How books get from my head to your hands.


That Amazing Car – fiction by Anna Spilger

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Last week, we spent the week sorting through old books and papers. We reorganized our bookshelves and got rid of things we weren’t using, didn’t need, or that the kids had outgrown.

In the process of all that, I came across one of the first “novels” I ever wrote. I’ve typed it up here for your enjoyment. I corrected most of the spelling errors but left some of the grammatical ones. I also discovered a potential reason I have trouble picking character names — I used them all up in this story. 😀

You might also note that my 9 year old self thought a moral was an essential element for a novel. My much older self laughed to tears over the moral my 9 year old self chose. Especially since said 9 year old self was rather obsessed with winning.


That Amazing Car

by Anna Spilger 9 years old

Chapter 1

The Race Car

There once was a race car that always landed upright when it went over a ramp. Other cars always landed on their side or top. Everyone wanted to know how it was made but no one did.

Chapter 2

The Unusual Car

This car was made different. It had bike pedals and a gas pedal so if the bike pedals didn’t work, the gas pedal did. If the gas pedal didn’t work, the big pedals did. If none of the pedals worked, you couldn’t drive it.

Chapter 3

Meet the Car

The car had a name. It’s name was Fred. Fred was all blue except the lights, windows, and a white triangle on the front and both sides. The white triangles had the number 30 on them. It was neat.

Chapter 4

Meet the Driver

The name of the driver was Fredrick. His nickname was Rick. Rick was tall and strong. His voice was deep. His hair was black and parted in the middle and smoothed back. He had brown eyes and smiled like a half moon. He was the best racer. He never gave up.

Chapter 5

About the Other Cars

Joe’s car was guaranteed for landing upright (but it never did). So was all nine of the other cars, except Rick. None of the other cars ever landed upright. But Rick’s did.

Joe’s car was white with 18 written on the side. Bill’s car was red with 100 written on the side. John’s car was yellow with 10 written on the side. Albert’s car was green with 23 written on the side. Gorge’s car was purple with 90 written on the side. Ken’s car was brown with 88 written on the side. Alan’s car was orange with 76 written on the side. Gilbert’s car was gray with 66 written on the side. And Peter’s car was black with 59 written on the side. All the cars had the numbers written on white triangles.

Chapter 6

The Big Race

The race was just beginning. Joe was in the lead but Rick was just behind him, pedaling as fast as he could. He had decided to bike pedal because he’d never done it before. He pushed the gas pedal and went ahead of Joe. Just then, on their last time around, Rick went over the ramp, then Joe, then —

Chapter 7

The Accident

Rick had just cross the finish line when Joe went over the ramp and landed top-side down. The other cars stopped, not wanting to hurt him more. Rick turned around and went back to Joe, pulled him out of the wreck, called an ambulance, and went with him to the hospital. Joe was in critical yet stable condition.

Chapter 8

The Repentant

When Rick walked into Joe’s room, Joe said, “Rick, we drivers have envied you, but mostly me. You see, we thought you were trying to make yourself great. I think you proved that you weren’t today. I’m sorry” “That’s alright,” said Rick, “and from now on let’s share the winning sensation, okay?” And they did.

The End

Moral: Share the sensation of winning, don’t get too proud.


Goals: A Look Back, A Look Ahead

As 2017 draws to a close and 2018 careens its way toward us, I’ve been thinking about the goals I set for myself in 2017. I blogged earlier this year about a couple of my goals so thought I’d report on those and what I’m looking ahead to accomplish in 2018.

A Look Back at 2017

1. 52 Book in 52 Weeks

I’d set a goal to read 52 books this year and met that goal in mid November. This year, roughly 1/3 of the books I read were non-fiction. I’m not against reading fiction, I was just surprised by this outcome for the year. I’m currently reading book #59 but I don’t know if I’ll get it done before midnight tomorrow.

