Paragraph indent after an Asterism?

_savage's picture

I am setting a book which uses an Asterism "⁂" to separate sections within a chapter.

Do I indent the first paragraph after an Asterism (like the specimen in the above link), or not because I might look at that paragraph somewhat equivalent to the beginning of a chapter? What is the common opinion on this?

riccard0's picture

It would depend on the “depth” of the separation. From memory, historically they didn’t indent the first paragraph after an asterism, but nowadays I most probably will do it.

_savage's picture

The text is set in 11/13, and there is a full line space before and after the asterism. (I thought about going with 6.5pt to pull the text closer around an asterism.) Paragraphs are indented by 13pt.

Perhaps with a wider space around the asterism I won't need to indent, whereas less space might justify an indent.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Don’t!

charles ellertson's picture

It would depend to some extent on how you treat any other text-breaking elements. Does the document have subheads? chapter titles? How does the text start after them? There is nothing special about an asterism, it simply one more way to signify a break in the text. In fact, with or without any particular typographic devise, we always term such "spacebreaks."

You need to give some thought to what to do when one falls at the foot or head of a page, BTW. That's where too much extra space above and below can create a headache, if you're balancing spreads. And whether or not to start the new paragraph not only without indent, but a few words in, say, small caps. You don't need a club, just to avoid confusion. Work spacebreaks out for the worst case, everything else will fall into place as an acceptable compromise.

simonemartijn's picture

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quadibloc's picture

Well, the example shown in the Wikipedia article to which you linked, from the 1922 edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, did indent the first paragraph after an asterism, for what that's worth.

riccard0's picture

I don't know why (I must've been really tired), but my first post ended up saying the exact opposite of what I meant to say.

JamesM's picture

I agree with Charles' comment that it depends on how you treat other text-breaking elements.

In a book for people today, it doesn't need to look like books bought by their grandparents. Personally I feel that an indent creates a weak start to a new section of text, but you need to pick a style you like and use it consistently.

_savage's picture

Thank you for your opinions thus far!

riccardO: First comment noted, then inverted as per second one.
Frode: Don't... what? Indent? Don't not indent? ;)
charles: That makes sense. The book has only chapters, no subheads, and the first paragraph after the chapter head is not indented, but all others are.

Personally, I'm leaning towards not indenting after an Asterism because it is, after all, a text break, and I'd like to be consistent with the other text breaking elements (chapter heads).

Frode Bo Helland's picture

:] Unless there is a particular stylistic reason, there is no need to indent the first paragraph following a blank line (and neither the first paragraph in a text). The indent is first and foremost a method to separate paragraphs, but you have already separated it with blank line, asterism, blank line.

charles ellertson's picture

What a designer -- interior designer -- usually does is to set up a form, not a mechanical repetition. What do I mean? Well, suppose you indent the chapter title 4 picas left. You could then indent the first text line four picas left, without implying all paragraph indents are 4 picas. You have sorta kinda suggested that paragraphs following a textual break indent, but not "suggested strongly," as chapter openers also suggest "this is display," even to the first text paragraph.

All kinds of variations: For example: you could indent the chapter title 4-5 picas left, with the chapter number flush left, and pick up on any consistent edge for the first paragraph. Or if chapters have an epigraph, dedication, whatever below the title & before the first text line, remember vertical alignment. Or a subhead. None of this has any particular implication for subsequent paragraphs, esp. if the treatment is obviously different. If it is similar though, then you've set up a weak promise.

What you're really doing with a choice is suggesting how you'll lead the reader in awkward situations. What if a spacebreak is just that (no ornamentation)? And what if it falls at the foot of a page or the head of a page? Essentially, without an ornament, you kill the blank line(s) How do you let the reader even know that a new paragraph has started?

What if a subhead starts a page, and all pages have running heads? Can they be told apart, without thought by the reader, as they stack at the top of a page?

There are all kinds of ways to handle these situations, but using a common approach throughout a text -- regardless of exact numbers -- helps a reader, without them knowing it.

Other questions: What's the stronger signal for signalling a hierarchy? Beats me. For a very short time, I used to specify A-level subheads & the following text flush left, with B-level heads & following paragraph indented. Then I took a look and saw just how strong the white space from that double indent actually was, visually.

