Saturday, December 1, 2012

December 2012 - Widows & Orphans

  "Prefer the standard to the offbeat." Strunk & White

    There are two references to "widow and orphans" and these are:

#1 any page where from one to six words takes up a line no matter where it falls on the page (usually the end of a paragraph).

#2 the "keep together" feature of a document that, when on, prevents one line, or partial line, from appearing at the top of a page all by itself.

    A prime example of #1 is the opening paragraph sentence above.

Technically the experts consider widows and orphans as the first line of only a few words that is at the top of a page, thus there would be the odd look of extra white space. Since space is money in any publication, the line with one to six words is wasted. So came into being the "hold together" default feature of word processing programs that keeps widows and orphan words with their paragraphs. That means a page may have less than a 1" bottom margin or an extra blank line making for a 1" plus bottom margin.
    As a writer of fiction, you want to turn off your widows/orphan default feature because book publishers need to know actual lines in use and they don't want "extra" blank lines on any page.
    But here's the thing: spotting a widow or orphaned line is a godsend for tightening prose and gaining extra lines to use elsewhere in a story. Say you find you have three orphan words at the end of a paragraph just setting on a line by themselves. When you look at the paragraph it belongs to, you'll notice the ragged right margin has a lot of white spaces. Now, look at the line with the biggest white space and see if you can:

a) go to the line and swap out a shorter word for a big word, like "infinitesimal" becomes "tiny"


b) look for prepositional phrases, clauses, or repetitions of had, that, there, etc. and revise to eliminate them

The upshot is that when the computer resets the paragraph, those orphaned words will vanish.

Here's something else to consider: when I judge contest entries, I often find the last page has only a few lines, or a few paragraphs. Any end-of-chapter page that is not half full is a prime candidate for a widows-orphans check. Based on my own experience, there are enough widows-orphans lines that a writer could gain a page of text (often more). So, if a novel has 28 chapters, that's 28 pages that could be better used and that's 7,000 to 9,268 words that could improve the story. Then again, if an editor says to cut and tighten, well, one way is to look for those widows and orphans and get rid of them.

So, it bears thinking about adding a note to your revision to-do list and look for widows and orphan lines as well as the last page of a chapter for "orphaned" paragraphs. You do have a revision "cheat sheet," don't you?

Because of the publication of my paranormal-fantasy-romance e-book Karma and Mayhem and Jewels of the Sky, a fantasy/sci-fi adventure (a.k.a. my Women's Starscape Fiction), Rimstone Concepts, will be publishing some of my "Cheat Sheets." Currently available for download are: "10 Types of Writers" and "Revision 'Cheat Sheets'–the Overview Process."

If you'd like notification of other Cheat Sheet titles, etc. becoming available, join me at Twitter (which is also where I announce my book releases, public appearances, workshops, guest blogging, interviews, and blog updates, etc.).

Wishing you Happy Holidays and a great New Year!

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