InDesign is not for Newbs . . . but I’m improving

Last few days or a week or so I’ve been laying out the Dragon Heresy Introductory Set. The manuscript is done, cut down from 410,000 words to about 149,500, and 55,000 of those are completely awesome monsters.

But InDesign, basically the industry standard layout package, is a CAD program for words. It is ridiculously functional, but what it is not is a word processor. Certain things, like “line spacing,” are not really things in layout. Oh, they exist, but line spacing is all sorts of things, mostly “leading,” (named for the strips of lead placed between lines of text), but there’s space before, after, during, around the side . . .

Anyway, two minor victories last night.

First, columns and frames. I didn’t like the way my spell lists were coming out. I wanted it to be more clear what spells were what level. It took a lot of manipulation, but I finally got it.

Hint 1: Turn Text Threading On

To solve the presentation issue, I wound up having to create at least three to five different frames. It took a bit to get the size right. The only way I could rationalize it all is to keep the text thread viewer turned on. That’s the blue lines that connect how the text flows from frame to frame. Out from one arrow, into the other. Whenever something wasn’t behaving right, keeping this on solved the issue two times in three for me.

(Note: whenever it doesn’t work, it’s my fault. InDesign doth not guess what to do. It does what you tell it, even if you tell it wrong.)

So turn on Text threads from the View–>Extras–>Show Text Threads menu stack, and you’ll see blue lines (mine are blue, anyway). They help.

Hint 2: GREP, GREP, Baby

My second issue was poor spacing for spell descriptions. Words are pages, and pages are money.

I started with a poor spacing issue, probably because my No Spaces style in Word did not import properly into the RTF when I round-tripped the file to InDesign for style cleanup.

So I had too much space in the spells.

It was a slog, but eventually I figured out how to fix it. I made a Character Style called Spell Statistics with the leading set to 50% instead of 120% of the character font size. I then used Find/Change (CTRL-F) and the GREP function in the menu with this command


That selects everything between the lead-in word Range: (with the colon) to the forced line break/paragraph mark (\r). For the replace, I replaced the existing character style with Spell Statistics. Click Change All, and boom – 104 replacements in a matter of seconds.

Repeat for Components: and Duration: and it was all done.

Hint 3: Round Trippin’ Across the Universe

The final bit is a commonly-used tactic to clear out the copious amounts of crap from the Word styles menu. Short version, Place the doc file in its own new text frame in a brand new document, with all other documents closed, just to be sure. Ignore that it will overflow the frame. Click in the text somewhere (this is important) with the Text tool, then Export. It will come up as RTF, and you re-save your file this way.

Now, close everything. When you Place into whatever your working document template is in InDesign, and you do Style Mapping, ONLY the styles you use in your document are going to come in. In fact, I might have even lost a few (see above). But I once had 83 ToC entry styles and if you don’t exclude them, you have to map them to something (or nothing) one by one, which is irksome.

Nothing New Under the Sun

These hints are not me being original or clever. I found tutorials on the web, or talked to experts, or (with the particular GREP thing) used a google search for regular expressions to find the right wildcards.

But they helped me, and so I record them for posterity’s sake.


3 thoughts on “InDesign is not for Newbs . . . but I’m improving

  1. Any reason you used a character style instead of a paragraph style for your spell stats? I find it a lot easier to keep track of paragraphs, as long as there’s no in-paragraph style changes.
    But, it’s been a while since I used InDesign – I settled on FrameMaker for my day job years ago; InDesign is powerful for layout, not so good for text and flow control. Overall ID is the better choice for one-off documents, so have fun with the learning curve!

    1. I couldn’t find a way to make a Paragraph style work, but I did find a way to make a character style work. That’s really the only reason. I’d have preferred a paragraph style for the reasons you state.

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