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A method for uploading illustrated MS Word documents to KDP

If you have an Amazon KDP account, you can upload a Microsoft Word file of your book with the title page, copyright page, endorsements and the text directly to KDP as long as it does not contain illustrations.

If your Word file contains illustrations, such as a logo, maps, drawings, photographs or the like, you must take extra steps to create a file that can be uploaded to create a Kindle edition with all of those elements. This is one method that works for me. You will need to manipulate files, but this article will guide you through the process. These examples are from a Windows computer. If you are using another brand, you will have to use its control keys, applications and menu selection, such as pressing the Command key on a Macintosh instead of CTRL.

Create a Word file of your book and insert the images you want at the places where you want them to appear. Here is a pretend novel with some photographs.


Not exactly a best seller, but it will suffice for our purposes.

As you write you book, save a copy as a standard DOC or DOCX document file. Stop and save your file every hour or so. This will assure that you don’t lose your work if the computer crashes or you run out of power when unplugged.

In this example, we will use the file name My Great Novel.docx. We will store this in our default Windows Documents folder. This is your master copy where you will make all future edits. One of the great things about publishing online is that you can change the book after it is released, upload a new copy, and from that point forward anyone who downloads the book will see the changes. If Kindle users have selected to accept revisions, the new copy will appear on their Kindle reader or their desktop or mobile app automatically.

Let’s use the File Manger or equivalent on your brand of computer to inspect the Documents folder where the file is stored. Click the File Manager icon along the bottom of the screen.


The File Manager will open. Select the Documents folder from the left hand window pane. You will see the file for the book in a list along with the type of file it is and the date it was created. The kind of file is shown as Microsoft Word File under the Type column. If you don’t see the menu on the top of the screen, press the ALT key and it will appear.


For this exercise, you will need to display the files in this folder using Detail view. Click the View tab in the meny and click the Detail button. By default, file extensions associated with applications loaded on your computer, such as docx for Word documents, are hidden. To display the file extension with the file name, check the File Name Extensions box. At any rate, you will always be able to tell each file’s kind under the Type column.


To prepare the file for uploading to KDP, return to the Word window and click the File tab, then Save As. A dialog box will appear.


From here, you can specify the folder to save the file to, give it a name and specify the format the file is to be saved as. Select the file format Web Page Filtered by clicking the Save as type drop-down box. Make certain to select the filtered option and not the other web sections. When you save the document, it will create a file with the same name as the document file but with a file extension of HTM. It will also create a new sub-folder below Documents.

Close Word and go back to the File Manager.


Notice that we have two files named My Great Novel, but they are not the same. One is the original Microsoft Word Document file with a DOCX file extension (hidden in this view) and the other is a Firefox HTML Document with a hidden file extension of HTM. I use the Firefox browser. If you use another browser the Type will be different. For instance, in Chrome, your default browser, the file type will be Chrome HTM Document. If you check the File Name Extensions box under the File tab, you will see the file extensions as part of the file name.

The sub-folder My Great Novel_files under Documents was created automatically. It has the same name as the file with the characters _file added at the end. This sub-folder contains all of the images in the original document file saved as JPG files. This extension represents a specific format for holding images. It’s official name is the Joint Photographic Experts Group. Let’s double click on this new folder to see what’s inside.


Here we are looking at the sub-folder in the Large Icons view so we can see what the images look like. Every image that was in the original DOCX document was stripped out and turned into a JPG file. Each was given the name image with a sequential number appended to it.

The HTM file contains only the text of the book and links to the sub-folder where the images are stored. We need to put the text and images together in a single file that we can upload to KDP. First, highlight the HTM document in the Documents folder and cut it. Then paste it into the sub-folder that has _files appended to the end of it. In this example, the sub-folder is named My Great Novel_files. You will see a warning when you do this.


This is telling you that the HTM file has embedded references to images in the sub-folder. We will take care of this in a moment. Click Cancel to close the warning.

We now have the HTM document file and JPG image files together in one place, but they are not yet linked together yet. Open the HTM Document file.


Notice that we see the text but the images are missing. This is because there are special markers in the HTM file called image tags that tell the browser where to go in order to find the pictures. Because we moved the HTM document to the sub-folder My Great Novel_files where the images are, it is now looking for another sub-sub-folder below the current one to find the photos. We need to open the HTM document file with a text editor to make adjustments. We will use Notepad, though you can use any text editor. Do not open the file with a word processing program such as Word. Word processing programs add invisible formatting character that will make the file unreadable by a browser. Here is what the file looks like when opened in a text editor.


This is the internal Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) code that tells a browser how to display the page. Don’t panic! There is no need need to know how to write HTML code. You only have to change one thing.