Bonus goal:

In January I started reading through the Bible chronologically. I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to keep up due to all the traveling we did this year. Turned out I didn’t need to worry. I finished reading through the Bible in mid November. In fact, book #52 for the year was God’s Word. I thought that was pretty great!

In the process of all our travel, the Bible I’ve had and used since I was 17 started falling apart. 🙁 The binding broke and everything from I Timothy on fell out. As I continued to use it, Romans and on started looking iffy and I had to stop carrying it to church. I finished reading through it this year and I’ll be carefully using it for future Bible study. It’s hard to let go of an old friend!

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I have another Bible my parents gave me when I learned to read. It hasn’t been used as much since I got the other one. I’ve been refamiliarizing myself with it the last couple months and using it when we go to church or attend classes to help the other Bible last longer.

2. Keep a Journal

My goal was to write in my journal at least once a week. I didn’t quite make that goal. Most weeks I kept up pretty well. Some weeks I wrote more than once. Other weeks, I was so busy it didn’t happen at all. That’s okay. The goal of journalling is to write things I want to remember, verbalize things I’m struggling with in an effort to lower my stress level, and write down goals and ideas I have. I accomplished those goals.

I started a new journal at the beginning of December, another one I’d gotten at the little shop in Egypt. It’s my favorite color and has smooth, lined pages. I’m loving it!

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3. Bonus Goal #2: Fitness Tracking

James and I got fitness watches in 2016. The first week of January, the app announced an achievement award for making my fitness goals every day for the whole week. Being the overachiever that I am, I earned the “award,” virtual though it was. Then it offered an “award” for meeting the fitness goal every day of the month. Then another if I did it for 100 days. Well, you get the picture. It wasn’t a goal I originally set out to meet, but day by day the year passed and here we are. If I meet the goal tomorrow, I’ll have done it every day for the whole year.

Looking Ahead to 2018

1. 52 Books in 52 Weeks.

Yep, I have that goal again. 🙂 It’s become a tradition. This year, I’m doing a challenge with some online friends. The first month I have to read a book published in my birth year. The book I’ve chosen in #4 in a series, so I have to read the first 3 books before I can even meet the challenge for January. Should be fun. There are several non-fiction books on my To Be Read list this year, too.

I’m not making a Through the Bible in a Year challenge this year. I’d like to concentrate my study on the New Testament, using a Bible Study book my friend Rachel Miller put together, In All Thy Ways.

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2. Keep a Journal

My goal this year is still once a week, but I might try for a few minutes three days a week instead. Either way, it’ll get those thoughts and ideas out of my head onto paper.

3. Fitness Tracking

I’ll hit 500 days sometime in April. Why stop now? 😉 It’s become such a habit, that I’d feel weird stopping. 

4. Swahili Study

I need to get over the hurdle of not being able to use the Swahili I understand. It’s frustrating to know what someone is telling me and not be able to reply. It’s mental hurdle that I’m determined to beat. I have all the tools I need to meet this goal, I just need to use them.

Once I’ve accomplished this, I’d like to start teaching Sunday School in Swahili for practice. It doesn’t bother me as much when kids laugh at me as it does when adults do it. So there’s that. Hah! 😀

5. Writing and Editing

I’ve got several books in various stages of the writing and editing process. This fall, NaNoWriMo introduced a goal tracker. Check the little box when you reach your goal for the day. I’ve set it up to write or edit one hour a day, five days a week. It’s more than the hit and miss I’ve been doing up to now and I’m looking forward to seeing how much I get done when using it.

That’s pretty much it for now. I’ve got some sewing and crochet goals but those are rather fluid, whatever is most pressing gets done first.


Novel Planning – Part 7 – Draft Zero

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The final novel planning method we’re going to look at is called Draft Zero or Zero Draft. This is the draft that comes before your first draft. (Here is another downloadable document that tells about it.) It’s one step beyond “pantsing” your first draft. (Pantsing means writing your novel with little to no planning whatsoever. You start with an idea for a novel and then let the story flow from there.)

