Avengers: Age of Ultron

I know you miss my clever titles, but…SEO.

As you may have noticed, I enjoy superhero films. And games. And sometimes graphic novels. So, naturally, I have been looking forward to The Avengers: Age of Ultron since it was announced. Admittedly, I actually found myself less enthusiastic about it as time went on, to the point that when I woke up on Thursday morning, I didn’t remember that I was going to see it. But, I was happy to be going back in to see Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, et al. Mostly, I wanted to see one of the new additions to the Avengers team, The Vision. Well, I say mostly, but it was half that and half wanting to see James Spader’s Ultron.

From the trailers, we got the impression that Ultron could be the first villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who was truly menacing, intimidating, and scary. Someone who posed a very real threat to the Avengers, powerful as they are. Unfortunately, what we got was…a comedian.

Avengers Age of Ultron

Let’s start from the start. The snowy, forest scene that we saw plenty of pictures of gets blasted apart by the Avengers and Hydra. Already, about 1 minute in, the film made its first mistake. It tried to copy the impressive single-shot sequence from near the end of the first Avengers. The one where the camera moves from one Avenger to the next, to the next, without cutting. It looked good in that film. In this film, it was some of the worst CGI I’ve seen for a long time. It was contrived and looked simply awful.

And that just, for me, sums up a lot of Joss Whedon’s writing in Age of Ultron. He seemed more concerned with getting cheap laughs than telling a story. With forcing ‘cool’ scenes than actually telling us what the hell was going on. Although the story is simple, I found myself confused more than once. Ultron himself seems to go through a few different variations of his evil plan but we, the audience, seem to find that out by accident. Of course, the story itself is the biggest cliche there is when it comes to stories involving artificial intelligence, but that should have been okay. After all, it’s how a story is told that’s the main thing. Unfortunately, it was told quite badly.

Ultron. It’s James Spader! How do you get a voice like James Spader’s to come out of your villain’s mouth, and still manage to make him benign and unthreatening? Yes, he’s more powerful than any of the Avengers and, yes, he kills a few people, but he also jokes constantly. It takes a very special writer to write a character who is both witty and scary, and Joss Whedon is not that writer. So yes, Ultron is funny. Very funny in places. But what do you want from a big, bad villain: threat and menace, or some laughs? The humour of the Marvel films is one of their attractions, but set yourself a damn limit!

It’s Iron Man 3 and Mandarin all over again. Remember how good the trailers seemed? How menacing and threatening The Mandarin sounded? We knew it was going to be good. Then we watched the film and…Trevor Slattery. What? Not that Ultron isn’t a threat. He’s just not threatening.

It seems like Whedon wanted him to be like a moody teenager at first, since he has only just been created. But he never really bothers to push the character down that route. Which leaves him a bit all over the place (like most of the film).

James Spader is, naturally, very good as Ultron regardless of the writing.

avengers-age-ultron-poster

You’ve probably noticed that the writing is the main let down of the film for me. It had little structure. Things just happened. It was simply ‘Oh now this is happening’, rather than ‘This is happening because he did that, and they need this outcome, blah blah blah…’ Rarely was there much cohesion between the scenes and the storytelling.

So those are my main complaints.

It’s less of a complaint, but I was disappointed with how little Paul Bettany’s The Vision was in it. He appears late on in the film, and only really has 4 or 5 scenes. And a very small handful of lines. Yet, despite that, he was one of the best things about the film. Him and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who was much better utilised this time round. And funny.

Thor seemed a little redundant this time, despite practically being a god. In fact, he took more of a beating from Ultron than any of the mere mortals, who held their own against him perfectly well. But there was no real story to his character, other than in a set up for future films. Though in light of the other issues, this didn’t really bother me. He was still Thor as we know him – though perhaps not taking quite as much punishment as we know he should be able to.

Overall, I did enjoy the film, you might be surprised to hear. I will definitely watch it again, perhaps at the cinema with the free ticket I got to make up for the flickering of the screen throughout.

I should probably list all the things I liked about it now, but it’s actually a lot harder than listing the things I didn’t. The memory of the film seems quite blurry, thanks to the aforementioned lack of structure.

Ah, but I know what I will complain about again though! Coulson. No Phil Coulson. The current events of Agents of SHIELD do mean that it kind of makes sense that he wouldn’t have a cameo, but I’d hoped they would find a way. After all, his death in the first film caused such outrage that Marvel had to bring him back!

But then I read Whedon’s comments on the topic. As far as he’s concerned, Coulson is dead to the MCU. Basically, he sounds extremely bitter, with his ego bruised by the fact that Marvel decided to undo his decision to kill the character. I wouldn’t be too happy either, but at the end of the day, these characters are Marvel’s not Whedon’s. The fans are Marvel’s, not Whedon’s. So I’m as disappointed with Whedon as I was with the film. More so, actually.

What I found amusing by his statements concerning Coulson, though, was that he said that the plot device of someone dying and then coming back can be used to the point of there never feeling like there’s something at stake. While that’s true (and let’s ignore the fact that it doesn’t lessen the impact at the time), he’s saying this after putting out a film that contains the utterly pointless death of a main character. Not only is it utterly pointless, and only there so that we feel like the whole thing had been dangerous and they didn’t all get out unscathed, but it seemed like he had been thrown into the film for that purpose.

age-of-ultron-the-vision

I understand the idea that characters might need to die, otherwise it’s all too easy and clean and nothing really feels like it’s at stake, but that’s not necessarily the case. Ultron could have been the villain who tore the heroes apart on the inside. Who got in their heads and broke them. After all, as someone said: Ultron probably knew more about each of them that they knew about each other. He could quite easily have used that knowledge. No one needed to die in order for them to not make it out unscathed. But more to the point, if you are going to kill a character, don’t make it so entirely contrived.

