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Copyright 2004, Jim Loy
You may print this and show it to others. But, this article will eventually be part of a book that I am writing. So, please do not distribute it widely.
Over the years, I have learned a few things about checkers writing. Here are some pieces of advice.
Proof read: Most checkers books contain many errors, way too many errors. Much of the effort involved in writing a book or article must go into proof reading. Spell check the text. Read the text. And, check the checkers moves using a checkers program on a computer. Most checkers programs allow you to copy and then paste games right into the program. The program may then point out the illegal moves, probably by only accepting the preceding moves. Side variations and notes can be handled by copying and pasting into a separate text file in pieces. Problems and endings, which do not come with the preceding moves from the initial game position, are more difficult, but you should use the computer to check those, too. If you have made changes, proof read the changes again.
Transpositions from one game to another, in the same book, are a special proof reading problem. A note may say "Transposes to variation 2, note B, fifth move (30-25)." As you write the book, variation 2 may become variation 3, note B may become note D. Pay special attention to these, verify that every such reference is correct. Similarly, page numbers may change. "See the diagram on page 3" should point to the correct page. A table of contents or index should contain the correct page numbers. All of this should probably be among the last things that you check, as page numbers and variation numbers can change, right up to the last version of your book or article.
All books contain errors, so you probably cannot weed out all of the errors. But you should weed out nearly all of them.
White space: It is tempting to fill up every blank space in your book. It seems a waste to have a page that is 1/3 blank or more. But such white space, as it is known, is usually not wasted, as it may improve looks and readability. Removing white space may remove a few pages from a book, but removing three pages may not decrease the size of the book; decreasing a 40 page book to 37 pages leaves it the same size, as there will be blank pages at the end. While reducing a 40 page book to 35 pages removes one entire sheet of paper, you may still not save money in printing costs (depends on the deal that you make with your printer).
White space is a matter of taste, but chapters (and the like) should probably begin at the top of a page.
Fonts: Serifs are the tiny lines and curlicues on the letters of your font. This is a serif font (Times Roman), and this is a sans serif font (Arial). The experts tell us that a serif font is easier to read, as the eye does not tend to wander from line to line. So serif fonts are recommended.
Times Roman is a proportional font. This means that the narrow characters don't take up as much room as the wider characters. That looks more natural. Courier, however, is a fixed width font. Notice that the "i" and the comma take up a lot of room. There are times when a fixed width font is preferable, as when you want characters to line up vertically, as with mathematical formulas.
Tiny print may save money, but may be very difficult to read. Personally, I like to use fairly large print. I assume that some readers appreciate this. Times Roman is a smaller font than other fonts, so you may want to enlarge it more than other fonts.
Columns, margins, and spacing:
Shorter lines are easier to read. And so, two columns are preferable to one
column. With most word processors, this can be done by selecting the text, and
choosing to format it into two columns from a
Columns may seem like a waste of space. But, while you waste space between columns, you often gain it back at the end of a paragraph, where the space after the last period is often less. And so, two columns may add no pages at all to your book. At least it will add very few pages to your book.
| Margins: Also, don't
make your margins too small. An inch or so is pretty good. You especially want
to have a large enough inside margin to make room for the binding of the
You may want both margins to be straight (which is difficult to show you on a WWW page without "stylesheets"). This is a simple option on most word processors.
Some books have used too narrow margins, and then had text chopped off when the books were printed.
Spacing: Single spacing with the first character of a paragraph indented is usually preferred, but 1 1/2 spacing between paragraphs can look nice.
Checkers moves are often typed into columns:
It is tempting to format this with some combination of spaces and tabs. In that case, a fixed width font (Courier or Arial) would be very useful. Then the above moves must be typed in an order that is different from the order in which they were moved (9-13 13-22 8-15 . . .). This method allows you to line up the hyphens vertically, which is popular. With this method, adding or removing a move is very difficult, as you will have to realign almost every move.
Most word processors have a simple "column" feature. Then the above moves (9-13 22-18 11-15 . . .) can be left in that order. The spaces between the moves will probably have to be replaced with carriage returns (the "enter" key or hard returns, as they are sometimes called). Lining up the hyphens is very difficult with this method, and may not be worth the bother; centering each column (as shown above) looks just fine, in my opinion. Typing the moves in this natural order has hidden benefits, as when you want to remove the column formatting for one reason or another. With this method, I recommend typing most of the book without columns, and then adding columns later.
Never have moves in columns overflow onto a second page, as that is difficult to read.
Seven (or six or whatever) columns of moves takes up more space than paragraphs of moves. But it is an organizing device (like chapters and horizontal lines), and it makes the pages look better. It is a matter of personal taste whether or where such columns should be used.
Credit: Some checkers authors are very lax in assigning credit for moves, variations, or games. This is an insult to the people who first played those moves, and makes it difficult for later authors who will end up crediting you instead of the true source. Please credit all problems and games ("Robertson's Guide" or "A. Long - E. Hunt, 1936 WCM"). You should probably include first names or initials, unless those are given in some easy to find place in the book.
Crediting a variation to PP (published play) can be good enough, or it can show laziness. If a variation is very popular, and it makes no sense to find its origin (like 11-15 22-18 15-22 25-18 8-11 PP) then PP may be adequate. If you are aware of the source, then please mention that source.