HTML code is made up of text and control tags. These are bound by the less than and greeter than symbols < >. One of these control tags specifies the graphic images to be displayed. Text and images are what are displayed in a browser. Tags tell browsers how to format those text and images.

All eBooks, both Kindle and ePub, are just modified HTML files. KDP will build a Kindle edition of your book from the HTML file that you upload.

We only need to change the tag that controls the placement images on the page. That is the image tag and it is written as <img. Click Edit on the Notepad menu and then Search. The search dialog box will appear.


Enter <img for Find what and click the Find next button. You will be moved in the file to the first image tag.


Notice that the characters for <img have been highlighted. Image tags contain attributes that control how the tag will behave. Look at the line below to the attribute named src that stands for source. It tells the browser where the image file is stored so it can retrieve it and place it at this spot on the web page. There are other attributes such as width and height that tell the browser the size of the image, but you don’t have to worry about them.

In this case, the src attribute is telling the browser to look in a sub-folder named My%20Great%20Novel_files for a file named image0001. The characters %20 represent a single space to the browser and the slash character / separates the folder name from the file name.

Because we moved the HTM file in the same folder that contains the images, the instructions given to the browser causes it to look in another folder below My Great Novel_files that it thinks is also named My Great Novel_files. No such folder exists. That is why we didn’t see the photos. The browser could not find the non-existent folder so it left blank space holders where the images should have been displayed. We have to tell the browser to look in the same sub-folder where the HTM document is located in order to find the images.

Use the mouse to highlight the characters src=“My%20Great%20Novel_files/image.


Click Edit and Replace. The Replace dialog will appear.


Because you highlighted the text to be changed, it will automatically populate the field named Find what. If not, select Edit and Paste when the cursor is in this field. Type src“=image in the field Replace with. This will look for the text that directs the browser to a sub-sub-folder and replace it with a reference to the same folder where the HTM documents resides. Click Replace All to make the change for every image tag. To confirm this, search for <img again.


The src= attribute points to the file image0001 with no reference to a sub-folder, so the browser will look for the image file in the same folder as the HTM document.

Close notepad and return to the My Great Novel_files sub-folder. We see the HTM document and the image files together in one place.


If we open the HTM document. We will see the text and photos together.


Now, we have to put these files together into a format that can be uploaded to KDP by placing them inside a ZIP file. I use WinZip, but you can use any ZIP program including the one that comes with Windows 10. The ZIP file will now be in the folder using the same name as the HTM Document but with a ZIP file extension.


It is this ZIP file that you upload to KDP. Amazon will unzip it and put everything together in a Kindle edition. Upload your cover art or select one from KDP. Once your text and cover are uploaded, make certain to check the result by launching the previewer. Page through the entire book to make certain that it is formatted correctly. If you find an error, go back to the original DOCX document and make the necessary adjustments. Then follow the steps above to produce a new ZIP file and upload that.

You can also use this ZIP file to produce MOBI and ePub files on your local computer using programs like Calibre.

By following these steps, you will gain control over the look and feel of your Kindle edition to produce a quality book.

She said – He said

It’s important to clearly identify who is speaking in a story. The most common way to do this is to use the word “said” before of after the dialogue, as in “She said” or “He said.” This little word has almost magical qualities. Not only does it indicate who is speaking, it actually disappears in the minds of readers so that they are only conscience of the dialogue itself.

Mary said, “I want to get to the theater half an hour before the show.”
Tom said, “We should leave by 6:00. That will give a safe buffer.”

Sometimes, writers want to indicate the emotional state of a character who is speaking. Authors may substitute descriptive verbs and adjectives in place of the word said in an attempt to indicate the mood of the speaker. If authors want to show happiness between two people, they might write:

Mary chuckled, “I want to get to the theater half an hour before the show.”
Tom responded jovially, “We should leave by 6:00. That will give a safe buffer.”

Alternatively, if authors want to indicate irritation, they might write:

Mary chided, “I want to get to the theater half an hour before the show.”
Tom retorted haltingly, “We should leave by 6:00. That will give a safe buffer.”

Both of these examples have problems. The verbs and adjectives slow the story because readers must stop and process them. They also become tiresome to read when used repeatedly. A better way to indicate the emotional state of a speaker is to give them an action or describe a physical response.

Mary thrust her hand into the glove. She said, “I want to get to the theater half an hour before the show.”
Tom cringed. He said, “We should leave by 6:00. That will give a safe buffer.”

Here we see Mary’s anger and Tom’s reaction. Because we are describing action, we can delete the word said and just write:

Mary thrust her hand into the glove. “I want to get to the theater half an hour before the show.”
Tom cringed. “We should leave by 6:00. That will give a safe buffer.”