Draft Zero

  • Sit down with a blank page and write quickly everything that comes to mind. 
  • Write your main story idea in a sentence or two.
  • Jot down every thought you have about your story.
  • Note specific plot points you want to cover.
  • You can leave large sections of plot blank or use terms like “stuff happened” and come back to these later, even while you are writing your first draft.
  • Don’t get bogged down with details, unless you need to get those details written out so you can progress to another part of the story.
  • Story elements don’t have to be written in order, as long as you know where they belong in your first draft. You can rearrange them later.

Hopefully one of the novel planning methods we’ve covered will help you plan and write your novel! Have fun with it. Novel writing is work, but it is also enjoyable!


Why I Do NaNoWriMo Every Year

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NaNoWriMo has started this year! I love NaNoWriMo and look forward to it every year. I talked about my history with NaNoWriMo in a blog post last year. This year some of my children are participating with me.

I’ve read articles recently criticizing NaNoWriMo. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about this event. I’m hoping to clarify some of that in this post.

You might wonder why I do NaNoWriMo every year. Why put myself through the ordeal of writing a novel in a month? I have several good reasons.

1. My time is limited.

I manage to keep pretty busy the rest of the year. NaNoWriMo is one month when I can focus on my writing. I love writing. I’ve been writing since I was a small child. NaNoWriMo gives me a reason to spend a month getting novel ideas out of my head and onto paper, without compromising everything else I need to do the rest of the time. Just by writing one or two months out of the year, I’ve been able to finish 9 novels in the last 7 years. That’s pretty good, if you ask me!

2. It’s only 1667 words a day.

In reality, it only takes an hour or two to write the daily word count. To be fair, if you have something scheduled every hour of the day, fitting in that hour or two of writing is a challenge. I get that. Sundays are hard for me. We come home from church and I’m tired. My brain doesn’t want to think about 1700 words of a novel. But once I get going and the words flow, it doesn’t seem like that long before I’m done.

I try to work ahead a little every day just in case there are days I can’t write. It’s nice to have that cushion there when life rears its ugly head and gets in the way of writing time. I also try to get my NaNoWriMo writing out of the way early in the day so the rest of the day doesn’t squeeze out time I’d have for that. It doesn’t always work, but it helps.

3. It gives me a chance to teach something I love to my children.

I’ve used NaNoWriMo to teach creative writing to all my children. Some of them have even written 30,000+ words. This year I taught the class to my youngest, who is excited to get started on her novel. If it goes anything like her older siblings, she’ll do well to write 300 words. But that isn’t the point. The point is she learned how stories are made. She learned about basic plot and how to develop characters.

This isn’t only important for those who want to write. It’s good for readers to learn it too. You learn to recognize plot devices and tropes that are used in most books. You learn to be discerning about what you read, because you recognize the author had a choice when they wrote it. 

4. A first draft is a first draft.

It doesn’t matter if it takes 30 days or 30 years, a first draft is still a first draft. No one ends up with a perfect first draft. It will require editing and revising. That’s okay. 

The goal of the first draft – what you end up with after NaNoWriMo – is words on a page that you can work with. Some authors prefer to edit as they go and that’s fine. However, they still have to get words on the page, the same as someone who does NaNoWriMo and doesn’t edit until the first draft is complete.

I can spend the rest of the year editing that first draft a little at a time, but it’s harder to find the time to write it in the first place.

5. I “won” NaNoWriMo because I challenged myself, set a goal, and met it.

I’ve seen lists of books written during NaNoWriMo where the authors were referred to as “winners” of NaNoWriMo. This is a misnomer. Maybe they did win and maybe they didn’t. Their published book is not a reflection of their completion of NaNoWriMo.

Everyone who finishes 50,000 words between November 1 and 30 is a winner, whether that book ever gets published or not. Some people who participate don’t even have publication as a goal.

