Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Tao of Book Layouts...

I'm currently in the process of putting together my e-book of Japanese poetry, "Under the Sakura Tree". It includes several forms of waka, or Japanese verse. The most familiar is the haiku, with on of 5-7-5. On literally means 'sound parts', which in English is translated to 'syllables'. Other forms include:

choka ("long poems"), which consists of stanzas of lines of alternating 5-7 syllables. The three lines of the very last stanza are 5-7-7.

Tanka ("short poems") have the pattern 5-7-5-7-7.

Finally, sedoka ("memorized poems") are 5-7-7-5-7-7. 

Last week, I went through my paintings, sketches and drawings to find artwork that matched some of the poetry. The challenge was to find a way to balance the text with the illustrations. I could have easily stuck the pictures randomly, but that would have ruined the flow of the book. The Japanese (and other East Asian cultures) put high value on harmony, whether it be relations between people or a nature painting.

Years ago, I spent long hours drawing layouts on graph paper, as the staff of my high school yearbook raced to meet publishing deadlines. I remember counting tiny squares, drawing straight lines with rulers, and labeling the locations of text and pictures. Everything had to be precise; if we were off by just one square in any direction, it meant starting over with a new layout. Obviously this was before desktop publishing and pre-Internet. Yes, it was time-consuming and tedious as anything. I learned hard lessons during those long had to be exact in your measurements to place items just right. 

Technology makes that a thing of the past. An author can use templates to make an e-book, newsletter, or website in moments. Gone are the rulers, the graph paper, and the frustration. Yet convenience doesn't excuse a jumbled mess: if a book isn't formatted correctly and appears to be slapped together at the last minute, I'm not inclined to go past the first paragraph. Form follows function, and vice versa. Balance between text and illustration, or text and white space help the reader along the page. He or she can easily follow your plot (or logical progression of information) without getting lost and frustrated. It makes it more likely the reader will read to the last word.

So I'll look at the pieces of my puzzle and put them together:


I gaze over there

of a soul's worth of poems:

Now to weave them whole.

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