Because the dialogue immediately follows the action of each character, readers will know that the character involved in the action is the one who is speaking. This puts the action and physical response within the flow of the prose and propels the story forward without interruption.

External events, such as the state of objects or the weather, can also provide clues to a character’s emotional state while indicating who is speaking.

Lightning scratched across the horizon, silhouetting Mary against the darkening twilight. “I want to get to the theater half an hour before the show.”

Readers will associate the spoke words with Mary because she is the object of the sentence preceding it, so there is no need to insert, “She said” before the dialogue. Using a word suggesting a violent act. such as scratched as opposed to flashed, adds tension and communicates anger. Placing Mary against the darkening twilight accentuates her dissatisfaction with the situation.

Still, if these or any other techniques are repeatedly used in close proximity in a story, the pacing can become bland.

Building a mood within a scene and exposing the character’s intuitive realizations can make it clear who is speaking, express the emotional state of the speakers and demonstrate the fortitude of their characters more effectively than giving physical descriptions of action alone. Here is the opening from my novel Beyond the Shallow Bank.

---

The oil lamp on the bedside table was turned down such that it cast more shadow than light. Margaret Talbot lay for an instant and panted as she stared up at the ceiling. Then the pain returned, like dozens of razors ripping through her. Margaret arched her back and muffled a scream.

The midwife leaned down and wiped sweat from Margaret’s forehead before standing to make the sign of the cross. Margaret cried out, “John.”

The door opened and her husband ran in to kneel at her bedside. His moustache was untrimmed and his hair was tousled. He took her hand in his and held it against his cheek. “I’ve hailed a carriage. We’ll be at the hospital in a few minutes.”

“Something’s wrong.”

He kissed her hand gently. “The doctor said labor could be hard with a first child.”

“Not like this. Something’s wrong. I can feel it.”


---

The lamp that sheds more shadow than light sets a mood of danger and impending trouble. When Margaret pants while lying on her back, we feel her tension and experience her fear that something bad is about to happen. When the pain comes, the sensation is that of ripping razors, an act of violence. Margaret’s fortitude is demonstrated when she muffles a scream, even though the pain is excruciating. When the midwife makes the sign of the cross, the possibility of death is suggested. When John kneels at Margaret’s bedside, his disheveled look shows his concern and his fear for Margaret’s safety that overrides all thoughts of himself. When he tries to reassure Margaret, her intuition warns her, beyond the reasoning of any doctors’ words, of the peril she is in.

Placing characters into a scene and carefully choosing words to describe the setting and action clarifies the emotions of the characters while clearly identifying each speaker.

If something stands out in your writing, remove it

Crafting a novel takes place through the process of rewriting the book. The first draft is only a framework of the story you want to tell. Some beginning writers run their first draft through spell check and send out the manuscript, thinking they are finished. This is a mistake.

Even this article has gone through eight rewrites. After putting down ideas I wanted to discuss, I reread and edited the first draft, changing words here, taking some things out there and adding new material where it was needed. This was followed by a second edited draft with more changes as I looked for the exact words to use while making certain that the points I wanted to express were clear. After the eighth draft, I posted the article.

Of course, you also need to check for misspellings, typographical errors, missing words and other grammatical problems. I’m always shocked by how many times I can reread a manuscript I’ve written and come across a sentence such as, “They walked into building” when I intended to write “They walked into the building.” My mind subconsciously added the word the each time I read the piece. Sometimes these things go undetected until after the manuscript goes to my editor.

This is one of the reasons why anyone who intends to write professionally must hire a professional editor and not just have a friend or relative look over the work. Your friends and relatives may not be trained and experienced in editing manuscripts and they will usually tell you that the writing is wonderful because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Worse yet, some writers send out manuscripts without having anyone else look at them.

Those who want to write on a professional level must invest time in rewriting. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

There are many things to consider when rewriting. In the end, the writing itself must disappear to reveal only the story and the characters. A book can present themes and ideas, but without a story that involves readers in the characters, the book becomes a lecture and not a novel.

When readers pause to say, “Wasn’t that a clever turn of phrase”, they are taken out of the story and slammed back into their ordinary lives, dispelling the suspension of disbelief that is essential in storytelling, which must immerse readers beyond distraction.

Here is a good rule of thumb. If, in rereading your work, you come across something that stands out and causes you to become conscious of the writing itself, remove that word, phrase, description, piece of dialogue or characterization. If you noticed it, so will your readers. The story will stumble and any points you wanted to make will be interrupted.

Professional writing is not an academic excursive in showing off how much you know about writing craft, it is using the craft of writing to reveal the material with such impact that the physical presentation becomes invisible. Mark Childress, author of Crazy in Alabama, says to “Kill your darlings.”