So, really, it’s a challenge I give myself. Every year I stare down the barrel of November 1 and think “Can I do it this year? Can I write 50,000 words this month? Did I plan enough material to finish this novel? Is it even worth writing?” Every year, I have to sit down, do the work, and meet the goal. One word after another. One sentence. One paragraph. One chapter. Until it makes a book.


Novel Planning – Part 6 – The Freytag Model

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The next novel planning method I’m sharing with you is called the Dramatic Structure or The Freytag Model/Pyramid, named for Gustav Freytag who first described it using ancient Greek and Shakespearean dramas. This is the primary method I’ve used to teach novel planning. Another variety of this is The Story Spine.

The Freytag Model uses 7 parts to build the story.

The Freytag Model

Freytag Pyramid

1. Beginning or Exposition

The characters and setting are introduced as well as any needed background for the main character and antagonist. The main character’s life is in stasis. He doesn’t seem inclined to change anytime soon.

2. Inciting Incident (Exciting Incident)

Something happens to force the main character out of his comfort zone and into the action of the story.

3. Rising Action

The main character must now go about to solve the problem brought on by the inciting incident. This is the largest part of the storytelling in the book.

4. Climax

The main character faces his final challenge. This is the turning point of the story, where the main character must face the antagonist and draw on inner strength or skill he has gained during the Rising Action to defeat them. 

5. Falling Action

The conflict unravels between the main character and antagonist, though the final outcome may still be in doubt.

6. Resolution

The main character either succeeds or fails against the antagonist and their life must move forward from this event.

7. Denouement

Also known as the ending. The plot threads are drawn together into their final conclusion. We find out what happens to the main character and possibly the antagonist now that the story is over.

Using this method, you can write a sentence or two about the plot for each of the points except Rising Action. You’ll need enough plot points in the Rising Action to carry you through the majority of the book – around 20-30 for a 50,000 word novel. Rising Action is the largest part of the book – also known as the middle. 😉 

Another item to note is that there is very little story telling that will take place between the Climax and Denouement. Once the final conflict has been resolved, the story must also be resolved or people will just stop reading. So you’ll want to have a well thought through ending.


Novel Planning – Part 5 – Hero’s Journey

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I debated about whether to share this method of plotting a novel or not. It’s very similar to the Three Act Structure, so similar in fact, that in many ways they can be interchanged. However, if you look these up online, many writers make distinctions between the two. I’ll let you be the judge. You can find more information here and here

The Hero’s Journey is equally as old as the Three Act Structure. Consider Greek Mythology. In fact, that’s what its creator, Joseph Campbell, used when he wrote about it. Many, if not most, novels and movies over the years fall into this method.

Hero’s Journey

1. The Ordinary World

The Hero is introduced. His world is normal. Things continue as they have for his whole life. A conflict brews on the horizon. There is an impending problem he must face. Here you must show “normal” and “things are about to happen” and contrast his life with what it is and how it’s going to change.

2. Call to Adventure

The inciting event takes place. The Hero must act on his own personal tragedy or he is forced into involvement in some outer conflict that is taking place around him (or a combination of these two things). This is the beginning of the change for the Hero.

3. Refusal of the Call

The Hero refuses to act. Maybe he is afraid, or maybe he doesn’t want to change, maybe others talk him out of it. Whatever the reason he doesn’t want to take on the challenge presented to him by the inciting event. This is where you show how serious the situation or challenge is for the hero and those around him. You also show his weaknesses or failures when facing past challenges.

4. Meeting with the Mentor

The hero meets someone who can train him, guide him, impart wisdom to him, and help him with his journey. This person inspires him to action and he follows the call to adventure. 

5. Crossing the Threshold

The hero leaves the world he knows and willingly jumps into the plot. His world is turned upside down. Everything is new and unfamiliar This is where change begins.

6. Test, Allies, and Enemies

The hero goes through trials and tests in the new, unfamiliar world. Focus on the struggle here. The hero must try and fail or try and encounter new, harder difficulties. This isn’t the final, climactic test so the tests can be “fun” or less of a struggle for the hero.

