This advice has been floating around Twitter and writing blogs for some time now. When you reach the editing stage of your book, converting the text to the Comic Sans font can help you catch those last elusive typos. For some, this may not be worth the pain of having to look at Comic Sans. If that’s you, I have good news! The font itself may not be the source of the magic.
Psychologists have focused a lot of research on a unique feature of our brain that deals with attention and perception. Most people cannot possibly take in and consciously process every sensory feature of our world. If you were actually aware of every individual leaf or blade of grass, every sound, and every odor, you wouldn’t be able to function. Instead, our brains use a shortcut. Most of the things we perceive actually fade into the background and disappear from our memory without notice. What catches our attention is change. If we walk into a room we see every day, and something is different, we notice immediately. The change stands out, and our brain starts seeking or constructing a reason for the change.
It’s that moment in the horror movie, where the person living alone comes inside and realizes…SOMETHING’S WRONG. (That’s not where I left that picture/rug/towel/can of Spam!!!)
So how can we use this to our advantage?
McKeachie talks about how teachers can keep attention on their lectures using what he calls “stimulus change.” If you break up a wall of lecture slide text with movement, music, or color change, students are less likely to tune out. This is supported by psychological research on “novel stimuli,” which grabs our attention without conscious control, and helps us focus until we know that the change we perceive is safe.
You can use this mental shortcut to trick yourself into seeing things a different way, simply by presenting very familiar information (your manuscript) in a different way to your senses. To that end, comic sans works great, because it is drastically different than the default serif fonts most word processors use. But if you really can’t stand comic sans, any font that looks considerably different will have a similar effect.
On the downside, we do adapt quickly to change. If you are editing your whole novel at a go, you might need to find two fonts and alternate them between chapters. A change in color will help add to the effect. This will keep your focus fresh on the words.
But whatever you do, make sure you switch it back to a nice, black, readable Times New Roman-esque font before you send out your queries. Agents want colorful novels, but that should probably not be taken literally.
(Pun intended, of course.)