Writers may believe that they can’t remove material because they might not be able to think of something else. In truth, writers have an inexhaustible source of material within themselves and their imaginations to create new prose that describes characters and situations. Others hope to impress readers by demonstrating a command of language. This is like drawing a set of gorgeous drapes across a picture window and blocking the view from outside.

You are the first editor in a rewrite, and you must be ruthless with yourself. Fight your ego if it tells you to keep material that does not serve the telling the story or the revelation of the characters.

David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman overcoming prejudice and searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a world of gender equality where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority. The second volume of the saga, Half Awakened Dreams, will be released on September 21, 2020. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada and the Canadian Freelance Guild.

Getting started as a writer

People write for many reasons. Some want to publish their work professionally. Some want to share their stories with family and friends. Others want to leave a personal legacy as a history or memoir.

In non-fiction, your work can be entertaining and fun while discussing music, art, movies, vacation spots and other subjects. It can teach people important skills such as how to find a job, cook or garden. It can examine history to better understand where we came from and draw lessons for today’s world. It can document current events either in a journalistic manner or with your own opinions.

In fiction, writers can tell a rollicking tale of action or comedy, or place characters in tough situations where the way they react to pressure reveals their true nature and makes a comment on the human condition. Stories can be contemporary, historical, take place in the future or in a fantasy land.

In the same manner that an artist will use brushes to create a painting, writers use grammar to produce books and articles. It is the tool with which stories are built. You can learn grammar in high school and college courses. Another resource is to read and read and read anything you can get your hands on. Study each book. Ask yourself how the writer used words and constructed sentences. Note what you enjoyed and what fell flat.

A good book to consult for English grammar is The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. This hundred page volume teaches grammar in a clear and understandable manner. It covers subjects such as punctuation, tense, brevity, misused words, clarity and more. The Elements of Style provides writers with both instruction and reference.

Yet, writing is more than an academic exercise in grammar. There is a second set of tools called craft. This involves skills such as developing characters, pacing the story, writing dialogue and moving the plot forward. College course on writing and journalism can teach these things. You can also find many fine books on the craft of writing. One standard for novels and short stories is The Art of Fiction by John Gardner. Another resource is Dare to be a Great Writer by my first mentor, Leonard Bishop.

Knowing the kind of writing you want to produce along with the audience you want to reach and a basic understanding of the building blocks of grammar and craft will get you ready to begin, whether you want to write something light and fun or a work that delves into the core of humanity.

Whatever you learn from classes or books, know that there are many opinions about how to write. Some of them are quite contradictory. Evaluate the advice with an open mind and apply it as you learn to write, but do not take any of it as gospel.

In the beginning, you will tend to emulate the works of writers you have read and the instructions of teachers in the classroom and from books. Over time, you will develop a sense of perspective and will accept, modify and reject some of what you have learned. You will also learn new things in the process of writing. Out of this, your own style and voice will emerge. As time passes, you may see both your style and voice change as you experience new events. Learning how to write is a lifelong endeavor. I learn something new every day.

David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman overcoming prejudice and searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a gender balanced world where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority. The second volume of the saga, Half Awakened Dreams, will be released on September 21, 2020. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada and the Canadian Freelance Guild.

Handling Rejection as a Writer

RejectionNo one likes to be rejected. It has a string. People are social and want to be accepted, yet in relationships, business and school, everyone has experienced rejection. It can feel like a personal attack on ourselves and our values.

But, artists, writers, film makers, composers, actors, musicians and others who create and present works to the public must break past this concept and recognize that a rejection or criticism by an individual is just that, one person’s opinion.

For writers, they may feel that rejections by agents, editors, publishers or magazines are a comment on their character. This is not the case. The people you send your queries to are publishing professionals. Though they love books, they are running businesses whose existence and viability are the mechanism by which books reach the reading public. If a publishing house or magazine prints too many stories that don’t sell, they could go out of business and the authors they represent would be left with no distribution. These companies must select material that is not only the best writing, it has to sell and satisfy readers.

There are many reasons a book, short story, poem or article might be rejected. It may not fit the style of a particular magazine or publishing house. Many agents, editors and magazines work in specific areas. A great book about winter vacation spots in the Caribbean will not be picked up by an agent or editor specializing in children’s stories. That’s why it’s so important to research the kinds of work each magazine and publisher accepts.

Another reason is that they may already have too many similar works at the time or they may have a backlog of stories and are not looking for more.

It may also not be that your submission is not written at a professional level. In this case, the rejection is for the work, not you as person. The story or article may need to be improved or you may need to enhance your writing skills.

