The Snowflake Method

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It has been quite some time since my last update. I will say this only once, because otherwise I will likely say it every time I write a blog post. This was one of my hesitations in starting a blog. I know that I am a procrastinator. I know that I am incredibly motivated by deadlines. I also know that deadlines I set for myself don’t work. My brain somehow knows that they’re not real deadlines. In addition, I have a hard time coming up with things to write about for a blog post that I think other people will actually be interested in. However, over the last few months, I’ve gotten quite a few questions about when I would be updating next. One friend even said that she rarely bothered with reading blogs, but that she really enjoyed mine. Maybe that’s because I’ve only written two posts so far, but I choose to be encouraged toward believing that the stuff I write about is just as interesting to other people as it is to me. Besides, my main goal in starting a blog was to keep others updated on my writing so that people would ask me about it and keep me accountable. That has certainly been working.

So. Here is something I learned about recently that made me really excited: the Snowflake Method.

My friend lent me a book called How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, by Randy Ingermanson. It’s not a long book (235 pages, according to Amazon, since I returned the book to my friend), but it was fascinating enough that I read it all in one day. The next day, I skim read it again, this time taking notes. Here’s the premise: There’s this girl who wants to be a writer, but she’s not very good at it, so she takes a writing class. It’s basically a nonfiction book disguised as a fiction book. I’m not super keen on nonfiction, so I’m all for this kind of book. I learned the Snowflake Method along with the main character.

For those of you who don’t know, writers are generally separated into what we call plotters and pantsers. A plotter plans and outlines the entire story in a detailed fashion before starting to write. A pantser flies by the seat of their pants, starting with page one and discovering the characters and the story as they write. I am a pantser. The major problem with being a pantser is the rewriting that inevitably must happen. For example, in my first novel, I didn’t discover the magic system until I had already written 50 thousand words. Now I have to go back over all those words and add in magic stuff. Which is difficult. And time-consuming. So basically, a plotter takes a bunch of time up front to figure everything out before writing. A pantser takes a bunch of time at the end rewriting all the parts that are incorrect because of what they discovered while writing.

Enter the Snowflake Method.

The Snowflake Method is designed to be halfway in between plotting and pantsing. You do your basic plotting beforehand so that you don’t have major rewrites at the end, but you still leave a lot open for change and discovery.

  • Step 1: Write a One-Sentence Summary
  • Step 2: Write a One-Paragraph Summary
  • Step 3: Write a Summary Sheet for Each Character
  • Step 4: Write a Short One-Page Synopsis
  • Step 5: Write a Character Synopsis for Each Character
  • Step 6: Write a Long Four-Page Synopsis
  • Step 7: Write a Character Bible for Each Character
  • Step 8: Write a List of All Scenes
  • Step 9: Write a Plan for Each Scene
  • Step 10: Write Your Novel

Doesn’t that seem fairly manageable? Of course, there are more details for each step to walk you through the process. For example, your one-sentence summary should be short (about 25 words) and include one or two characters and their story goal without giving away the ending. And each character’s summary sheet should include such things as their concrete goals, abstract ambitions, and “nothing is more important than…” values. This process starts out small and vague and gets more detailed as you go along.

I don’t think that I will ever use this method to write a book from scratch. I’m too much of a pantser for that (which is to say that I don’t even have a story until I start writing). But I did go through the first five steps (so far) of this method for my first novel, even though it’s already finished. Here’s some of what I learned:

  • My story may be complicated, but I can in fact summarize it adequately in one sentence. “A fantasy novel about a boy who seeks revenge and redemption after his sister is murdered and his family disowns him.” Before, when people asked me what my novel was about, I didn’t know what to say. Now I do.
  • My story is accidentally structured well. Step 2 taught me about pacing and about why many stories are in three acts. Lo and behold! I had already done this without meaning to. I guess I’ve read enough books and heard enough stories to know what good pacing feels like, but it’s nice to have guidelines for how to do this on purpose in the future.
  • All characters, including villains and minor characters, are the main character of their own story. As such, they all have goals and conflicts, which may or may not be important to the main story. I really enjoyed writing character summary sheets and backstories. It made it more obvious to me which characters I had neglected to flesh out. And I discovered some fun things about some of the characters that made me like them more.

The main thing that I hope to get out of this method, once I finish all the steps, is a broad look at the pacing of conflict in my story. The method talks about how every scene should have some sort of conflict (proactive or reactive), so if a scene doesn’t have conflict, it should be removed, or conflict should be added to it. Since I’m a pantser, I often have scenes where two characters are just talking or one character is thinking through things. Usually these scenes are actually me thinking through what needs to happen next in the story. These scenes probably need to be cut. However, I’m bad at identifying these scenes. Hopefully steps 8 and 9 will help with that.

Anyway, if any of you are aspiring writers, I would encourage you to read this book. If you’re not, I hope you enjoyed my ramblings as I learn about and improve my own writing process.

This has been a snippet from the ramblings of Kelly’s brain.

Thank you.

The end.

4 thoughts on “The Snowflake Method

  1. How very interesting to hear from you about what it takes to make an intriguing novel. We just talked with a teen who is interested in becoming a writer who was at our church picnic on Sunday. Would you mind if we passed on your insights to her? Let me know- thanks! Aunt Colleen

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