, right-justfied Helvetica, but it isn’t. “Chrome Bumper Reflections” is “Heading 3,” however I choose to define that. And I’ve chosen—for now—to define “Heading 3” as 16 point, right-justified Helvetica.

Remember how I said “…but don’t fall in love” in the header of this post? Well, here’s why you oughtn’t fall in love with the look of your MS Word styles: They barely matter. Once we get into HTML and CSS, “Header 3” could be 30 point neon orange for all the difference it’ll make. All that matters is that you’ve created logical distinctions among headers, bylines, dedications, and different stanza formats.





Filed under Manuscript Preparation

7 responses to “First Substance, then Style

  1. Fascinating stuff! Writing poetry scares me – formatting a poetry anthology like this terrifies me! Thanks for the detailed posts in any case – hope to use them in the future!

    • Thanks, Gargi! Some of this advice is available elsewhere, but we’re aiming to put all of it in one big heap of blog posts, and then we’ll post open-source E-book files that anyone can poke at.

      And don’t worry, the world needs far more poets than anthology designers!

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  3. Lara/Trace

    banging my head on this desk…ouch (where were you when I was editing the last anthology!?)

    • Well, there’s always your NEXT anthology, right? That’s why I’m doing this project. I got fed up with all the Googling and crawling on various forums during Bicycle’s last two anthologies, so now I’m putting all this info in one place for anybody to find. I hope it helps!

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