Most rejections tell you little or nothing as to why the work was not accepted. You will see phrases like, “this does not fit our current needs.” You will often be wished good luck in placing your story somewhere else. Neither of these things do you much good. Sometimes, however, you will get feedback. This can be a gift, and you should consider it carefully.

When I began writing, I was not producing award winning material. Very few beginners do. Writing involves craft that has to be learned and practiced constantly, often over many years.

One agent did me the biggest favor ever when he rejected my submission. He said that I included too many step-by-step descriptions of action that did not move the plot forward.

For instance, I might have once written something like, “George received his bank statement and saw that the service charge was double what it had been the month before. He walked out of his house, got in his car, and drove downtown. After parking his vehicle, he got out and walked into the bank with the statement in his hands to confront the bank manager.”

The only point of this little scene is for George to see his bank statement and to then go to the bank to discuss it.

Today, I would write, “George received his bank statement and saw that the service charge was double what it had been the month before. He went to the bank, statement in hand, to confront the bank manager.”

That agent told me something about my writing that I did not realize. This allowed me to examine my own skills and improve them. Some people would be angry that they were rejected. I can never thank this agent enough for his rejection because it allowed me to become a professional writer and author.

I have had writers say to me that their material was “Their baby” or “Their blood upon the page.” It is neither. What you write is just a piece of work and it either communicated your ideas effectively of it didn’t. If it didn’t, it needs to be fixed. Still, writers can expose themselves in their work. Even if a piece of writing is not autobiographical, the emotional reactions of the characters are often drawn from the writer’s own life experiences. Still, it is the presentation of the art that has been rejected, not the artist.

Don’t think of rejections as an attack on you. Try to learn from them. However, don’t make changes to a manuscript based on every rejection or comment. Examine each and determine if they expose a problem in your writing or if they are just personal opinions based on someone’s taste.

Certainly, there are individuals who make personal attacks on creators. The best thing to do in those cases is to ignore the comments. The same thing applies to people who criticize your themes and ideas that they don’t agree with. Those themes and ideas belong to you and you have to accept that anything you write can create controversy. Never reply to a negative comment on social media or elsewhere and never respond to anyone in defense of your writing. It can only start a war. Just let people say what they say and go on working. However, in instances of slander and liable, you may want to seek legal advice.

A very good book for writers is Rotten Reviews by Bill Henderson. This little collection of negative reviews covers works by authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Jonathan Swift, Virginia Wolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. The book is not only amusing, it is an assurance to writers that not every opinion or rejection is well placed.

David A. Wimsett is the author of Beyond the Shallow, a novel of a woman searching for herself amidst rumors of the selkies from Celtic mythology, and Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga, a fantasy epic set in a gender balanced world where women and men have the same rights, opportunities and authority. Half Awakened Dreams: Volume II of the Carandir Sage will be released at the end of Summer, 2020.

The importance to writers of an author's personal website

I just finished a personal branding workshop by Jeniffer Thompson from Monkey C Media (https://jenifferthompson.com/) that was presented through the Independent Book Publishers’ Association. The seminar consisted of six, one hour sessions plus homework to hone in on each student’s strengths, weaknesses, audience and underlying goals in being authors. She stressed the importance of establishing a personal image and presence on the web. One of her suggestions was to establish a unique author’s website in addition to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Amazon author’s pages.

All of her advice was excellent. Up until now, I have pointed readers to my publisher’s website to see my books. I now have my own author’s site where I not only showcase my works with details and links as to where they can be purchased, I get to speak directly to readers about who I am as a writer, my own values and why I want to write. You can see what I put together at http://www.davidawimsett.com.

I was lucky enough to get a web address that matched my name. I also purchased the address davidwimsett.com without the middle initial and linked it to the main site. This increases the chance that people will be able to find me. If you are an author, I encourage you to claim your own personal brand by putting up a website just for you.

How I Write

There are a wide variety of processes that different authors use to create their books. I can’t say that any one is better than another. Everyone has to choose the way they work best. Here is a little insight as to how I create stories.

One thing is universal. Writing any fiction, especially a novel, requires dedication, time and perseverance. Most successful authors will advise that you write every day, even if you only produce a paragraph. If you write a page a day, in a year you have the first draft of a novel. You are also intimately immersed in your story and charters. This allows you see the relationships of story and people clearly so that the work remains consistent.

Writing every day is good advice, and it is best to strive for as a goal. Of course, very few writers work every single day. We take vacations, enjoy holidays and spend time with our friends and family. I do take breaks. We all need them. Still, I work almost every day on articles, blogs and books. I take a paper notebook and a pen with me everywhere I go and write when I am waiting for a plane, a bus or a meeting. I began my fantasy novel Half Awakened Dreams: Volume II of the Carandir Saga on a spiral notebook in a restaurant when I was having dinner after a pod cast conference.

