Book of theater plays layout critique


This is my first post, so I apologize if I miss some typophile-related etiquette. :)

Anyways, I need to design a book of eight theater plays. They are adaptations of kids' classics like Mary Poppins, Robin Hood, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the like by a croatian author. However, the book is not targeted (only) towards kids, but to anyone interested in making these plays come to life---actors, directors, etc---and friends of a local town theater these plays originate from. The editor would like for the book to be as inviting as possible to read.

Plays are cheerful in tone and have a bit of a rural and/or 'retro' feeling to them. There is a subtle environmentalistic message which expands through all of the plays in the book.

I chose somewhat traditional, or classic, layout for the book, because of the classic character of the plays. One font for the whole book---Adobe Caslon Pro---for its cheerful (and retro) character. It will be 13,5cm x 21,5 cm, so it should be easily handholdable and it'll be printed on recycled cream toned paper. I chose this type of paper because of the environmental overtones and also cream-toned paper should be more pleasant to read.

Since plays have very few paragraphs in a traditional sense, there were many cases of single lines (how do you call them -- orphans, widows?) going to the next page. This called for a flexible lower margins -- every now and then, I had to expand the text box a leading. This is the prime reason I put page numbering on the outside margins. If they were in the lower marging, that 'breathing' text box would be much more perceivable. Also, when working on a play, people often have to search for their line in the script and I think that page numbering right above the thumb of the reader is easier to track when in hurry.

Character names are in red because actors from this local theater often underline their character names. This makes for a nice contrast between blue or black pen strokes if they want to do that. It also gives a bit more depth and a sense of uniqueness to the text.

So, what do you think? Do you have some suggestions? Do you think that two ink colours are a bit too chaotic? Are inner margins a too large? Maybe something else doesn't seem right? I'd very much like to hear your critique since this is my first try at book designing in a more traditional sense.

Also, you'll have to excuse my English, I'm not a native speaker and the book itself is in Croatian so chances are you won't understand a word. O:)


P.S. Gray rectangles are places for the illustrations -- this book is stil a work in progress.

Beggining of a play46.95 KB
Text layout60.36 KB
Beggining of a chapter54.95 KB
nicolacaleffi's picture

Very nice work, Vedran. Just a couple of things:

1. printing in two colors, of course, will cost you more - by the way, I haven't understood if the book is only aimed to standard readers or if the actors will actually use it for rehearsal?

2. in the text layout - which is very well done - put more than one space (three white spaces should work) between the character's name and the beginning of his/her dialogue (eg. TIANA I tako je Huck...) This is a standard setting in plays book.

By the way, which size is the text set in?

Hope this helps,

J. Tillman's picture

How is this going to be bound? If it is perfect bound (a paperback book) the inner margins may be too small, particularly on the right hand (odd number) pages. The character names may disappear into the gutter, the binding of the book. Having enough inner margin is important.

Why is the right inner margin different than the left inner margin? This would not be my choice.

I would put the page numbers where the audience expects them to be.

There is not much advantage to having the names in red, since the names are already differentiated by small caps and by indenting. The red looks okay, but maybe it's not necessary.

I do not look at books of plays very often, but these are my opinions.

Stephan Kurz's picture

Looks good, Vedrane!
I like your approach that quite traditional typeface choice may also lead to an inviting reading experience! Perhaps you could increase the leading by 1pt to make it look even more open.
More horizontal spacing after the character names has already been mentioned by Nicola, that is standard also in the German-speaking drama typography (ne znam, ali pogledaj neke knjige klasične drame kako to radi u hrvatskoj).
The idea with putting the page number in the outer margin is also nice, and I even understood they are on the same line as the chapter heading. Yet, this also has drawbacks: 1) your page numbers might be mistaken for line numbers (which are common especially in critical editions, but that might be my bias as a philologist), 2) they might be harder to find than if they had been in traditional places – head or foot of the page –, and you might even put your fingers on top of them.
When working with such projects I always created a dummy by printing variations of the layout, cutting them to size and sticking them into a book of the same size to get a simulated hands-on on what works best.
Just another hint: On page 76, there are some straight quotes, check with your editor/publisher how they want them (I’d go for „tik-takanje“).

ermallion's picture

Thank you for your feedback!

nicolacaleffi; I pointed out to the client that printing in two colours will cost more, but they don't seem to have a problem with that. On the other hand, there is a cost problem with hardcover vs. paperback binding. Do you think that setting text in one colour would be that much cheaper to allow the clients to go for hardcover? At this moment, I should mention that there are eight full colour illustrations, one at the beggining of each play.