But anyway, that’s probably enough ranting. Go and see it. It’s quite good, despite what I’ve said… I’d probably rate it 4th or 5th out of the Marvel films.

Batman V Superman

Finally, we have a trailer for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. And that subtitle is still stupid.

The trailer was leaked on Thursday night/Friday morning and was promptly removed from most corners of the internet. I’m not sure of the quality of the original leak, but the version I saw was a fairly bad cam version (someone recorded it off the screen with a phone or camcorder). In response, a probably very annoyed Snyder/Warner Brothers did the best thing: they released the full quality version on Friday night. No doubt you’ve already seen it, but…watch it again:

Already there’s a lot of whinging about it, even though it’s a two-minute teaser trailer. It’s pretty much balanced between Superman and Batman, and alludes to the unrest among the people. It also gives us our first look at Batman in motion, and he looks bigger than Superman. The tone of the trailer is dark – by necessity – and people are assuming that means the entire film will be a dark and gritty adaptation. While I’m among the ones hoping that it won’t be (Superman shouldn’t be dark OR gritty), I’m not about to leap to such conclusions based on our first tease of the film.

There’s still some more to come with Snyder’s original IMAX event on Monday. I’m not sure exactly what will be there, but I read in one place that there will be two trailers shown for it. Snyder himself tweeted that there will be some shots in the trailer there that we didn’t get in Friday’s release. I had read earlier in the week that Aquman, Flash and Cyborg all get a brief shot, which didn’t happen, so perhaps they’ll be in Monday’s. I wonder too, though, if the IMAX event trailers will be like the comic-con one, where only those attending will get to see it, and the public never will.

The Dark Knight will take on the Big Blue Boy Scout in Zack Snyder’s second DC universe entry. Not a lot is known about the plot, except that it will deal with some of the aftermath of the events in Man of Steel (Zod invading and killing a lot of people, and Superman himself destroying the remains of Metropolis). It seems public opinion will be mostly against him, and he’ll be considered a menace rather than a hero. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) will no doubt take full advantage of this, as he’ll consider the flying alien a threat too.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman

Judging by the batwing scene in the trailer, it seems someone – probably Luthor – will take control of Batman’s toys and use them to trick Superman into attacking the Dark Knight. Maybe. That’s a complete guess. Somehow, though, the two will come to blows. That can’t last the entire film, though, so who knows what the rest will be about.

Most of the Superman scenes, to me, seem to be some kind of dream sequence – perhaps a nightmare that he’s having as the public turn on him, making him question himself and what he might turn into. There is a shot of some soldiers with the Superman shield on their shoulders. Could that be an allusion to the alternate reality where Superman turns into a brutal dictator?

There’s plenty of stuff in the trailer that could be broken down and talked about at length, but…I won’t. Did you see the Riddler easter egg though?

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (still stupid) will be out on 25 March 2016. It stars Henry Cavill (Superman), Ben Affleck (Batman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Jason Mamoa (Aquaman), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor). And some others.

Jason Mamoa Aquaman

Last Word Proofreading

Fountain Pen

I am now a proofreader! Proofreading hither and thither. Mostly hither.

I’ve been doing bits of proofreading for friends’ businesses for some time – press releases, website articles, comic books, a non-fiction book – and finally realised that I could (and should) make a living of it. I’ve been writing since I was a child, and that writing and editing taught me most of what I needed to know about the English language – even if I don’t always put it to good use. Editing my own work sharpened my eye when it came to other people’s because, as we all know, your own work is the hardest to edit and proofread.

So, driven by the knowledge that I had both the eye to spot errors and most of the language skills necessary, and by a soft spot for telling people they’ve made a mistake, I went to the Society for Editors and Proofreaders to start a handful of grammar and proofreading courses.

I completed the courses with the knowledge that I can proofread anything that’s thrown at me – unless it’s a specialist subject, in which case you can throw it elsewhere. And my last tutor was impressed with my eye for detail, so there!

So now I have a brand new button at the top of the website that leads to my brand new proofreading website with links to my brand new proofreading email address. It isn’t particularly well written, but it is well proofread.

Last Word Proofreading.

Man: The Thinker!

Not long ago I wrote a short blog about the etymology of ‘ye olde’ (as in ‘ye olde shoppe’). ‘It was fascinating’, I hear you say. ‘You should write more of those’, I also hear you say. Well, it’s funny you should say that because…I am.

Male Symbol

A lot of people don’t like it when the term ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ is used, because they feel that it excludes women or, at the very least, diminishes their importance and equality (that it’s sexist). So the etymology of the word is (quite mildly a bit) interesting.

In fact the word ‘man’, in Old English, used to be used the same as we use ‘person’ – gender neutral. It’s fairly recent that it has become used exclusively for males – the last 100 years or so. The word ‘wer’ or ‘waepmann’ referred to a male, until the 1300s or so, and ‘wif’ or ‘wifmann’ referred to a female. ‘Wifmann’, obviously, evolved into ‘woman’. ‘Wer’ was simply replaced by ‘man’, which took on a double meaning then – of both a male person and a person in general.

The word ‘man’ actually meant ‘one who has intelligence’, while ‘men’ meant ‘to think’, making it clearer still that ‘man’ referred simply to human beings.

Again, these days people say that to say ‘man’ in reference to all people (even capitalised to make it obvious), is sexist. ‘Mankind’ is just about tolerated, it seems. No matter what it used to mean, people will still complain that it’s sexist because of what it now means. Still, it’s interesting to see where it came from.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age Table

I never expected Inquisition (see what I did?!) to be brilliant. I didn’t expect it to be BioWare back to form. And it wasn’t. But it was pretty good, and in some places very good; it was certainly a big improvement over Dragon Age II.