Some authors outline their stories in generalities or details. This can be especially helpful when writing mysteries or thrillers because these kinds of stories contain puzzles and the author has to organize all the pieces.

I have never worked from an outline. An outline can be used to assemble thoughts and elements, but it can also be restrictive. My preference is to start with an idea and perhaps a vague sense of where I’m heading, though none of my novels have actually opened the way I initially conceived them or finished the way I envisioned.

I allow the plot and the characters to grow organically. As I write, the process of creating the plot and characters suggest things to me that I had not thought of when I began. A plot can take off in an entirely unexpected way. As I become more familiar with the material, characters can expose aspects in my mind that were not thought of before. I usually have no idea of what will happen until I come to that part of the book. It’s like I’m watching a movie in my head and am constantly surprised by turns of events. If I had started with an outline, I would either be restricted in letting my imagination expand so that I would be forced to follow the outline or I would have had to constantly adjust the outline which would be double the work. I’m a little lazy, so I just write it once.

There is a symbiotic relationship between plots and characters. Plot places characters in situations where they must make decisions that expose their essence and the changed character’s subsequent actions alter the plot. For instance, say a character is planning to paint the kitchen on a Saturday. A call comes from a long lost relative. This causes the character to realize the lack of time spent with an aging parent. The character abandons the idea of painting the kitchen and pays a visit on that parent, an action that can bring about more character revelations and plot elements.

Now, I just created that on the fly. I knew I wanted to demonstrate the relationship between characters and plots, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I started with a character planning to do something, then the notion of an interruption by a forgotten relative came to mind, followed by the idea that this causes an emotional dilemma in the character who reflects on a neglected parent and that causes the character to abandon the original plan. In other words, I just made it up as I went. It was an exercise in discovery. If this story were to continue, it could offer the ability to explore any of the characters and dig deeper into their thoughts and emotions. The plot would unfold as the characters interacted. Poof. You have the beginnings of a novel. If anyone wants to take this idea and run with it, please feel free to do so.

Some writers work in chronological order starting at the beginning of the story and continuing until they reach the end. I initially start my books this way, but as soon as I have a foothold, I often realize that there are scenes I will need, though I may not know where they will be put. Instead of continuing ahead, I will stop from time to time and create those scenes out of the chronological timeframe.

They may be small, standalone plots that I will insert in whole someplace during the first draft or even in subsequent drafts. They may also be entire subplots that take place over an extended period of time. I might insert these in full or break it up and place the pieces in different spots as they are needed to move the plot forward or give insight to characters and their motivations. As I move through discovering the story, I will see where a previously written piece should fit in. Not all of this material will be used. Nothing can go into the finished book that does not move the story forward and enhance the characters. No matter how well written something is, if it does not contribute to the book it has to be left out. Be prepared to rewrite your novel in multiple drafts and allow yourself to change anything during the process.

This can be difficult for many beginning writers. They see the time and care they took and are afraid that if they discard any material they will not have enough to fill up their novel. Everyone who wants to write on a professional level must realize that all authors have an inexhaustible source of material within them. Their imaginations can manufacture new plot devices and new character interactions with just a little concentration. At 320 pages, Dragons Unremembered: Volume I of the Carandir Saga is 100,000 words in length. I threw out over 700,000 words of material. Entire plot lines, lands, peoples, legends and more sit in file folders that no one will ever see. Some of the material was just plain bad and had to go. Some of it bordered too closely on Tolkien’s elves and dwarves. I wanted original material without either. Other scenes were very well written but did not fit into the story.

Mark Childress, author or Crazy in Alabama, says to, “Kill your darlings.” If it stands out, if it draws attention to itself and takes attention away from the plot and character, get rid of it, no matter how much you love it. Remember, there’s always more where that came from.

Writing Gender Neutral Prose

For several decades, writers producing technical and nonfiction material have struggled with how to compose gender neutral prose. Before the 1970s the word “Man” was often used to mean all people, male and female. Likewise, the word “He” was used to mean a specific person who was either female or male. Instructions in manuals would read, “When the operator sees the red light flash they must press the blue button.” This created a fender imbalance in the language and implied that women were merely extensions of men.

Since then, society has looked for ways to be gender inclusive in writing. The first attempt was to write, “he or she.” Alternatives have been “she or he” – “he/she” – “she/he” and “s/he.” These were often rotated so that each gender reference alternately appeared first in sentences .

Not only are these phrases awkward, they persist in pointing out gender inequality by making a distinction. In addition, there is the question of who goes first, the male or the female reference.

