Recently I had to make a decision as to whether I should include drop caps/initial caps in my books or not. If you want a refresher on drop caps, then have a look at this article, or this one: both are excellent.

Drop caps can make a bold statement.

 Something new is beginning, with a large thump to attract attention

However, although they work well in many cases, they can cause problems in some scenarios. Look at what happens here:

There are a number of problems with that.
  • The drop cap is larger than the title (workaround = make the drop cap smaller or the title bigger).
  • The quotation mark takes up too much space and looks wrong (workaround =get rid of it entirely and put up with the nagging irritation that you have untidy speech that ends in a quotation mark but doesn't begin with one; or use a text box to insert a small quotation mark, though that is fiddly and also looks a bit strange).
  • Because the character A slopes, it is too far from the H on the first line, too near the H on the third (workaround = increase drop cap spacing - but that makes the first H even further away)
  • The second paragraph is indented as it should be, but looks wrong (workaround = don't indent paragraphs for the lines of the drop cap).
An improvement, but still fiddly
(image thanks to an editor I discussed this topic with)

Of course, you could also rewrite the beginning of the text, but it starts to get ridiculous that content has to change to fit the requirements of format, not the other way round.

The final thing that pushed me away from the idea of using drop caps was superfluousness in many cases. They were meant to indicate a new major section (a new chapter). However, we don't need that extra visual indication: usually there is a lot of white space, a chapter name, maybe even a blank page before. So we have lots of indicators that a new chapter has begun. The exception could be a book with no chapter names: drop caps could work then for distinction.

As such I decided not to use drop caps in my printed books. They can look nice but their use is rapidly dropping out of fashion, often for practical reasons such as those above.


UPDATE: I now use small caps in any new section or chapter for the first five words. That way if a new section begins on a new page it is much easier to spot it.

Small caps in action