Coming Unstuck with Drop Caps

Drop caps are just one way of kicking off a paragraph and not always the best solution. There are times when drop caps don't work well:

  • When the opening paragraphs of your chapters or articles begin with quotations or dialog or numbers. If you have the occasional opening paragraph that begins with a quotation mark, making it an exception is no big dealso long as it is an exception. If you find yourself having to fuss over every chapter or article opening, then use another type of opening device.

  • When opening paragraphs begin with punctuation, you will need to drop two characters. The opening quotation mark will probably look disproportionately large and you'll want to reduce its size and adjust its baseline using Baseline Shift. Exact amounts will vary according to the nature of the font, so there's some (time-consuming) subjectivity involved here. You should also hang the punctuation. Alternatively, another solution is to drop the opening punctuation altogether.

  • When opening paragraphs are short-one or two lines. Trying to sink a drop cap three lines into a one-line paragraph can be tricky and create some visual confusion, although InDesign does an excellent job of coping. If you find you are repeatedly using a three-line drop cap on paragraphs that are only two lines deep, then you need another solution.

  • When your articles or chapters begin with poetry, song lyrics, or other quoted material. You can still use the drop cap, but it is no longer signaling the beginning of the chapter, article, or section, and can tend to look fussy as a result.

Figure 10.16. Dealing with quotation marks. 1. Because this paragraph begins with a quotation, it is the quote mark that is "dropped." 2. This is fixed by changing the number of dropped characters to two, but there's an unsightly amount of space to the left of the C and the punctuation is too big. 3. The optical alignment of the C is partially fixed by applying Optical Margin Alignment to the story. 4. The punctuation is reduced in size and its baseline adjusted using Baseline Shift. 5. The space between the punctuation and the C is kerned.

Figure 10.17. Dealing with short opening paragraphs. InDesign copes elegantly, bringing the second paragraph up next to the drop cap and maintaining its first line indent. If you find yourself making many such "exceptions," you probably need a different device.