Some people have suggested introducing new pronouns that are gender natural. None have been adopted. Even though the English language is very malleable and changes occur frequently, there are some words that are highly resistant to change. Those words include pronouns.

Others have suggested that the plural pronoun “they” be use in a singular sentence, such as, “When the operator sees the red light flash they must press the blue button.” This is simply not grammatically correct. Mixing singular with plural in a sentence sounds and reads wrong.

So, what is the solution? I have wrestled with this for years in writing articles, business documents and technical manuals. I suggest that writers always make their sentences plural unless they are speaking about a particular person, as in, “When operators see the red light flash, they must press the blue button.” There is no need for the ungainly “he or she” or to break grammar rules by combining plural and singular in a sentence. This is simple, flows seamlessly and does not bring up images of gender imbalance because there is no gender reference when writing in general terms.

If writers speak of a particular person, they may use "he" for males and "she" for females, as in, “Mary drove her car to work” or “Tom picked up his dry cleaning.”

There can be cases where a specific person being described does not want to be associated with a gender at all. A sentence could read, ”Feglarglata got into the car and drove to the store.” A problem arises if you want to say that a specific person drove to the store in a car owned by that individual.

This is simple when writing in first person. “I got into my car and drove to the store.” Pronounce such as ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘you’, ‘us’ and ‘them’ are gender neutral.

In the third person you might say, “Feglarglata got into the car owned by Feglarglata and drove to the store.” Repeating the individual’s name avoids any gender specific pronouns, but it is a little long winded and a bit awkward.

The sentence could also be written, ”Feglarglata got into its car and drove to the store.” This works, but addressing a person as ‘it’ sounds harsh and impersonal.

It is possible to write a complete story without any reference to gender and not get bogged down. Consider this tale.

Feglarglata owned a car and drove it to the store. It was a short trip and the scenery was pleasant. After finding a parking space near the front door, it was a quick walk into the store to buy some bread and vegetables for the party that evening. Feglarglata was looking forward to seeing new and old friends alike. There would certainly be an enjoyable game of charades.

The trip home passed the old city hall that had been converted into a community center. Childhood memories surfaced of days spent playing softball and making crafts.

At home, the groceries were put away. A quick inspection of the kitchen and living room showed that everything was ready for the party.

The doorbell rang and Grylke walked into the living room sporting a wide smile. The old friend said, “I have been looking forward to this. I saw the others at launch and they are all coming”.

The two of them shook hands. Feglarglata said, “Can you help me bring some chairs in from the kitchen. We should be able to finish before anyone else arrives.” As soon as they were done, the doorbell sounded again.

Just the (Necessary) Facts: Researching historical fiction

Historical fiction requires the same command of writing craft as is found in any genre. In addition, writers of historical fiction must conduct intense research into the people, objects and locations of the time being written about. Authors must become immersed in the subject while building stories and characters that create unique books.

Research can take many forms; books, newspapers and magazines from the period, lectures, museums, videos, archival films, interviews, search engines and physical journeys to the places where the book takes place. I used all of these in researching a historical novel. Traveling to the actual location and visiting museums gave me the feel of the place and provided context to period exhibits. Travelogue lectures and videos were like guided tours. Archival films documented specifics about clothing, transportation and current affairs. The Internet gave me details about temperature, population, landscape, customs and festivals. Original and microfilmed copies of period magazines and newspapers filed in gaps concerning everyday life, anxieties and hopes. The advertisements were very interesting because they highlighted desires and morals of the time.

If done thoroughly, research will produce volumes of notes. Yet, authors will only want to use a fraction of the facts they gather. Some might question this after making such an investment in research and think that they need to include everything they have discovered because it is so interesting. This is a mistake. A historical novel is not a text book. It must contain just enough details to set the novel in the time period without overwhelming the reader. Too many facts distract the reader from the plot and character development. It’s important to reach a balance.

Consider a paragraph that uses extensive historical facts, such as, “Aaron opened the door of the 1962 Chevy Impala and sat in the driver’s seat. It had C pillar styling that was not offered in the 4-door hardtop. The engine was a 409 cubic-incher that only came with a standard transmission. It was a true legacy to Swiss race car driver Louis Chevrolet (1879 – 1941) and his partner William C. Durant (1861-1947) who started the Chevrolet Motor Car Company on November 3, 1911. Aaron knew this car would win the race and save the orphanage.”

All of these fact are real, and may be of interest to car enthusiasts, but it is far too much information for the majority of readers. That Aaron has found a fast car that will win a race to save the orphanage is lost in the words. It would be far better to write, “Aaron opened the door of the 1962 Chevy Impala and sat in the driver’s seat. Surly, the big 409 cubic-inch engine would win the race and save the orphanage.”