I bought Dragon Age: Inquisition on release day and have been taking my time with it so that, by the time I embarked upon the final mission, I’d finished all the side quests. I did manage to miss one party member, though, due to not discovering that Orlais has two upper levels until hour 101. I finished it on New Year’s Day.

I’m not entirely sure what to think. I wrote a blog for Uproar about Bioware and mentioned how this game could remake or break the developer. I think, on the whole, it has done them good. They still made some of the same mistakes they did with some of their past games, but mostly they did a good job.

First off, the voice acting was pretty good – nothing special, but good – for all but one character: your own. You choose between one of two male voices when you start – an American one and an English one – and I assume the same goes for female builds. I chose the English one, because American doesn’t sound right in fantasy to me. What a mistake. Flat, boring, unemotional for the most part. When he did put emotion into things, it was all over the place. He’d sound accusing, angry, surprised or confused, when he was meant to be anything but. Mostly, he just sounded like a dimwit – not how you want your Inquisitor to sound. Compared to the very good voicing of Hawke in Dragon Age II, it was a big step back.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game was the world itself. The areas you can travel to are both huge and varied. One of the worst things about Dragon Age II was the blatant reuse of areas, one lesson BioWare clearly learnt well. No one area looks like another, no matter how small, and the environments are varied enough – even the similar ones – that you could tell where in Thedas you’d been put if the game launched you there randomly. The detail in most of these environments is impressive too, given the size. Except the desert. That’s far too big to be so empty.

Dragon Age Dales

The combat is pretty much the same as it was in Dragon Age II, except instead of mashing the attack button, you simply hold down the right trigger and the fighting is done for you. Overall, it’s fine, though the blows just don’t feel like they have the impact that they did in the previous game. You feel more like you’re swinging a fish at the enemy instead of a sword. And the top-down view thing is entirely pointless, at least on easier difficulties.

Then there are the downsides. The AI is terrible, with the party members getting stuck or deciding to stand still and not follow you (which means if you switch to them thinking they’re right behind you, you’re transported miles away and then your previous character is teleported to them). In fights, some of the ranged characters would run right up to enemies to attack them…from range. Given that ranged characters have less defences and lower health, this was quite irritating. Not to mention moronic. But BioWare decided that we didn’t need the detailed character behaviour options that helped make Origins so good. Basically, you can tell a character to do what another does, or do their own thing. The former means that they totally ignore enemies who attack them, and therefore die a lot.

Enemy spawning is very annoying. If you wipe out a group of enemies, don’t look over your shoulder as you walk away, or they’ll have respawned again. That’s if you survived the encounter. Not because the enemies are tough, but because of the glitch that causes your character to run into an enemy and then launch into the sky and plummet back to the ground.

Glitches being another irritant. They are mostly small, and BioWare did fix the worst ones. I missed a lot of what was happening for first several hours because dialogue would often freeze, and I would have to press the skip button so that I wouldn’t be left with someone just staring at me in silence. That of course resulted in me missing lines. When it happened multiple times within a single conversation, I was left clueless.

And what about the lies BioWare told? There were a couple of things they claimed would be in the game – and claimed very close to release – that aren’t. While this is pretty typical of BioWare, that doesn’t make it acceptable. The main thing I remember is them saying how once you liberate a keep, you would decide what kind of keep it should be. You don’t. At all. It doesn’t matter, but it annoys me that BioWare are so changeable and liberal with the truth.

Their claims of all these hard decisions is perhaps the chief example. They say that every time, of course, but usually there are hard choices. They said these would be some of the hardest yet, that there would be no easy or ‘right’ choice. Well…where the hell were they? The hardest choice I had to make was deciding whether I should take Solas or Dorian on missions. The only other thing that was hard was a choice regarding Blackwall, and it seems like both options turn out exactly the same anyway. They used an example in one gameplay video of a village under attack at the same time as Inquisition forces, or something like that. The choice was between helping the Inquisition and helping the village. Nothing like that ever occurs in the game. Ever. This is the culmination of two other games, with the fate of the world in the balance, and there isn’t a single hard choice.

Which reminds me of the video where they showed how, on approaching enemy forces, you could set fire to their boats so that they couldn’t escape. They said there were be things like that throughout. There are not.

There’s no actual danger. There is one point at which your enemy, Corypheus, launches a devastating attack on the Inquisition, but other than that it’s an easy ride. No party members are ever in any danger, where they could be killed off. Again, this is unlike gameplay videos and trailers suggested. Which reminds me of just how many scenes from trailers and gameplay videos never made it into the game. Good scenes. Dramatic scenes. Did BioWare have to decide between delaying the game and cutting a load of it out, and chose the latter? They certainly seem to have bitten off a hell of a lot more than they could chew.

Overall, I’d probably give Dragon Age Inquisition a maximum of 7/10, and I would recommend it. But it suffers from BioWare’s continuing cluelessness. This isn’t the end of my review/rant, but everything from here on will be full of big spoilers.

I used the Keep thing online to make all the choices that I made in Dragon Age Origins and DA2, which weren’t saved to my Origin account for some reason. Most things seemed to make little to no difference, but I wanted to have Alistair in my game, so I chose to have the Hero of Fereldan kill the archdemon, and Alistair rejoined the Wardens. So he was indeed in my Inquisition playthrough, and turned out to be a fairly important part. However, after he played his part, he left to return to the Grey Wardens at their headquarters. I thought that this was to get their help with the whole world ending crisis thing, but apparently not, because he never came back and wasn’t mentioned again until the credits.

