2.07.2007

Widows and orphans

Dear Miss Snark:

I came across the following phrase on an agent’s website, under things not to do when submitting the first 50 pages of the manuscript: No “widow/orphan protection”.

Can you enlighten me?

A "widow" is the last line of a paragraph that appears alone at the top of a page. An "orphan" is the first line of a paragraph that appears alone at the bottom of a page.

If you click "widow/orphan protection" on your word processing program, the program will move lines to make sure there are no widows or orphans. I'm not sure why anyone would specify to turn it off unless it doesn't translate well to the word processing program they're using or they think it wastes paper.

31 comments:

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

In Word Perfect "widows and orphans" can mess up formatting. To repair the formatting problems requires a trip into the internal codes. It's easier to turn it off.

I always forget to turn it off. I really don't care. When I finally send my manuscript off, I transfer it to Word or save it as Rich Text. I just like to write using Word Perfect. It's easier than Word, especially when one is formatting.

For the life of me (not that this is on topic at all), I don't understand why bloggers tell us the music to which they're listening as they post. Do you?

Do you really care that I'm sitting here listening to Buddy Knox sing "Be My Party Doll" and bouncing in my chair?

I wonder what music Killer Yap listens to. He probably listens to Josi and the Pussy Cats and dreams. Now Bill E. Goat listens to The Pixies and dreams about starting a band called Bill and the Nannies.

Now see? In the time it took me to type this nonsense, the music's changed and I'm now listening to Boby Day sing Rockin' Robbin. One simply can't effectivly post their music of the moment. It changes too fast. ... So, I'm giving that up.

Back on topic: There are online guides to the guts of Word and WP. Do a search. You'll find them.

bebe said...

It's not the word processing, but the design program. Totally screws it up. Much better to have the human designer fix the widows and orphans anyway, because widows and orphans in Word are totally irrelevant to how the real layout will work out.

Don said...

It does waste paper. Turning this off is good for as much as a 10% drop in page count, especially if you tend to write short paragraphs (which increases your probability of getting the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of the page or the last line at the top of the page).

In the final print protection, widow/orphan protection is a good thing, but it has to be done intelligently and what Word does is far from intelligent (in my magazine days I dealt with the nastiness of avoiding widows/orphans/bottom-of-column hyphens in a two column layout where I needed to make sure that all four columns were properly aligned... it was not a process that could be easily automated, so I worked through all 64 pages by hand in each issue).

michaelgav said...

At least now I have an explanation for why I went 0-for-114 when shopping my big blockbuster about the upholstery industry: I protected the damned widows and orphans.

I also used the illiterate block business letter style in my query letter, and left two spaces after every period.

I'm reformatting after reading this week's posts. Agent #115, prepare to be bowled over.

Ozal said...

I possess no clue gun, but some experience in the romance writing industry. I can't speak for other publishers, but this widow/orphan thing is common enough in the romance genre. The point of turning it off is to make sure all your pages end up with the same number of lines: twenty five lines to be precise. Twenty-five lines per page, including white space, is deemed to equal 250 words per page. So a 50 000 word Mills and Boon should be about 200 MS pages... if the editors of the line you are submitting to still hold to this word-length equation.
Yes, another pointless thing to obsess about! No, it is not simple to figure out who wants this method, who wants computer count, and who wants their word-count calculation based on astrological influences.
I love this industry.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, if said agent were talking typographically, it would be strange. However, I would suggest carefully scrutinizing the contract, should you get to that stage (which I fear you might). I suspect something more sinister is afoot, and you may be drawn into giving up more than you had bargained for.


Still. If it gets you on the bookshelves, what the hey?

Jude Hardin said...

Some editors/agents prefer the exact same number of lines on every page (25, usually), for word count purposes.

It's impossible to get the same number of lines on every page if the widows/orphans protection is on. With widows/orphans on, and a 1" bottom margin, some pages are 25 lines, some 24, some 23.

All the more reason for everyone to start using the software word count as an approximation.

Twill said...

If they are calculating the number of words per page, widow/orphan makes the answer extra arcane. Otherwise it's the killing trees thing.

Dave said...

Widows and orphans are something you worry about on a galley print or final copy for camera ready copy.
A manuscript is a draft copy. There's no reason to worry about the placement of the text on the page.

Virginia Miss said...

The only way to get a consistent number of lines on manuscript pages is to turn off the widow/orphan control.

In my version of MS Word, you turn it off by clicking on Format, Paragraph, Line and Page Breaks, then unclick "widow and orphan control."

Those of you with Vista will have some newfangled way of doing this.

Bryan D. Catherman said...

I knew my word processor did this, and that it could be shut off, but I never knew what it was called. I'd like to think I'm a computer savvy writer, but this was news to me. Thanks!

Michele said...

I have seen some people indicate that their preferred wordcount method is to count words on a typical page (actually the average of three pages) and then multiple by the number of pages in your manuscript.

