Image: Matthew Loffhagen
You have the ideas. Plenty of them.
The difficulty, however, is that you aren’t sure how and when to put pen to paper. Without doubt, whether you’re a beginner or advanced writer, one of the major frustrations you have is contemplating the resounding question: Where do I begin?
The answer to this is easier than it sounds. Multi award winning author, Randy Ingermanson, has pioneered the “Snowflake Method” to help beginner and advanced writers put their ideas down on paper and plan their novels before they even begin writing.
But, is the Snowflake Method all that it’s cracked up to be? That’s the burning question so let’s take a look at what this method entails, what it can or can’t do for you, and how you can adapt it to suit your writing needs.
So, what is the Snowflake Method all about?
It all boils down to layers; you start by carefully laying the foundations of your idea and then gradually (over a period of weeks) building on that foundation until your initial idea becomes a viable plot and story (ideally without any plot holes).
By taking the time to plan and develop your story’s framework, you are less likely to write yourself into a corner or be bogged down by that dreaded writer’s block as your story will have focus and direction.
A quick overview of the 10 steps
Randy Ingermanson has conveniently divided the method into 10 steps. I’ve highlighted the steps for you but you may want to take a look at Ingermanson’s website for more detail on each step.
Step one: Compose a one sentence summary of your novel – roughly 15 words. This would act as a “hook” for your novel. Don’t include character names, though character details are fine. For example, “an English teacher who is a CIA spy” as opposed to “John Smith”.
Step two: Expand this sentence into a full paragraph. Ingermanson suggests the best way to do this is using the “three disasters plus an ending” structure: 1 sentence for the background, 3 for each disaster, and 1 for the ending.
Step three: Develop your characters. It is the plot and characters which drive a novel so you will need convincing characters. For each character, roughly outline their name, storyline, conflict, goal, resolutions and major changes they undergo.
Step four: Your Snowflake is starting to take shape and is slowly becoming more detailed. Now you can deepen your plot. Take the paragraph from step two and expand each sentence to a full paragraph. This should take no more than a sheet of paper.
Step five: Expand the characters’ descriptions (step 3) into full-bodied character charts; around one page per character. Detail everything you think worthy of knowing. Write down each character’s place in your overall story line.
Step six: Go back to step four. Take each of the four paragraphs (three disasters + ending) and embellish each paragraph to a full page. You should be able to see a logical flow in your story – you might even have some new ideas.
Step seven: Take a week to further develop your characters by creating a character chart. This will expand on step three, but focus more on the changes your character will undergo throughout the novel.
Step eight: This is where things get a little more technical. Ingermanson recommends that you use a spreadsheet for this step to organize your now detailed synopsis adequately. In this step:
- Use the 4-page synopsis created in step six and list all the scenes you’ll have in your novel. Create one line per scene.
- In the next column, list the point of view of the character as necessary.
- In the column after this, write down exactly what happens in this scene.
- Add any additional columns that your story may need.
Step nine: Begin to compose your narrative description. Take each line of the spreadsheet (step eight) and expand it to several paragraphs. If you have thought of dialogue, you can pencil it in here. This is also where you should think of the conflict in your scenes. Ask yourself which scenes seem unnecessary or lacking in driving the narrative forward.
Step ten: WRITE! At this point, Ingermanson believes, you’ll be equipped with everything you need for a great first draft.
Is the Snowflake Method really as good as it looks?
This method is pretty comprehensive. If you are a “seat-of-the-pants-writer” (i.e. you compose using improvisation and intuition rather than methodological planning) then the Snowflake Method may be a little too restrictive for you. It’s important to keep in mind that Randy Ingermanson doesn’t advocate chewing out all of your creativity while outlining your novel. You shouldn’t overdo the analysis and try and stop yourself from letting the planning process drag out for months.
Let’s have a look at what the method might be able to do for you.
- Before you even complete all 10 steps you have a clearer idea of the main thread running through your plot, including subplots (and that’s a good thing). This means you can identify plot holes or loose ends before you even begin composing; this saves time doing major rewrites.
- So, you can do the “thinking” all at once as you churn out the ideas from the beginning. This means the writing process is significantly quicker but ensures you are creative from the start.
- New ideas can be encouraged as you already know the direction your novel is going in. This means new ideas can be easily embedded into an already well developed, logical, and sustained narrative.
- You have the chance to edit/scrap any unnecessary scenes that may threaten to drag the plot before you begin even writing.
- The method is excellent for those authors who have a problem with focus, and it can help to prevent writer’s block.
- Because huge emphasis is placed on character development, you are more likely to write multi-dimensional characters that are tangible and believable.
But, is it for everyone?
The Snowflake Method is just one way to create a plot; it is not the only way and, for some of you, it might not be the best way. Depending on your writing style, it might be counterproductive for you and actually hinder the writing process. Here’s why:
- You spend so much time refining and honing your plot and characters that you might begin to know them too well.
- This zaps the element of creativity and surprise for you. The last thing you want is to become overfamiliar, bored of your work, or for it to feel like a chore bound by “rules”.
- Writing is ultimately a discovery process and sometimes the best ideas are cultivated organically.
- You might get so caught up with refining your outline and making it perfect, that you stall the writing process. Many writers who have tried this method face a problem called “analysis paralysis” – too much time thinking and not enough time doing.
- Randy Ingermanson’s idea of “three disasters and an ending” can be very restrictive; it gives you an overarching frame, but little is mentioned on how to cultivate a solid structure. How do you work out how you get from the first disaster to the second for instance?
Find a balance to suit you
Ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference. If you already have a technique that is fool proof and works for you then, by all means, stick with it!
Alternatively, if you wish to try something new, then I would recommend giving the Snowflake Method a chance. After all, what have you got to lose? Remember, the driving force behind the method is to find your novel’s “deep theme”, and this does not have to be at the expense of you foreseeing all the twists and turns your plot may bring.
Like any method, you can edit and revamp it to suit your needs. You are not bound by it. If you find all 10 steps too much, then be picky and only use the steps that suit you. For example, you could skip the steps which revise character/plot in depth. Instead, use the method as a skeleton; a brief outline that you can go back to and, if you wish, embellish at any time during the writing process.
Do you, or have you, used the Snowflake Method? Are you a careful planner, outlining each scene of your masterpiece before you begin writing? If so, what methods do you find work for you? Or, do you prefer cultivating your ideas in your head, and then beginning your manuscript? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.A 3-minute Guide To The Snowflake Method By Randy IngermansonClick To Tweet