The book is primarily aimed at regular readers but some actors, and directors especially, will use it for rehearsals, as well. Unfortunately, reading habits are rather low here in Croatia so the majority of people will buy the book because they were either somehow involved in the work of the theater or they have (or had) someone in the family who is involved with it. I'm afraid that many buyers will buy the book just to have it sit on the bookshelf.

I was thinking of using more than one space after the character name but it looked somehow odd to me when set. Could be because of the red-coloured names. Didn't realize it was standard. I'll give it a try again.

Type is set in 11 point size with 14 pt leading.

J. Tillman; you have sharp eyes -- you're adressing to almost all layout-related problems I have.

Binding is not yet clearly defined with the printing company. I'll try to insist on sewn binding - both for paperback and hardcover. The printing company showed me some of their earlier work relevant to this book and they had the type of binding where gutter expands almost completely. I lack proper knowledge and nomenclature in technical aspects of bookbinding so I may be talking nonsense.

Text boxes are symmetrical on both pages but I have negative indent on character names which makes right inner margin smaller then the left one. It also makes the left outer margin smaller then the right one, too. If I off-set text boxes to the right, then I have a problem with continuous text which then looks off-set to the right.

If I put page numbers to the usual place, how can I solve the problem of 'breathing' text box I described in the initial post?

The red isn't necessary, that's for sure, but I think it gives a bit more expensive feel to the book. Which seems important to potential buyers who aren't necesserily intereted in actually reading it.

Again, thank you for your opinions and suggestions -- means a lot!

ermallion's picture

Stephan Kurz; your croatian is quite good! Do you have some relatives here or know someone from Croatia? :)

There is a problem with book length -- it's almost 450 pages long and the editor insists on smalller format. I tried to keep the text as dense as possible and still retain the 'open' feel. If the book were thicker, I'm afraid it would look bulky and heavy and uninviting to easily intimidated croatian readers. I'll try putting an extra point of leading and see how it will affect the number of pages.

You have a good point on page numbering. I'll definitely try putting them on the foot of the page. This could bypass the 'breathing text box' problem while retaining traditional layout.

I also print out my layout and cut them to size but I never got my mind to putting it in an existing book! That's a great trick -- thanks!

The text is still not completely proofed and I'm sure the editor will adress the quotes and similar mistakes.

Thanks again! :)

nicolacaleffi's picture


1. Hardcover vs softcover: here in Italy, an hardcover binding is still *much* more expensive than a softcover one. Also, if the book must be kept in hand by actors, it should be easily handy, and in this case a softcover book could be preferable. It is also true that an hardcover book will look more "classical". As a sidenote, a very nice hardcover binding is the "Bodonian", where the open spread pages really lie flat. And yes, binding must be sewn.

2. If illustrations must be printed in colors, and they are just 8 on a total of +400 pages, consider the possibility to print in four colors just the 8 sixtodecimos where the illustrations appear (in this case, you will have to set the characters' name in black, keep the illustrations in color, and thus reduce the total cost of printing while mantaining the colors in the drawings).

3. Another factor to consider with the client and the printer is the quality of the paper - if you choose the right one (a cream uncoated one is the first that comes to mind for this project) the book will gain in quality. And if you want to keep it small enough and portable, look for the right grammage - the printer could set up a mock up of the book before printing it.

Hope this helps,

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Nicola: Can you show some examples of Bodonian binding? I’m just curious. Book binding is a dark art to me, but still so essential when designing.

Syndicate content Syndicate content