Monday, August 5, 2013

Revising with Fonts and Cats

Last post I was thinking about revisions and rewrites, the book The Work of Revision by Hannah Sullivan, a review of her book, and the book How to Write by Gertrude Stein. One more thought on this: typefaces. The review mentions W.H. Auden finding the look of typewritten script "impersonal and hideous." I wondered if, as an exercise, we could take a written piece and just change the typeface several times to find one that feels even more impersonal. The goal, as was mentioned before, is to get distance from the work in order to see the flaws and be able to revise.

If you write on the computer rather than by hand, have you seen what happens when you change the typeface? What part of the writing pops out? Can you see your work differently? Of course, when you've got the final draft and are designing a book, you'll want to pick a typeface that blends with the content, doesn't overshadow it, possibly enhances it, and points in a direction that gives the reader a feel for it.

(1) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet. 

(2) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

(3) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

(4) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

(5) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

(6) I do believe there is fog on my neighbor cat's feet.

I can't even see the first line, since that is the font I'm currently using. Strangely, (2) Courier's monospacing and lightness draws out the foggy feeling and seems to make each letter equal. (3) Love or hate Helvetica, there it is. Same for Times (4). And (5) and (6) are Trebuchet and Verdana.

The typeface affects how you feel about the content. I read here ("The Secret Lives of Fonts") about a student who got better average grades when his essays were set in Georgia. Times New Roman was fine, but not extraordinary, and the average of those set in Trebuchet was worse. Because we may each have our own favorites, we may also carry our own biases. We may judge the writing by its typeface. Do we also judge people by the typefaces they use?

Putting one's writing into a less-beloved face might just give us the distance we need for revision. Just remember to change it back before you send it to other eyes.




1 comment:

Trish J said...

This is a fascinating topic Alisa and, yes, I do think we react to fonts in a similar way to color. As a graphic designer I cannot bear the emerald green being pushed by Pantone and others as the "color of the year" and anything typeset in Comic Sans makes me cringe--yet I cannot articulate why. That being said,you are so right about distancing. I often try a variety of typestyles before deciding on what works best. And in artwork emerald green in small doses can be an enlivening color.