Some authors have been very confusing concerning credit: "32-28! W. F. Ryan vs. W. Hellman" may mean that 32-28 was made by Ryan who was White, even though Red is normally written first. Even "White wins, Ryan vs. Hellman" may mean that Ryan won and was White. Other books say "W. wins -- Wyllie beat Barker," and besides the fact that there were two Barkers, a casual reader might make the mistake of thinking that Wyllie was Red. In my opinion, Ryan vs. Hellman (or Ryan - Hellman) should always mean that Ryan was Red, and there should be no confusion.
The losing move: Some published games are given without comment. It would be nice if the losing move could be identified, but that is not always possible. That situation should be explained: "This may not lose, but it is certainly bad," or "A draw may have been missed later, but here is the PP draw:"
In chess, we have these standards:
! good move !! brilliant move !? interesting move ?! doubtful move ? bad move ?? blunder
In checkers, these symbols are less standardized, as an exclamation mark may mean a surprise move, either good or bad. I use the chess versions, as the meanings are clearer, and we checkers players would like to encourage chess players to play checkers. All of these symbols can be overused. There is one checkers symbol which could benefit chess authors greatly, and that is the asterisk (*), indicating the only move (to win or draw, as the case may be). Some authors misuse the asterisk, sometimes by accident.
"x" for jumps: Quite a few authors use "x" for a forced jump, or for a series of forced jumps. This has been abused so much (causing ambiguity when the jump was not actually forced) that we see warnings, in mail play game reporting, that we shouldn't use "x" for forced jumps. I agree, never use "x" for forced jumps. Typing "etc." for forced jumps or forced moves has often been abused in the same way. I recommend typing out the jumps in any other standard non-ambiguous manner. Also, these shorthand moves are not compatible with proof reading of moves with a computer checkers program.
Diagrams: On the left is a diagram, using my checkers diagram font. Alpine Electronics sells a very similar font, which may or may not be easier to use. This diagram was produced by typing:
TE E EAEDU
T EAE E EU
Thus, diagrams can be typed right into the text. But, you may have to go to some lengths to format a diagram, as there will be gaps between the rows of squares, unless you compress the diagram vertically. An alternative method is to type the diagram into a paint program, and then import the bmp, gif, or jpeg picture into your word processor document. Some experimentation should be done on the black squares (there are several black square characters), to get the best possible results for your printer.
Diagrams enhance the looks and readability of a page, but they also take up space on the page. One of the easiest and least destructive ways to shorten your book or article is to remove the diagrams. One of the easiest ways to fill a page is to add a diagram or two.
Using a diagram font takes up very little disk space, while graphic files take up a lot of disk space. With a font, however, the people who print your document must have installed the font onto their computer.
Format later: The good word processors make it easy to format a document at any time. I recommend leaving your document (book or article) relatively unformatted until just near the end, without columns, diagrams (type "[diagram]" or "[diagram #1]" instead of going to the bother of drawing your diagrams), and other minute formatting like references to page numbers (I type "see page ???", then later I search for "???"). The reason for this is that you might change your mind part way through the writing process. A main variation may become a minor variation. You may want to add or remove diagrams. You may want to add or remove a whole page or chapter. Then near the end of the writing process, format and clean up your document.
Postage: Bound books and booklets qualify for "book rate" postage. But surprisingly, for thin booklets, first class may be cheaper than book rate.
Email from Richard Pask:
I've just read your article and it looks excellent. I always have two boards available - Don Goodwin's large magnetic sets are excellent - and check transpositions very carefully: I believe these should be indicated at the precise moment of transposition (though perhaps not in the middle of a jumping sequence). Re crediting: in my Solid Checkers series I tended to follow the DEO advice of looking for the 'name' product - that is, trying to find an occasion when either Tinsley, Long or Hellman (mainly these 3) had played the variation, as opposed to necessarily finding the original source (which can be problematic to say the least). Leaving the book aside for a while after proof-reading (I almost wrote proff-reading!) is also a good idea, and plenty of new errors tend to leap out at you. Certainly writing a book on draughts is very challenging at several levels: the technical aspects of the material itself; the typographical aspects; trying to be entertaining.
I was determined to finish my Solid Checkers series, and not join the long list of authors who started Part 1 and got no further!
There is no doubt in my mind that RLF is far and away the leading checkers author - his Basic Checkers series set me on my way. (Tom Wiswell, DEO and Willie Ryan were also excellent, although DEO explained things far more clearly face-to-face.)
All the best: Richard.
PS When annotating a game, writers shouldn't feel obligated to regurgitate reams and reams of pp; the personal touch is more interesting.
Magazines and newsletters:
Almost all newsletters come to an end, but some publishers hasten their own end. Here are a few observations which may help:
Commas and hyphens:
Most checker publications, in the past, have used commas between the moves (9-13, 22-18, 11-15, . . . or even 9-13,22-18,11-15,), when they are typed out horizontally. I have never done this, as I considered it a waste of effort. And these commas are incompatible with some computer checkers programs. By the way, with any word processing program, it is not difficult to insert or remove such commas (and spaces). I have tried to increase readabilty, by using an extra wide space between moves, but that has turned out to be a big headache.
I have been concerned about moves being split up at the end of a line,
like this: 9-13 22-
18 11-15 . . . All word processors do this. I finally stumbled upon a solution. The hyphen in Windows' Word Pad is not the same character as the hyphen in Word Perfect. So, I paste the Word Pad hyphen into every checkers move (replacing one hyphen with the other), when I have otherwise finished my book or article. Word Perfect then does not break up any of the moves, because it does not recognize this alien hyphen as a real hyphen. The two hyphens look identical. This trick may work for you, too.
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