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Plot: The Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method is the creation of Randy Ingermanson, author of Writing Fiction for Dummies (that’s part of the well-known Dummies series, not a statement about the intelligence of fiction writers—or readers) and six Christian thrillers. He also publishes a free monthly ezine (Advanced Fiction Writing) and has a website full of useful articles.

The Snowflake Method is a process for getting organised (planning) before you write a novel. Ingermanson claims that while this planning takes a lot of time, perhaps several weeks, it will dramatically reduce the time you take to write a novel.

The Snowflake Method is a ten-step process:

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of your novel. This should be less than 15 words, and should immediately hook your reader.
  2. Expand your sentence into a paragraph. This paragraph should be five sentences long: one sentence for your story setup, three sentences for the three major plot points (Randy calls them disasters), and a final sentence to wrap up the ending.
  3. Write a one-page summary for each major character, including their name, goal, motivation, conflict, epiphany (what they learn by the end of the story), and a one-paragraph summary of their storyline.
  4. Take your paragraph from Step 2, and expand each sentence into a paragraph to give you a one-page skeleton of your novel (basically, this is now a short synopsis).
  5. Write a one-page ‘character synopsis’ for each major character, telling the story from their point of view. Write a half-page synopsis for each minor character.
  6. Take your one-page synopsis from Step 4 and use the same technique to expand it to four pages. If necessary, cycle back and change things in the previous Steps so everything hangs together.
  7. Expand your character descriptions into full-fledged character charts (we’ll look at characterisation in another series later this year). The most important thing is to understand how your character will change by the end of the novel.
  8. Take your four-page synopsis from Step 6 and turn it into a list of scenes. Randy recommends doing this on a spreadsheet (because the rows are easy to reorder) but it could just as easily be done in a table in Word. Your spreadsheet (or table) has two columns: a narrow one that identifies your viewpoint character for that scene, and a wide one that details what happens in the scene. When you’ve finished, add in Chapter numbers.
  9. (Optional) Write a few paragraphs describing each scene. Add in any cool dialogue, and ensure each scene drives the essential conflict forward in some way (if it doesn’t, add conflict or scrap the scene). In essence, this is a telling-not-showing version of your story.
  10. The First Draft (finally). This is where you get to add the details like foreshadowing, turn all your telling into showing, and add deep perspective point of view.

Yes, this seems like a lot of work. It will certainly take several days and could take a couple of months. However, if you find there is a problem with your plot, it’s a lot easier to fix it when it’s only a one-page synopsis than when it’s a 90,000-word manuscript. And it’s going to be less heartbreaking to delete a line out of a spreadsheet than it will be to delete a 1,500-word scene that hasn’t got enough conflict.

The other clever thing about the Snowflake Method is that it will make other writing tasks easier:

  • Proposing to an agent or editor? Step 1 is the hook you include in the first paragraph of your letter. Step 2 is your plot summary. Steps 4 and 6 are your synopsis.
  • Entering a writing competition? Many competitions want your first few chapters or first 10,000 words—and a synopsis. It will be much easier to rework your four-page synopsis into something that fits the need of the competition than to start from scratch while working to a deadline.

For more information, see Randy’s website.

Have you used the Snowflake Method? What do you like (or not like) about it? Does it make writing easier?

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