Paragraph Styles

Right, to the styles. There are three main types that we care about: page styles, paragraph styles and character styles. As you’ve probably guessed, the paragraph and page styles define the pages and paragraphs in your book. The character styles can be best thought of providing overrides to the character style information included in the paragraph styles. We’ll start by creating the paragraph styles, as these are used by the other two types of styles. I’ll step through creating the styles, and then summarise them all in a table. If you are au fait with using styles, you can skip ahead and just use the table.

You should have a brand new, empty LibreOffice document in front of you (Click “File->New->Text Document” if not), and let’s begin! Click the styles button on the tool bar or “Format->Styles and Formatting” from the menus if you don’t have the button there.

LibreOffice Styles and Formatting Button

LibreOffice's Styles and Formatting Menu

Click the paragraph icon along the top of the dialogue box to make sure it’s selected then right click on the list of styles beneath it (which might be empty at this point) and select “New”.

Selecting paragraph styles from LibreOffice's styles and formatting dialog

Creating a new paragraph style in LibreOffice's Styles and Formatting dialog

The Organiser

This pops up the style dialogue box (if the “Organiser” tab isn’t currently selected, select it).

LibreOffice's Paragraph Style dialog

Right, the first thing we have to do is give our style a name. Call it “Novel-Paragraph” (though you can choose your own names for the styles, you must remember this when we write the plugin), and turn AutoUpdate on by clicking the checkbox. This enables you to make changes to the style later on and have the contents update themselves without having to reapply the style. We then have to set which style will follow after it. Paragraph styles only apply to a single paragraph, so when you hit return at the end of one, a new paragraph is created with a new style. What this style is, by default, is set here. Seeing as the most common thing to follow a Novel-Paragraph is another Novel-Paragraph that is what you should set it to (if it isn’t already). We then have the “Inherit from:” selection, as this is our base style we don’t want it linked to anything, so select “-None-”. Our final option is what category we put the style in; add it to custom styles. Finally on this tab, we have a summary of what we have set the style to be. Currently we haven’t set anything, so it is blank but not for long.

LibreOffice's Paragraph Style dialog with values filled in

Let’s crack on and move onto the first tab, “Indents & Spacing”.

Indents & Spacing

As this is a standard paragraph we need to indent the first line of it. How much you want to indent is up to you. To my eye, 0.64 cm looks good. Bear in mind that this is (and all the other setting are) just for the print version. We’ll set style information for the electronic version later, in the export plugin. If you want quite dense text, the other options can all be left as they are. Though, for a younger audience, you might want to experiment with more white space. We do, however, need to turn on “Register-true”.

Setting the indent and turning on Register-true in LibreOffice

Register-true is a somewhat confusingly titled option. Its name is a hangover from the printing era. What it does is make sure that all the text (that has Register-true enabled) is aligned to the same baselines. If you open a book up and place a ruler across both pages, you will find that the text on both facing pages sits happily on it, making the layout more appealing and, when printed on thin paper that shows the other side through, easier to read.

Tommy Lightbreaker by Robert A Wood showing nicely aligned text thanks to Register-true
Tommy Lightbreaker by Robert A Wood showing nicely aligned text thanks to Register-true

The way we achieve this is with Register-true. You want this turned on else your book is going to look messy. It can, though, give you slightly confusing problems. If you find later that some elements of your book’s contents aren’t sitting where you expect them to, consider whether it is because Register-true is moving them out of position and onto to the nearest baseline (nb. we will also have to turn Register-true on in the relevant Page Styles for it do anything!)

Alignment

Next we have Alignment. Novels are always justified (i.e the text goes right to the edges of the page and extra white space is added between words to enable this). This can look a bit odd if you are used to reading text left aligned on a computer screen, but it is just the way it is done. Other alignments might be technically better, but this is what people reading books expect, live with it. One side effect of justified text you might want to keep an eye out for is what’s called a river of white, where, purely by chance, the way the white space has been distributed over a series of lines creates distracting patterns. If you notice any of these when proofing your book, you’ll have to manually edit the lines till the effect goes away.

An example of text with a river of white
A typographic river running down the middle of a text passage (above bottom word “amet”).
The next tab is “Text Flow”. Though some of the options here might sound like a good idea as they can theoretically prevent things like having a page with just one line on etc., in my experience, they generally introduce more problems than they solve, so I would strongly recommend you leave everything on that tab unchecked.

Font

The next tab allows us to set the font and font size of the text in our paragraph. It can be very tempting to try and do something creative here, but I would urge you to resist. It is very hard to improve significantly on a basic serif font and very easy to turn your book into an unreadable mess (sans-serif fonts might look trendy, but they are harder to read, so steer clear of them for the main body of your book). I would bear in mind when making this decision that, to the readers of your book, there is no difference between an adequate choice of font and an excellent choice of font. Once you start reading, you are completely unaware of the font used (as long as the choice wasn’t abysmal!) Remember, the classics are classic for a reason, so start with Liberation Serif 10pt and don’t go very far away from it (Liberation Serif is a free version of Times New Roman).

Choosing a boring but functional font

As with white space, font size increases as the audience’s age/intelligence decreases. A fairly simple way to gauge what the correct font size is for your audience is to grab a random sample of books aimed at your target audience from the library and copy roughly what size they go for (remember, these choices, as already mentioned, only affect the printed copy of the book).

The rest of the settings can be left at their defaults. So, if we now go back to the Organiser tab, you should see these settings: Western text: 10pt + Register-true + Indent left 0.0cm, First Line 0.64 cm, Indent right 0.0cm (for some reason the fact the Alignment has been set to Justified isn’t shown in the current version, which doesn’t matter other than it is slightly confusing).

Organiser showing selected options.

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