7. Approach

The hero prepares for a significant challenge in the unfamiliar world. This is where the hero realizes how big the problem or challenge really is.

8. Ordeal

The hero confronts death and faces his greatest fear. This is the middle of the story. A significant plot point or conflict must take place and the hero emerges triumphant.

9. Reward

The hero is rewarded for facing death. There may be celebration but the risk of death or losing the reward is still present. The hero has won a small victory but must hold on to his reward.

10. The Road Back

The hero must finish his adventure or quest in time and return home with his reward. Most often his adversary is still chasing him. At first he believes he has won, but then things start to fall apart and he has to figure out how to keep his reward.

11. The Resurrection

This is the climax of the story. The hero is tested once more. He must resolve his inner conflict, face death, or make a sacrifice. He emerges purified and triumphant. He discovers the final piece needed to become the hero he always wanted to be.

12. Return with the Elixir

The hero returns home or continues the adventure with newfound power or belief that can change the world, just as the hero was changed. This is where you want to focus on the personal change that occurred in the hero and how he has become the person he always wanted to be.

I’ve used the pronoun “he” for this, thinking of stories like Hercules or Odysseus. You can develop this into whatever character you prefer for your story.

The Three Act Structure can be combined with this. The first act ends with Crossing the Threshold. The second ends with Reward. 


Novel Planning – Part 4 – Three Act Structure

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The Three Act Structure is the oldest story telling method in recorded history. Greek plays used the Three Act Structure as did Greek literature.

It’s also common in our literature and movies today. The Lord of the Rings uses the Three Act Structure as does the Star Wars movies. 

This method can be used as the basis for one 3-part book or it can be used as the story arc for a trilogy.

The Three Act Structure

Act I – The Setup (or The Exposition)

Act I introduces the characters and the setting. It also includes the inciting event and the beginning of the rising action. The protagonist/s face their first major conflict and discover exactly what they are up against in their antagonist. This incident ensures that life will never be the same for the protagonist/s.

Act II – The Confrontation (or Rising Action)

Act II shows the protagonist/s embroiled in the conflict introduced in Act I. They are searching for ways to resolve this conflict but instead of resolution, the conflict worsens. They discover they don’t have the resources or knowledge to deal with the antagonist. It usually ends with another confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist walks away with a better understanding of their enemy and what is required to defeat them. 

In many second Acts, the protagonist is defeated, but not destroyed. They can’t comprehend how they will rise from this and ultimately defeat the antagonist. In other second acts, the protagonist wins a small victory, only to discover they are facing a much larger battle in the future.

Act III – The Resolution (or Climax)

Act III shows our protagonist facing their antagonist once again. This time, they have gained the necessary knowledge or experience to defeat them. The protagonist gets the ultimate victory. The third act ties up all the story threads. Most, if not all of the characters walk away with their “happily ever after.” The antagonist has experienced total defeat.

You can find more about the Three Act Structure in this blog post


Novel Planning – Part 3 – The Snowflake Method

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The next novel planning method we’re going to look at is The Snowflake Method. It was developed by author Randy Ingermanson.

The Snowflake Method

Step 1: One Sentence Summary

Write a one sentence summary of your plot using no more than 15 words if possible. (This sentence could become the hook that will sell your book.) Do not use character names in this sentence. The sentence should aim to show both the big picture plot and what the character has to gain or lose in the situation.

Step 2: One Paragraph Plot

Now expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the background, major disasters, and ending of the novel. Try to think of it as “three disasters plus an ending” where each of the disasters takes a quarter of the book and the ending takes the final quarter. (This could become your back cover blurb.) Again, this paragraph should not be too long. Go for one sentence for each of the disasters and the ending if you can.