Another familiar character to make an appearance is Hawke. This was handled incredibly badly. It was built up to be a big surprise, and yet just as I was about to meet him, the game asked me if I wanted to use Hawke’s default appearance or customise it. That’s like taking someone to a surprise birthday party and then at the door, telling them you hope they like surprise parties! Why the hell didn’t they just do that at the start of the game? And then there’s Hawke’s end. You have to choose between him and Alistair – I suppose that could count as a hard decision, but it makes the most sense that Hawke be the one to die, so it isn’t. And so the hero of Dragon Age II is given a pathetic, badly-animated non-death. He runs at the enemy, and then we just assume he died. Brilliantly handled, as always, BioWare. Because who cares about a character you not only spent tens of hours with, but controlled the whole time?

Then there’s the end. A weaker, more empty and all-round crap ending I haven’t witnessed for a long time. It kind of comes in two parts. First there’s the final fight against Corypheus and his dragon. Morrigan takes on the latter with her new dragon shapeshifting powers…and loses. So much for ‘I can match the dragon’. Then you just chase Corypheus around, hitting him. It’s not even a hard fight. All the dragons in the game were harder. The nightmare demon thing in the Fade was harder. Then after the fight there’s a cutscene of the Inquisitor creating a rift to suck Corypheus into the Fade. It’s not remotely dramatic or climactic. It doesn’t even make sense to me. He wanted to be in the damn fade, and you JUST PUT HIM THERE! I know the suggestion is that he’s dead and not there physically, but… Oh, never mind.

Dragon Age Inquisition

Before this, you’re told that Inquisition forces can’t assist you. They’re on their way back from another fight. So exactly what was the point in building the Inquisition? Really? In reality, all it took to defeat Corypheus was for Morrigan to get her dragon power and the Inquisitor to swing his sword a few times. In the end, the Inquisition just seemed kind of pointless.

So unlike Origins, where there’s a huge battle at the end and all your companions are up to their eyes in it, this (again, the culmination of two games and with the fate of the world in the balance) end with me, a dwarf, a knight, and an elf against an archdemon-a-like and a darkspawn magister god-wannabe. So after you defeat him, suddenly all your other companions appear from nowhere, along with random Inquisition soldiers – including a scout who was the only one there with you when you caught up to Corypheus, AND THEN DISAPPEARED! Oh, yeah, big heroes.

Then part two of the ending is back in Skyhold, where there’s a party. After the Inquisitor stands and stares at people while they applaud. No Cassandra next to him, of course. The other advisers are there, but one of the two that created the Inquisition is down with the unwashed massed. Makes sense. I suspect this is BioWare pretending that they learnt from the atrocity of ME3, and wanted to give closure for the party members. They didn’t. It’s weak, empty and pointless. You basically go between them all to get a few lines of conversation from each. It’s for appearances and nothing more. It’s not even done well. Where are all the characters that you met throughout the game who aren’t companions? Where’s that little dwarf scout? Where’s Dagna? Where’s that mage leader, etc., etc.? Where’s Iron Bull’s company? He made a big deal out of saving their lives, and yet they aren’t there when he turns up at the end to pretend he actually did something to help, and they aren’t there with him celebrating. It’s pathetic.

Then after that, it just…ends. Nothing about the final fight or the ‘end’ actually feels like the end of a game. There’s no aftermath, no picking up the pieces, no drama. You can continue to play after the credits, but there’s nothing new, nothing has changed. It just adds to the empty feeling, especially if you’ve finished all the side missions.

There’s an after credits scene that seems to partially explain something Solas says after Corypheus is defeated, and perhaps sets up Dragon Age 4. It seems he is in fact the Dread Wolf, but I don’t really understand. I thought the Dread Wolf was a trickster who…well, tricked the other elven gods, and yet he seems to be just like we knew Solas to be. And what happens at the end? Does Flemeth/Mythal possess him, or does he kill her, or…what? I suppose it’s meant to be confusing and a tease.

So I think that’s about the end of my ranting. I actually thought less and less of the game as I wrote this, and more things came to me. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of my problems with it, nor indeed the things I liked about it, but it’s long enough already, and it’s hard to properly review a game that lasted 107 hours. It was a good game, but not nearly good enough to make me think BioWare are back on track. I won’t be buying their next game.

A&Me: Another 6 Hours With Death

 

Accident and Emergency

You may – or, more likely, may not – remember that I spent six hours in A&E last September due to passing out twice, hitting my head, tearing/straining a jaw ligament, having a seizure, etc. Those six hours were among the worst of my life. A doctor laughed at me. The receptionist sent us somewhere we weren’t meant to be and then told us off for going there. The other receptionists stood gossiping and ignoring us while I sat in my wheelchair throwing up and being held in so I wouldn’t fall out with the dizziness. The triage nurse was an a******. They all assumed, without basis, that I was drunk.

I vowed never to return to A&E; I’d rather lie on my bedroom floor and die. So, last Tuesday – December 23 – I ventured back to A&E. Not entirely by choice. So here’s my whine story:

For the past 8-10 weeks, I’ve been fairly unwell: weak; dizzy; easily exhausted; I lost 7kg in about 5 of those weeks; I’d wake up with the room spinning and my heart hammering. So after a few weeks of feeling back to normal, last Monday night I woke up with my heart fluttering as though I were nervous about something. I went to the bathroom only to find myself becoming light-headed and tunnel vision creeping in. After discovering that splashing cold water on myself didn’t work, I lay down on the (very cold) floor so that I wouldn’t hit my head this time when I passed out. Luckily, doing so caused all the unpleasant feelings to abate.

The next day I went to the doctor. She decided, after an ECG, that I should go to A&E. I considered not going, but the feelings of the previous night were just the feelings that I’d hoped to avoid by never going to a hospital again, so there didn’t seem much point if it would only happen again.

