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When fonts fight, Times New Roman conquers

As the classic typeface goes viral on Twitter, writers explain which set of letters they work in – and why it matters

When fonts fight, Times New Roman conquers
‘The deepest part of yourself’ … Mark Wallinger’s Self Portrait in Modern No 20 font at Frieze London in 2019. Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

When Times New Roman started trending on Twitter yesterday, the books world began to panic. Had Comic Sans escaped? Had the sans serifs risen up against their pointy overlords and Tipp-Exed them out?

No. The author Sean Richardson had asked the internet to “reveal the deepest part of yourself: Which font and which size do you write in?”, little realising he was about to open a Pandora’s box of preference and prejudice.

Arial 12 pt, replied Poirot novelist and bestselling crime author Sophie Hannah. For Hugo-winning American science fiction author John Scalzi, it’s Georgia, 12-point, single-spaced, and “when I’m done, I double-space the entire document and put it into Courier, again 12pt”. For the Canadian fantasy novelist Guy Gavriel Kay it’s “New Century Schoolbook 12 … because I am young and cool”.

But then the surge for Times New Roman began. “Surely anyone who doesn’t do Times New Roman 12 pt is a monster??” asked fantasy novelist Rebecca F Kuang. “Times New Roman, size 12 font, 1.5 spacing, like a human being,” agreed author Nicole Mello. For Star Wars author Chuck Wendig, it’s “14pt Times New Roman, which is the best answer and you all know it”.

Ian Rankin told the Guardian he’s a Times New Roman man as well – although his reasons are a little more low key: “Because it’s the first one that comes up … and it is easy on the eye.”

The Costa-winning novelist Sadie Jones uses Times New Roman as well. “I used to use Courier, because of its typewriter feel, it was the most tactile, and I identified with it,” she says. But now she has switched to Times because the formatting kept going wrong – although at the moment she is “alternating between Cambria and Ariel, because they suit the characters I’m writing”.

Marian Keyes is also a default Times New Roman 12pt user, but like Jones, she uses different fonts in the same typescript – for flashbacks, WhatsApps and other media.

The Calibri crowd were slow to defend their sans-serif selection – perhaps wary after fantasy author Katie Khan’s attack on last year: “Let’s talk about fonts baby / Let’s talk about Century / Let’s talk about all the good fonts And the bad fonts / (Calibri) / Let’s TALK about fonts.”

But Richardson, whose exploration of what it means to be queer and religious, Unorthodox, was published last year, admits he is a “Calibri 11 person” himself, although “if I’m writing creatively I’m a Garamond 11.”

The bestselling novelist Max Porter also eschews serifs. “Grim and uneventful reply I’m afraid. Stone cold auto Calibri 11,” says Porter, author of Grief Is the Thing With Feathers. “But with postcards of great lettering and design and art and landscapes on my wall to periodically cleanse my eyes and soul. I don’t know why I live this way.”

For Richardson, fonts are “always worth fighting over”.

“Since we spend so much time with fonts, it’s unsurprising they provoke such strong emotions,” he said. “The reaction to the tweet is fascinating because it goes beyond personal preference and into questions of identity, accessibility, place, accent and style.”

Graphic designer Sarah Hyndman, author of Why Fonts Matter, agrees. “The font you use is a form of non-verbal communication,” she said. “If you meet in person, tone of voice, clothes and body language carry a huge amount of information. If you write someone a letter you have all these tools available in your handwriting. But as soon as you sit down at a computer, especially if you’re working in a program that defaults to Times New Roman, we suddenly become identical and we don’t like that.”

As a former editor, Porter says he was put off submissions printed in “anything silly, jazzy, medieval, comic, too small, too large”, and suggests a golden rule: “The font should never shout louder than the work.”

Topic: #roman #internet
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