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Bill Bryson's book, The lost continent: travels in small-town America  has an unusual first paragraph opening style. It has the equivalent of a long equal sign, followed by the first three words in small caps.

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A typical opening chapter is shown below:

enter image description here

If you observe the two lines are exactly drawn at an ex height. What is a good way to define a macro for this in LateX? As I was in mathmode tonight, I tried the code below, which of course is not working properly.

\def\lettrinerule{$=\!=\!=\!=\!=\!=\!=\!=$ }
\lettrinerule{\scshape i drove on}, without

I am also interested to hear of any other books using unusual first paragraph openings, other than drop caps.

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3 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted
\newcommand{\lettrinerule}[1]{%
  \settoheight{\dimen0}{\scshape #1}%
  \noindent
  \vbox to \dimen0{\hrule width 5em\vfill\hrule}\kern.5em
  \textsc{#1}}

The \noindent is probably unnecessary. Adjust to suit. You can modify the thickness of the rule by saying heigth <dimen> after each \hrule command.

enter image description here

A more LaTeX way would be

\newcommand{\lettrinerule}[1]{%
  \settoheight{\dimen0}{\scshape #1}%
  \noindent
  \parbox[b][\dimen0][s]{5em}{\setlength{\baselineskip}{0pt}%
     \rule{\linewidth}{0.4pt}\vfill\rule{\linewidth}{0.4pt}}%
  \kern.5em
  \textsc{#1}}

that produces the same result.

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You could use leaders to replicate something over a pre-specified length:

enter image description here

\documentclass{book}
\newcommand{\lettrinerule}[2][10em]{%
%  \makebox[#1]{\leaders\hbox{{=}\kern-2pt}\hfill\kern1ex}%
  \makebox[#1]{\rlap{\rule[1ex]{#1}{.4pt}}\par\rule[.25ex]{#1}{.4pt}}\kern1ex%
  {\scshape #2}%
}
\begin{document}
\chapter{A chapter}
\lettrinerule{i drove on}, without the radio or much in the 
way of thoughts, to Mount Pleasant, where I stopped for coffee. 
I had the Sunday \emph{New York Times\/} with me---one of the greatest 
improvements in life since I had been away was that you could
now buy the \emph{New York Times\/} out of machines on the day of 
publication in a place like Iowa, an extraordinary feat of distribution---and
I spread out with it in a booth.
\end{document}​

I've commented out the \leader approach, but the results are very similar. I found that using \rule is looks slightly better on-screen, since leaders tend to show a visible overlap (although not in print), which may distract readers.

In both of the above choices, you can modify the length of the leader by the optional argument to \lettrinerule[<length>]{<phrase>} (default for <length> is 10em). As in your example, <phrase> is typeset using \scshape.

This is just a basic implementation, and therefore doesn't require (nor produce) anything fancy.

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You can easily draw something like it using TikZ;

\newcommand{\letterinerule}{\tikz[baseline]{\draw[very thick] (0,1pt) -- +(2cm,0) (0,6.2pt) -- +(2cm,0);}\ }

example

I adjusted the horizontal placement to replicate how the book in your example had its lines.

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