Step 3: Develop Characters

You need great characters for any book so you’ll need to develop each of your characters’ story lines. Include this information:

  • Character’s name
  • One sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what your character learns, how they change)
  • A paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

Step 4: Plot Summary

The snowflake is growing. Expand the one paragraph from step 2. Each sentence (3 disasters and ending) becomes its own paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in disaster. The final paragraph will resolve the plot and tell how the book ends.

Step 5: Character Charts

Expand your character synopses into full fledged character charts. List everything there is to know about each character – description, history, motivation, goals, etc. 

Step 6: Expand the Plot Synopsis

Now expand each of your paragraphs from step 4 into a full page synopsis of the story. You will end up with four full pages of plot development.

Step 7: Scene list

Combine your plot synopsis pages with your character charts and organize them into chapters.

Then, all you have to do is just sit down and write.

(summarized from: How to Plan and Write Novels Using the Snowflake Method)


Novel Planning – Part 2 – The Synopsis

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With NaNoWriMo fast approaching, it’s time to cover another method of novel planning. Maybe the outline, covered briefly in our last post, doesn’t work for you. That’s okay, I’m not a huge fan of it, either. That’s why there are different processes for different people.


The Synopsis comes closest to the method of novel planning I use.

Essentially, you are writing a continuous summary of your novel idea without chapter breaks. 

This method works better for improvisation, for changing things and adapting your story as you go along. You should write just enough notes to maintain a good work flow as you write, but not so many that you can’t change or adapt an idea when you feel like it. 

You can use a notebook for your notes as you plan. Think through your basic novel idea, your characters, your setting. Jot notes about your plot ideas. You can include character descriptions and names as you think of them so you don’t have to do that later on. You can include how your characters will interact and at which points.

You’ll want just enough in your notes to trigger your imagination about what happens in your story and when it happens. The rest is up to your imagination as you sit down to write. 

For me, it’s kind of like daydreaming, or watching a movie in my head. I imagine what’s going to happen next. Occasionally, I’ll get lost in the story, just as I would if I was reading a novel or watching a movie. It’s hard to stop writing and come out of the book back into what I need to do in real life.

One disadvantage to this method is that if your story takes a direction you weren’t intending originally, you could get stuck. To overcome this, you’ll need to have a clear idea of both how you want to begin the story and how you want it to end. Everything else is just connecting the dots to get from one point to the other. 


Novel Planning – Part 1 – The Outline

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NaNoWriMo begins in six weeks. It’s hard to believe November is almost here again! In the next few weeks, I’m going to cover several different methods of novel planning. Most people think of this as “writing process” though that term covers things that go beyond the actual writing of words. I will probably cover that later in the blog series as well.


The outline is the most common form of book planning. It works well for some people and not so well for others. (I personally don’t outline my books as I shared in this post about my own planning process.) 

An outline consists of headings, followed by subheadings. The absolute simplest way to do this is to divide your novel by chapters and plan one heading for each chapter, followed by each of the plot points that fall under than heading. 

For instance, if you are planning a 50,000 word novel (as is the case for NaNoWriMo), and you hope to have 1,000 words in each chapter, you’ll need 50 headings (or chapters) with subheadings/plot points for each.

Practically speaking, most chapters are more like 1,500 to 2,000 words long. To make this goal attainable, let’s figure 25-30 headings.

Now, once you have a basic idea of what happens in the beginning of your story, your inciting event, the rising action, the climax, and the conclusion, you can break this down into those 25-30 headings. Then, you’ll need to include just enough detail in your subheadings so you remember what you want to write, without “prewriting” your novel during the outline process. I’ve also seen people include notes about their characters and setting in the outline.

Many people write their outline on index cards, one heading and subsequent notes per card. If you don’t have access to index cards, a notebook works well, too. You can write one heading per sheet.

The advantage of this is that you can easily rearrange the plot as needed, should you change your mind about how you want the story to progress. You can also see broad story arcs or patterns before you even sit down to write the book.

The disadvantage of this is that if you decide to make a major change somewhere in your story line, you have to rewrite your outline from that point on, or at least from that point until your prior outline will work again.