This time, I had to go to the hospital in Letterkenny, Ireland, because I live in the Republic and therefore am not covered by the NHS even with my UK passport. Ireland’s healthcare is similar to America’s – though not quite so bad – in that you pay through your teeth for everything (including a €100 fee for needing A&E). But thankfully, a few days earlier, my medical card had arrived, meaning that I wouldn’t have to pay.

Letterkenny turned out to be vastly more pleasant – if that term can possibly be used for a hospital visit – than the A&E in Altnagelvin, Derry. The doctors and nurses seemed to care about me and even treated me as though I actually existed! Though the entire thing turned out to last six hours, just like the first time round, it didn’t feel like it. Several nurses asked me questions throughout the wait, and took my blood pressure, and even turned on the TV for us and came around with tea and biscuits. Unfortunately, one also took my blood. That resulted in me lying on a bed with an oxygen mask, shaking violently all over.

Sadly, what they didn’t do was diagnose what’s wrong. Another ECG showed nothing (the GP’s reading, which said something about an anomaly, went missing somewhere between the reception and the triage nurse), the chest x-ray showed nothing, my blood showed nothing (except that my potassium is back to normal). The doctor wondered if it might be TB for a while, but she must have ruled that out because she never mentioned it again.

So, after six hours and another blood-related ordeal, I was given the choice of being kept in over Christmas with a heart monitor, or coming back some time after Christmas to be fitted with one for 48 hours. I chose the latter.

And that is the story of why I’m no longer allowed tea or coffee.

Batman

Kindle Direct Publishing Formatting Guide

E-Book

I recently wrote a guide on writing a book, and in it I said that I would write a guide to formatting for KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). This will be vaguely similar to my Smashwords formatting guide, but simpler.

I’ve heard of plenty of people using the simple, automated process that KDP seems to expect by default, but to be absolutely sure that no issues will arise from the conversion process, I convert my Word file into an HTML file first. Doing so means that, so long as I make sure only HTML tags that the Kindle recognises make it through, what comes out the other end of KDP will be exactly what I want. The only errors possible in this way are any made by me.

Most people think that because this is done through HTML, it is therefore over their heads and far too hard and technical. In reality, HTML is a lot easier to grasp than you probably think. More to the point, you don’t really need to know HTML; you simply need to know what HTML tags should and should not be present in your file.

NOTE: I now offer an e-book formatting service for both Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing. So, if you decide that this is a little too time-consuming, complicated or daunting, have a look at my formatting page on Last Word Proofreading.

What You Will Need:

  • Microsoft Word (it shouldn’t matter which version, and if you are using any other program, it should be the same principles – you may simply have to look harder for the menu options I mention)
  • Notepad++ (free here)
  • Dreamweaver (or another HTML editor)

Or

  • Windows Notepad (expensive web design software isn’t really necessary)

What We’ll Be Doing:

As with the start of the Smashwords formatting guide, we will start by tagging and then removing any and all formatting. Or at least, so far as Word will allow.

We will then save as a web page, telling Word to keep out the clutter. Word will ignore us and leave in lots of pointless crap we don’t want or need, so we will take the file to Dreamweaver or your equivalent and remove those unnecessary tags.

That’s it.

To see the HTML tags supported by the Kindle, click here. If that looks daunting, we’ll be using very few of them anyway. This is a list of the most commonly used tags. Much smaller.


LAYOUT

At this point, you should probably have the book laid out the way you want anyway, but if you haven’t then this is a decent order:

  • Title
  • Copyright
  • Table of Contents
  • Author’s Note
  • The main content
  • About the author
  • Anything extra

Of course, there’s a good chance you won’t want an author’s note, and a table of contents isn’t necessary.

If you’re unsure what kind of copyright page to put in, it can be very simple, or it can go a bit further, like mine:

Copyright © 2012 Ross Harrison
Cover copyright © 2012 Ross Harrison
Cover design by Cui Yuan
The right of Ross Harrison to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents act 1988.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.

NOTE: If you are doing this after formatting for the Smashwords edition, make sure that the line ‘Smashwords Edition’ isn’t still in your copyright information.


EM EN EM’S

You will want to make sure your em dashes and en dashes are done right. While we’re at it, we might as well make sure your ellipses and quotation marks are right. The latter two won’t look any different on Kindle (actually, they may on the more modern Kindles), but the dashes will.

If you’ve had the following options selected while writing, and Word has automatically changed your dashes and whatnot, then you can skip this bit.

  1. Click on the big yellow button in the top left of Word, then Word Options at the bottom of the drop down list (in earlier versions of Word, click Tools and then AutoCorrect Options, then ignore step 2)
  2. Click Proofing and then AutoCorrect Options
  3. In both the tabs AutoFormat and AutoFormat as You Type, make sure the options ‘Straight Quotes with Smart Quotes’ and ‘Hyphens with Dash’ are checked

AutoCorrect

Click OK until you’re back on the manuscript. Now we’ll use Find and Replace:

  1. Press Ctrl+H to bring up the Find and Replace window
  2. Find: “ and Replace: “ (Double quotes will automatically change to the nicer, curved ones)
  3. Find: ‘ and Replace: ‘
  4. Find: – and Replace ^+ (This creates an em dash)
  5. Find: – and Replace ^= (This creates an en dash)
  6. Find: … and Replace: … (In Find, type three full stops (periods). In Replace, press either Ctrl+Alt+. or Alt Gr+. for a proper ellipsis)

PRESERVE FONT FORMATTING

In order to make it a little easier when we get to the HTML editing part, we’ll remove all formatting from the document. This means that italic, bold, and underlined text will become normal text.