Or... is italic stronger than roman? Ask 20 designers and you'll get about an even divide as to which is stronger.

In the end, the good designers spend more time helping a reader through a text than with obsessing over what they, as designers, like. Since your text in this example is pretty straightforward, you have a certain luxury. The mistake would be to think whatever answer you choose here will apply to all texts, without further thought.

Joshua Langman's picture

I would generally not indent.

_savage's picture

Charles: Thank you for the nice writeup :)

Here is what I've got so far, and it looks quite nice. I might increase the space between heading and text a little more though.

quadibloc's picture

In a book for people today, it doesn't need to look like books bought by their grandparents.

Yes, that's true. But if you're going to use an asterism, you should find out what an asterism means. What sort of break is it, why did people still indent after it, and so on.

Using a few asterisks in a row, as is done in current books, tends to indicate the passage of time, but it doesn't indicate a break between subdivisions of a chapter. So indenting after that might mislead the reader into thinking a hierarchical structure is present - which explains the older practice, even though it is correct that not indenting would seem to be superior in appearance.

Using an asterism instead implies one is consciously attempting to be "retro" in the design of the book. If you're doing that, don't you want to be consistent?

Maybe indenting after the asterism does look bad, and though should be avoided, but it now seems to me that there is a strong case for doing so, and therefore careful thought is needed.

JamesM's picture

I basically agree with you, but would modern readers even notice the difference between an asterism and a few asterisks in a row? I doubt it. But I'm fine with indenting if you're going for a retro look and feel it's appropriate for the book and the intended buyers.

Thomas Phinney's picture

If you don't indent at the beginning of a chapter, don't indent after an asterism either.

As a general practice, I would suggest not indenting in either case. It looks less elegant and serves no function that is not already accomplished by other elements clearly indicating the break.

_savage's picture

quadibloc: It seems I picked that one instance of asterism use which separates to blocks that actually are some time of story-telling apart :)

Looking at the meaning of an asterism then "It is used to 'indicate minor breaks in text,' call attention to a passage, or to separate sub-chapters in a book." Which is exactly what I wanted to use it for here: a separation. Using just an extra empty line (or two) has never really vibrated with me, it feels too loose to me. The asterism is a nice glyph to visually tie together the two passages.

Also, I grew up reading a lot of my grandparents' books from the 19th century :)

Thomas: My thoughts exactly.

_savage's picture

Hm. To pick up this thread again with a continuing question: if there's a page break between two paragraphs separated by an asterism, should the asterism go on the bottom of the previous page (I suspect so) or the top of the new page (looks oddish)?

Thomas Phinney's picture

Bottom of previous, if possible.

Joshua Langman's picture

Seconded.

Thylacine's picture

Seems like a widow, of sorts, to place it at the top of the page. So I agree, bottom, if possible.

_savage's picture

Thanks, and I agree. The asterism kind-of concludes a story piece and introduces a break. That new story piece begins on the next page which feels natural and in place. An asterism at the top of a new page comes as an unprepared surprise to the reader and the flow stumbles.

From an aesthetic viewpoint, it looks much better at the bottom of a page than breaking the text line at the top of a page spread.

I had to wiggle and shake the text a little but managed to move the asterism to the bottom of the verso :-)

_savage's picture

Now this is a bit interesting. Jan Tschichold, in his essay “The Importance of Tradition” says, “Therefore, at a minimum the first line of the new division should begin flush left and the first word be set with capital and small caps. Better still to insert a centered asterisk.”

Agreed so far. However, and that's where this becomes relevant for this thread, in its German original the last sentence reads “Noch besser ist die Einfügung etwa eines Sternes in der Mitte über diesem Anfang.” The English translation is somewhat incomplete, and should read “Better still is the insertion of an asterisk centered above this beginning.”

So, if I interpret this correctly then Jan Tschichold proposes to set the asterism (or asterisk, the “Stern”) above the new division which would mean to set it at the top of the new page. Uhm? :)

Thylacine's picture

Well, maybe he's right — especially if the asterism is viewed as signaling the beginning of a new section instead of being the end of one. It's probably even more true if the asterism and the drop cap and small caps he mentioned are viewed as a compositional unit, of sorts, that lead off the new section.

More important, I think, is just making it look right and being consistent throughout the publication.

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