The logic, I believe, is that this wordcount relates more closely to the number of pages in the book, due to the difference between long paragraphs and lots of dialog.

I don't know if that is the right way, but it might explain why widow/orphan protection is a problem.... because now there aren't the same number of lines on each page.

Katie said...

It wastes paper, in my experience -- 5 pages per 300 (1 per 60 (for fraction lovers)).

Patrick Samphire said...

Widows and orphans control can leave really big empty spaces at the end of the page. I don't like it because it looks ugly, and it can look like a chapter is ending when it's not. I guess it might also make it difficult for someone to estimate the length of a manuscript, but now that everyone seems to use computer word counts, that seems less relevant.

Terry said...

I think it also has something to do with those who want a specific number of lines per page so they can estimate the number of pages in the final manuscript. Never made sense to me, but some of the "older" writers who were submitting to the Harlequin lines were adamant about font, lines per page and word count, saying submissions HAD to be done that way. It gave them a specific word count per page.

If someone gives directions, I follow them. I've even asked agents if they like one space or two after a sentence. (So far, all have said two and looked at me as if I were nuts for thinking otherwise.) The switch to one space comes much later in the process. I figure it can't hurt to do what makes them happy.

Eleanor said...

If you disable widow and orphan protectuon it ought to ensure that every page has the same number of lines, which might make it easier to estimate the word count.

Anonymous said...

In Swedish they're not called anything as nice as "orphans", they're called "bastards" (actually something even uglier, but I wonder if it's too ugly to write here...). More Snarky, no?

Kim said...

The widow/orphan setting drove me crazy, because I'd end up with this chunk of white space at the end of a page and I couldn't figure out why. Then the cluegun accidentally went off and I had an 'aha!' moment. Now, I set Microsoft Word to exactly 25 lines and that usually does the trick. Until then, I figured it was just one of those little Word quirks that Mr. Gates tucked into the code to make sure people like me never forget his name.

Anonymous said...

Thanks but no thanks. I prefer to obsess about my story which they will reject a bajillion times anyway whether my formatting is perfect or not.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

I have widows and orphans off. I set to exactly 25 lines per page. I type in New Courier 12 pt, which apparently is unreadable. (sniff) I only put one space at the end of a sentence.

I'm keeping my method, and I'll worry about things like my stories, GMC and character arcs, and finishing the damn novels.

The Widow Ditto said...

I truly hope this was a "toss the bait and see who bites."

Heidi the Hick said...

Is this only a microsoft/ window/ word/ word perfect thing?

I've been on Mac for a year and a half, and it's been a period of non-computer-hatred for the first time in my life, and seriously, I refuse to go back to anything even remotely related to Word.

So um, if I just work away on Pages will I still encounter this?

LadyBronco said...

I'm thinking that any agent/editor who demands turning off the 'widows and orphans' is just looking for folks who can follow directions, and could really care less about the number of lines per page.

Just a thought.

Zany Mom said...

What I want to know is: Why when typing my manuscript on one font, double spaced, do I find that after I cut and paste, certain sections of the MS are suddenly in 9-pt font and single spaced??

Drives me batty. Then, dog forbid, you fix it, but then copy and paste to a new page. Bingo! It all comes back, tiny font and all.

ACK!!

Ryan Field said...

And, I'm thinking any agent/editor who demands (or even mentions) taking off widows/orphans can expect me to laugh in his or her face.

Robin L. said...

Zany Mom - are you cutting and pasting within the same doc or from other docs? If you are involving other docs, you are bringing the formatting from those docs with you. If it's in the same doc, my guess is this: You had it single spaced at some point, and in a different font, maybe even before you started typing. So, at blank places in the story, maybe at the end and beginning, it's still in that format, even though there are no words there. So, when you paste into it or cut from it, it messes with your formatting.

You might be able to fix it by doing cntl-a, cntl-c and then changing the formating once and for all.

Hope that helps!

Terry said...

Zany Mom -
After you paste, there's a little box that shows up at the end of the section. Click it and choose the "Match Source Formatting" button.

Grendel's Dam said...

I am grateful to my fellow Snarklings for all this info on "Widows and Orphans." I've always hated those huge white spaces that appear as text leaps forward to the next page. Until now, I never knew how to eliminate them. I have just followed the instructions posted by Virginia Miss, and not only do I have nicely balanced pages, but I've shortened my opus by a number of pages. I'm sure the trees will be grateful, too.

Aarin said...

As always:

If you’re good enough, precise format doesn’t matter.

If you’re not good enough, precise format won’t help.

Fuck it. Work on the writing.

Kanani said...

This is stuff I normally don't like to EVER think about. However, thanks for all the good information. I do find WORD a real pain as opposed to other word processing programs I've worked with. Too bad it's the standard.
Ugh.

Al Sensu said...

I';m going to contribute to the Widows & Orphans Fund to help you writers out.