The problem with this method is that if you had text in italic, bold or underlined, and then deleted it, there may be white space with one of those still applied to it. This won’t matter (except in the case of underline) in the finished product, but I like to keep things as clean and tidy as possible, and so I don’t want that. Because we’re using Find and Replace, you can get around this problem by replacing one instance at a time, ensuring that you skip over anything that isn’t meant to be kept italicised, bold, or underlined. It could get tedious, but you probably shouldn’t have very much of this in the book anyway and I highly recommend doing it this way to ensure no issues.

First, press Ctrl+H to bring up the Find and Replace window. Remember not to type the quotation marks in the following:

– Italics:

  1. Click inside the Find box, then press Ctrl+I and it will say ‘Font: Italic’ beneath the box
  2. Leaving this box empty, now click in the Replace box and type ‘[i]^&[/i]’
  3. Go through one by one, or click ‘Replace All’ (see above)
  4. Click in the Find box again and press Ctrl+I until the format line beneath the box disappears

– Underline:

  1. Click inside the Find box, then press Ctrl+U and it will say ‘Underline’ beneath the box
  2. Leaving this box empty, now click in the Replace box and type ‘[u]^&[/u]’
  3. Make necessary replacements
  4. Click in the Find box again and press Ctrl+U until the format line beneath the box disappears

– Bold:

  1. Click inside the Find box, then press Ctrl+B and it will say ‘Font: Bold’ beneath the box
  2. Leaving this box empty, now click in the Replace box and type ‘[b]^&[/b]’
  3. Make necessary replacements
  4. Click in the Find box again and press Ctrl+B until the format line beneath the box disappears

If for some reason you want to enclose your formatted text between something other than ‘[i]’, etc, you can; the ‘^&’ is the important part. That said, don’t try to be clever and use the HTML tags of ‘’, etc, because Word will assume later on that you want it to literally look like that, and replace those brackets with code to display the brackets, rather than making them said tags… Understand? In other words, the result will be ‘<i>Text</i>’.

Preserving Italics

Do the same for anything else that will need attention, such as chapter headings (except not i, u, or b).


NUKE IT

Strictly speaking, this step isn’t entirely necessary, but it will cut down on the clutter when we get to the HTML editing.

  1. Open Notepad++ and create a new file if necessary
  2. In Word, press Ctrl+A to highlight everything, then Ctrl+C to copy it
  3. In Notepad++, press Ctrl+V to paste in your manuscript

It will look confusing and messy, but that’s fine. Don’t try to change anything. Let’s make it slightly less messy:

  1. Press Ctrl+F and click on the Replace tab. Select ‘Extended’ in the ‘Search Mode’ section at the bottom
  2. In the Find box, type ‘\t’ (without the quotes). Leave the Replace box empty, making sure there is no blank space by default, and click Replace All. This deletes tabs
  3. In the Find box, replace the ‘\t’ with ‘\n\r’. Still leaving the Replace box empty, click Replace All again. This will delete blank lines. NOTE: You may need to perform this step again after step 6
  4. In the Find box, replace the ‘\n\r’ with ‘ ‘ (two spaces), and in the Replace box, type ‘ ‘ (one space). Click Replace All. This deletes double spaces
  5. Close the Find and Replace window
  6. Click Edit -> Blank Operations -> Trim Leading and Trailing Spaces. This will delete space before and after paragraphs

You work will still look confusing, but a little less messy. If there are any blank lines, perform step 3 again.

Deleting Blank Lines

Deleting Blank Lines


FLYING VISIT TO WORD

After saving your Word document, as a new version of course, close it. Now create a new Word document.

In Notepadd++, press Ctrl+A to select everything, and Ctrl+C to copy it. Now go to your new Word document and press Ctrl+V to paste your manuscript in.

DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!

Now click the big yellow button in the top left (or File) and then Save As. Save in whatever location you want, under the book’s title, but save as file type ‘web page, filtered’ and add an ‘L’ (but lower case) to the end of the file extension. In other words, it should read ‘Your Title.html’.

Close everything.


WEAVE YOUR DREAMS

Now open your new web page in Dreamweaver (dragging it over the Dreamweaver desktop icon is the simplest way), other editor, or simply Windows Notepad.

If you are familiar with HTML, you’ll probably be relieved at how little code there is. If you are not familiar, you may be worried at how much code there is. The good news is, most of it is the same little bit of code recurring over and over, so it’s easy to get rid of.

To begin with, you’ll find things a lot easier if you understand that almost all HTML tags have an opening and a closing tag. For example, the paragraph tag opens with

and closes with

. The closing tag always has that forward slash.

First thing to do is find the opening tag ‘

) and delete it.

HTML Start

That gets the main eyesore out of the way, and you’ll now be able to see the start of your actual content. Let’s start at the top. All that needs to be at the top is:


(Your Book's Title)

So delete anything else and correct the title if need be.

The next thing should be the ‘body’ tag, but it has unnecessary rubbish in it, along the lines of ‘lang=EN-US’. Delete that, and the space before it, so that the tag reads simply .

After the body tag, the next thing you should see is the very first bit of text of your book, preceded by

. Delete anything between the body tag and this. In my case, the only remaining thing in between is

. Divs have no place in our particular HTML file.

Next comes a simple but time-consuming process. We need to delete all of the unnecessary code. In the following bits of code, yours may read slightly differently to mine, so make sure to copy and paste from your own file and not this guide. At the moment, what we’re aiming for is to leave every paragraph with only the

tags on either side.

For example, the first paragraph of my first chapter looks like this to begin with:

 

As his nose cracked under my knuckles, I reflected on how much I hated violence. Not violence stemming from my own unresolved anger issues. That I was fine with. It was violence against women that I hated. I didn’t know why, but the prettier the girl the more I hated it. Maybe I was shallow.

It should read simply:

As his nose cracked under my knuckles, I reflected […] Maybe I was shallow.