That is not to say you should leave out all the facts you discover. One of the things readers seek in historical fiction is a sense of the time and place. Descriptions of houses, rooms, clothing, transportation and implements create the feeling of a time gone by, but you should be selective in what you include. I wrote a historical novel in which I needed to get some lye that would be used in a future scene into a character’s pocket. This was both setting and foreshadowing, so it needed it to be memorable but subtle. I choose to have another character make soap while the main character helped. I researched soap making and learned many details. I used very few of those facts in the scene. The description of soap making consists of a general overview that gives the sense of making soap in the time period while leaving out detailed specifics, except for one. The character making the soap uses one type of lye over another, explaining that it makes softer soap but has a more violent reaction when exposed to water. The main character ties some left over lye in a handkerchief and puts it in a pocket. The fact that the lye was more active was very important to the plot a few chapters later.

When writing about actual historical figures, you cannot change known, historical facts. Marie Curie discovered radium and died from radiation poisoning at the age of 66, but an author can’t have her stop experimenting and live to be 100. Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist who was a former slave. She organized the underground railway to help other escaped slaves, but a historical novel cannot have her become president of the United States. Whatever documented actions a historical person took cannot be changed in a book. However, the author has complete leeway to explore the private moments in their lives when there is no known record of what they did or did not do, say or think. These unknown emotions, dreams, desires, etc. are fair game. Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica is a passionate condemnation of the Spanish civil war. The intent and result are evident, yet, who has crawled inside the mind on Picasso to know exactly what he was feeling and thinking at the time? Authors of a historical novel can do this.

Historical fiction can be entertaining, informative and thought provoking. It can also shed light on our contemporary world by showing us what has changed and what has not, thus giving us the opportunity to grow as societies and individuals. Authors can do this by choosing the right details, creating memorable characters and telling great stories within the chosen time period. thin the chosen time period.

Everyone Starts Someplace

No matter the career path people pursue, they start off knowing next to nothing about it. Carpenters must learn how to pound nails. They may have watched every episode of a particular home improvement show, but until they gain the experience of actually doing it, they will hit the wood as much as the nails and half of those will be bent. The same is true in other professions. Initial exposure is a good grounding, but there is a difference between knowing a thing and knowing the experience of a thing.

This includes writing. It takes time to learn the nuances of the craft; language, characterization, dialog, plot, suspense, comedy, drama and so forth. We all begin by imitating the styles of writers we have read until we develop our own unique voice, much as art students copy masterpieces to get the feel of how the original artists captured light or expressed an emotion. Through this process, writers accumulate techniques they will continue to use. There are those who do pop onto the scene with works of brilliance, however, for most it can take years to master the craft.

Even after reaching that professional level, you will discover that the process of learning never ends. There are always new things to discover. This requires a willingness to continually evaluate yourself as a writer and to examine critiques. They could come from other writers, Professional or learning, or a critique group. A major difference between professionals and neophytes is the ability to override their egos and commit themselves to improvement.

A critique is an examination of how effectively themes or points was expressed. When writers examine critiques about their works, they can gain a better understanding of how to best communicate to readers.

Some new writers can be hypersensitive to accepting critiques. Suggestions may be considered attacks on their character. They may think of their stories as their babies and each word their blood on the page. I have actually heard these words used. Some writers might say that their mother liked their manuscript or their friends enjoyed it. These attitudes are a great impediment to becoming a professional writer. Mothers like everything about their children and friends may not want to point out faults. Writers must look to people involved in writing who are willing to comment on how effective their work is.

Many beginning writers fear that they will run out of material and, therefore, they must jealously guard what they have. In truth, authors have an inexhaustible source of new ideas that they can draw on by just sitting down, writing them out, seeing how they read, and following threads that are suggested by the material. I threw out five times as much text as that retained in one final manuscript. Entire characters, cultures, locations and plot lines were removed because they did not serve the book.

There is a standard answer people in the arts give when a beginner asks about how to break into the business. It goes something like, “Do your best. Send your material out, and if you don’t make it in five years move on.” This is nonsense. What of you needed five years and a month to get you book accepted by a publisher? If you have the determination to work on your material, improve yourself and learn from other writers, continue in your day job and write in the morning or evening. Tom Clancy was just a middle aged insurance salesman while he worked on Hunt for Red October. J.K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone to over 20 publishers. What if she had stopped after 19? Keep writing and learning. What do you have to lose?

Apprentice carpenters begin in near ignorance. They get experience on the job, go to training courses and proceed through the ranks to become master carpenters. There is no shame in not knowing everything at first, but we humans are impatient, even more so in this wired world. We must all be willing to swallow our egos long enough to listen to others and profit from their views and experiences to become masters.