Formatting Web Fanfic

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Title: Formatting Web Fanfic
Creator: Sarah Q
Date(s): August 2, 2001
Medium: online
External Links: Formatting Web Fanfic/WebCite
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Formatting Web Fanfic is an essay by Sarah Q.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.


This is a rant about reading fanfic on a computer monitor.

I read. A lot. Perhaps more than I do anything else, including sleep. Much of what I read is fanfic, posted to mailing lists and to archives, or displayed on personal pages on the web. I read all of it on my old-fashioned cathode ray tube computer monitor.

Much of it is illegible.

Not poorly written. Illegible. This extends even to some very, very well-written fic, some of which I find more enjoyable to read than professionally published works.

But when I pick up a professional book, regardless of the quality of the writing, at least I get black text on an white paper. Maybe on ivory paper, if I went to the library and borrowed the hardback. Or perhaps gray, if the printer has been using recycled pulp. (Which, while environmentally noble, just doesn't feel quite as nice under the fingers. Ever notice that?)

Never do I see pink text on fuchsia paper....

Just because you can do funky things with HTML doesn't mean you should.

You say black text on white is boring. You say books are restricted to dullsville by printing costs, while HTML is free and neato.

I say text can be both easy to read and visually interesting.

Say you've written a PWP about Jim zoning on the feel of Blair's frayed blue jeans. You've got a gif of denim fabric, and you want to use it as a background for the fic. It's a cute idea, and something that's simple to do on a webpage. But you can still accomplish it in a reader-friendly way.

Use it as a border. Maybe just down the left margin, maybe on all four sides. Either way, the background behind the text can be left white. When you're proofing the page, knock your monitor resolution down to 640x480, just to make sure that it'll work for most folks out there in cyberland.

And as an added bonus, borders can be used to define margins for the text. This means the reader's eyes won't ping off the left edge of the screen with every line break. Text looks more secure when it isn't stretched across the entire page.

Friendly color. Friendly margins. Consider, for a moment, friendly fonts.

Webpages are not like the pages in a book. A reader can change a web browser's default font; a reader can even set their browser to override page-specified fonts. Style sheets define the presentation more strictly. But a designer does not retain complete control over the appearance of the webpage. Perhaps, though, your reader is giving you the benefit of the doubt. Sock it to me, she says; go ahead and dictate my font.

On paper, the most legible fonts are serif fonts. But all those little dangly bits are too busy for the screen. On the screen, the most legible fonts are sans-serif fonts.

So save the cursive and the fancy fonts for titles. Use them sparingly, and they'll work better to catch the eye. For the heart of the text, go with something simple, like Veranda or Arial.

And when you put fanfic on the web -- when you put any sort of dense text document on the web -- take a moment to read through it as if you were a member of your intended audience. Pretend you are a visitor who has just landed on this strange new webpage. You'd like to stay a while and enjoy the stories. But if you need to spell your eyes by page three, then you're going to frustrate the heck out of your readers.