You’ll see that the MsoNormal rubbish is at the start of every paragraph, so it’s easy to get rid of a lot of that clutter:

  1. Highlight ‘ class=MsoNormal‘ (including the space, but NOT the right-hand bracket) and press Ctrl+C
  2. Press Ctrl+F (or Ctrl+H in Notepad) to bring up the Find and Replace box
  3. In Dreamweaver, make sure the ‘Find In:’ box says ‘Current Document’ and the ‘Search:’ box says ‘Source Code’
  4. Click in the Find box and press Ctrl+V (it may already be there in Dreamweaver)
  5. Make sure the Replace box is empty (that includes any blank spaces) and click Replace All

This will take around 30 seconds, perhaps a minute, maybe a little longer in Notepad. Just make sure to save after everything you do, especially with Notepad, as it can be a little temperamental.

You can probably guess what is next.

  1. Highlight ‘‘, this time include both brackets. Depending on where you’re from, this might say something slightly different, such as ‘EN-US’
  2. Open Find and Replace and repeat the above steps
  3. Now do the same with

Now it looks a lot less untidy. It’s mostly your text, with the odd blue (unless you’re in Notepad) HTML tag dotted about.

Go to the very end of the file. After the final

, it should look like this:

Delete that closing ‘div’ tag.

This should conclude the tidy up, because we took it into Notepad++ to get rid of as much formatting as possible. Just in case, though, you should run a search for the following tags and delete them if you find any. Remember to also delete the closing tag. After this, scan it all to see if anything catches your eye. Remember, except for the front matter – which we’ll get to in a minute – you should only see

in front of your paragraphs, and

at the end.

  • <div

  • <p ‘ (that’s a space after the ‘p’. If you find any paragraph tags with more than just the ‘p’, correct it to simply- there should never be a space)
  • <span
  •   (replace these with ‘
    ‘ – I’ll mention this again later)

THE REPLACEABLES

Don’t steal that title, it’s for my Expendables rip off with washed up TV stars. And I’ll sue you.

You’ll be wanting your italics, bolds, and underlines back now, I suppose. If you went through these in the Word document one by one, as I suggested, then you’ll be okay to use ‘Replace All’ this time around. If you did not, then you should probably do so this time. You may find that you have empty paragraphs dedicated to a closing bold tag, or some such. For the sake of tidiness, more than practicality, you might want to fix this. I’ll assume that you did take my advice the first time round though:

  1. Press Ctrl+F (or Ctrl+H in Notepad)
  2. In the Find box, type ‘[i]’ (or whatever you used for italics in Word)
  3. In the Replace box, type ‘
  4. Click Replace All
  5. Now go back to the Find box and type ‘[/i]’
  6. In the Replace box, type ‘
  7. Click Replace All

Restoring Italics

Now do the same process for the underlined and bold tags. Note, though, that there’s no point in putting the title or chapter headings in bold, because we’ll be doing that another way in a minute.

  • Underline: [u] and [/u] should be and
  • Bold: [b] and [/b] should be and

FURTHER FORMATTING

These are the basic tags and others will rarely be necessary. If you need something that I haven’t covered, refer to the list of tags that Kindle accepts (but not until the end of this guide). If you do, just remember to use the closing tags too (or you could leave a comment asking me).

Paragraph indenting is simple to set up. Go back to the top and, in between the title closing tag and the body opening tag, put in the following:

 

This might be too small an indent for you, but you’ll be able to preview the file later, so unless you already know what you want the indent to be, just leave it like this for now.

The problem with this is that, in fiction, the first paragraph after a break shouldn’t be indented. What we just did says that the indent should occur every time the paragraph tag is used. To get around this, you can go to the first paragraph tag after every break and change that first tag:

becomes

If, on the other hand, you don’t mind having no indent for paragraphs (perhaps your work is non-fiction), then don’t insert the style bit at the top. Instead, if you find a paragraph that needs indenting, use the above code in the paragraph tag, but put ’20px’, or however much you want it indented.

Now, let’s insert page breaks (i.e. forcing a new page, such as at the end of a chapter). You’ll presumably want these between chapters, and after your title page, copyright page, table of contents page, etc. If you’re familiar with HTML, don’t get a carried away. This simple line of code is exclusive to the Kindle, so you probably don’t know it:

That space before the forward slash is intentional, of course. Always make sure to write your bits of code exactly as written here.

Next, you’ll want some blank lines. If we hadn’t taken the file into Notepad++, it would be riddled with iterations of  . Instead of these, we want
. That’s a space between the ‘r’ and the forward slash, if it isn’t clear. You may want one of these, or two. In front of my title and copyright information, I’ve used three each to push said bits of content down the page to be more centralised. This doesn’t work with the older E-Ink Kindles, but seems to with the Kindle Fire tablets and Kindle for other devices, and I think it looks better like that. It’s entirely up to you.

The
tag forces a line break. The forward slash tells you that it’s one of the few that doesn’t need a closing tag.

So, for example, the top of my first chapter looks like this:

ONE | QUITTING TIME

As his nose cracked under my knuckles […]

Well, actually, it doesn’t, because I have different tags on the chapter heading, but I didn’t want you to get hung up on that before we get to it.

Speaking of which, we might as well do that next. There are different ways of doing this. The most obvious is to use the header tags. That is,

through to

, getting progressively smaller. The

is reserved for the title, so don’t use that. I would go for

personally, but you may prefer

. Anything beyond 3, though, will probably be too small. Again, you’ll be previewing this later, but if it helps at all, the section headings in this guide are

, while the ‘What You Will Need’ and ‘What We’ll Be Doing’, back at the start, are both

. There’s more of a difference on the Kindle though.

