The microspacing problem

I miss cooking. While my foot continues to recover, I have tended to use it less and stay out of the kitchen for long periods because wearing slippers has been bad news and the floor is way too cold. Hopefully that will change, but it snowed today. A lot. In the latter half of April.

Apropos of nothing, I found an old post on cooking steak tips sous vide, and now I want steak tips and mushrooms like they have at the Fair. I kinda want them right this moment.

But the main thing I wanted to talk about was justification. Not for my future plans to nuke Redmond, for which I discovered newer reasons this past week, or anything of that sort. I’m talking about typography, a subject near and dear to my heart that despite its nearness and dearness I know hardly enough about.

It’s like this: I’m very, very close now to pulling the trigger on The Well of Moments. I’m proud of the book it’s become and since my first beta reader feedback it’s all the better. I’m still waiting on more notes, but I don’t know that I want to wait too much longer. However, there’s one minor problem that’s bugged me in all my paperback releases: text justification.

With full justification you can end up with lines that have too few letters to soak up the space, so the space between words grows by quite a lot. Hyphenation would fix that, but I disable hyphenation in my books because automatic hyphenation in word processors is absolutely terrible. OpenOffice (although I now use LibreOffice) does a much better job and lets you fine-tune all sorts of things, but at the end of the day you basically have to hyphenate by hand if you want it done right.

Plus, even then you sometimes have a lot of space left over that you need to use. Professional typesetters handle that with something called microspacing, adding a little extra space between letters on lines where nothing else works. You’ve probably seen it in a paperback. When it’s done badly it’s really noticeable, but done right it could make all the difference. And there are some lines in my book that would benefit from that difference.

So as part of my formatting macros, which handle things like ligatures and fixing the EM dash and a number of other niceties (including, for this series, doing an outer alignment on the chapter titles), I now want to have a macro that will go line by line, finding lines that have way too much added space, and automatically apply hyphenation (if feasible) to just the word on the following line, and then the appropriate amount of microspacing to the entire adjusted line. Ligatures will have to be avoided on lines that do this, but I can live with that.

It’s a bit of a puzzle to work out the right way to go about that with the macro language, which is as easy to work with as a wolverine, and recently I have more demands on my brain that have kept me from pursuing the implementation properly.

But for the love of good typography, and to make those few lines that need this stand out so much less, I really want to give it a go. I put a lot of care into my paperbacks, and after three of them I really want the fourth to be better still. It’s the perfectionist in me.

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About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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