The header tags replace the paragraph tags, so the chapter I just showed you would read:

 

ONE | QUITTING TIME

You’ll probably want it centred, so that changes it to:

 

ONE | QUITTING TIME

NOTE: The American spelling of ‘center’ is intentional. Don’t try to change any code to British English, because HTML simply isn’t written that way and it will stop working.

The way I have actually done my chapter headings is like this:

 

ONE | QUITTING TIME

Why I did that…I have absolutely no idea. But I’ve done that with everything I’ve published on the Kindle. I have a vague recollection of something to do with a table of contents being automatically generated based on the header tags, but I don’t think that’s a thing. I couldn’t find anything about it when I Googled it. I can’t for the life of me think why I would have done that, but never mind. If you find any issues using the header tags, you can always come back and try it this way instead.

If you have any asterisks or other kinds of symbol for breaks, you’ll probably want them centred. This is as simple as centring anything else we’ve done so far. You’ll also want a space above and below the symbols, so it will look like this:

[...] end of section.

* * *

Start of next section…

I’ll say a quick bit about some other tags you might use:


  • could be used for a newspaper clipping, or a quote from a TV channel, or something like that. It has it’s own margins and indents, setting it apart from the normal text. You can’t use the

    tags inside it, so use
    to create new lines



  • creates horizontal line all the way across the page, as seen breaking up the sections of this guide. If my content area didn’t have a fixed width, the lines would span the entirety of your screen. It requires no closing tag

  • formats the contained text as strikethrough
  • and create subscript and superscript

THE FRONT MATTERS

Now we need to format the front matter (i.e. the title page, copyright page, etc.). As I mentioned earlier, the title should be between the

tags. You’ll also want it centred.

 

ACTS OF VIOLENCE

Below this will be your name, also centred:

 

ROSS HARRISON

You may have a series title to go above your title; do this the same way we just did the author name, but remove the ‘class=”author”‘ attribute.

Next is the copyright page. This is how I have done mine:

 

Copyright © 2014 Ross Harrison

Cover by Mark Williams, copyright © 2014 Ross Harrison

The right of Ross Harrison to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents act 1988.

All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.

The
tags could easily come at the end of the sentences, but I broke it up to make it clearer for this guide. I made the text a little smaller too, for aesthetics’ sake.

If you have an author’s note, or anything else, it will most likely be done just like a normal chapter, except you may want it centred. By now, you’ll be able to work out how to do that.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

We’re nearly there now. The table of contents is pretty simple. First, create a page (using ) and simply copy and paste in your list of chapters. You should include the title page and anything that comes after the main content. Enclose each line in

tags.

Next, we need to create anchors and links to those anchors. Go to your first chapter heading and change the line to the following:

 

ONE | QUITTING TIME

What you put after ‘name’ is up to you; it could be the actual name of the chapter. This is an anchor, which we can now link to from the table of contents. Do the same for the rest of your chapter headings, title, and any other place you want the TOC to link to. In other words, put right before text, always inside the paragraph or header tags. Make sure not to use the same name twice.

Next, go back to the table of contents. We’ll now point each one to the right place. So, using the first chapter again, it will look like this:

One | Quitting Time

The hash tag/pound sign goes in front of whatever you have named the anchor, without a space.

HTML Finished

Now save, go to where you have the file saved and double click it. If it doesn’t open in your browser, then something is probably wrong. It won’t look right in the browser, of course (not least of all because it won’t recognise the page break code), but you can test each TOC link to make sure they go to the right place.


AFTER CARE AND PREVIEWING

That should be pretty much it for the HTML side of thing. You are able to add images into the work, but that would make the guide even longer, and most people don’t have images. It also raises the delivery cost that Amazon charges. If, however, enough people are in need of help with images, I’ll add it to the guide.

Hopefully I’ve covered enough in this guide that if you need to do anything else, you can piece it together from what’s here. Otherwise, you can ask in the comments. If you require any special characters, simply copying them from Word and pasting them should do the trick; otherwise, here’s a list. Just make sure to preview to ensure it displays on the Kindle properly.

To preview your file, you can download the Kindle Previewer here. All you need to do then is click ‘Open Book’ and find your HTML file. The previewer will then convert the file into .mobi, which Kindle uses, and display it for you as it will on a Kindle. If you go to the top and click on the ‘Devices’ tab, you can switch between various kinds of Kindle to see the difference.

Kindle Previewer

Now that you have the .mobi (it will have saved in a folder in the same location as your HTML file), you can put it onto your own Kindle if you want. The save location will be slightly different depending on what device you are using, but for me, I simply plug my Kindle into the computer, open its folder, open the ‘documents’ folder, and drag the .mobi in. Then you’ll be able to open it on your Kindle for a better idea of how it will look.

Once it is published on Amazon, you’ll be able to download it for free (assuming you sign in to KDP with your main Amazon account), and know for certain that it looks how you want it to. In the very unlikely event that it doesn’t, you can easily update the file even after publication.


PUBLISHING

KDP

This part is pretty simple. Go to Kindle Direct Publishing and sign in with your Amazon account, or create one. On your Author Dashboard, click Add New Title.

The next page will ask you for the book’s details and those of the author. You will also upload the cover and HTML file here. Before you come here, you’ll need to have thought about both Kindle Select and whether or not you want DRM (Digital Rights Management) on your book. I have said a little about the former in the last part of my How to Write a Book Guide, but you’ll need to read about the latter for yourself. I always say no to it.

The second page is where you will price your book and choose your royalty rate. This is either 35% or 70%; each has minimum and maximum pricing requirements. You will also be able to enrol in Matchbook, which means if you have a print copy of your book on Amazon as well, you can give the customer a special price for the ebook if they buy the physical copy.

And…that’s it. Hopefully you found this guide helpful, and hopefully I’ve covered everything most people will need. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.