The Snowflake Method and Everything Else

(Note: this was published earlier but put on as a page instead of a post)

Now, I am not the author of the Snowflake method, that honor goes to Dr. Randy Ingermanson (The Snowflake Method).  His brilliant strategy gave me a jump-off point for everything I do that involves creative writing.  I won’t start a new project without first going through it from beginning to end at least once.

For those of you who are curious, you can click the link by Dr. Ingermanson’s name or I could give you a brief description.

A creative writing story can be immensely complicated.  With twists and turns on every page, one can easily get lost in everything that’s happening.  Sometimes it’s a good thing, but oh the web we weave!  When you step back to take a broad look at your budding masterpiece, you find that you can’t possibly fix every little plot hole or find every little place where things changed suddenly for your protagonist.  It seems totally impossible to keep up with where you were going with it all.  Then you settle down and try again.  Now everything seems daunting, all those words and yet, you still haven’t found your way to the end.  That’s just the outline.  Imagine just sitting down and trying it by the seat of your pants (some people can do it, I’m not one of them).  There is an easier way (for me at least, and tens of thousands of others as well).

In comes the Snowflake Method.  If you take your time and think about every step, you will have a 60-100 scene outline in a matter of days (if you’re ambitious) to a matter of weeks (if you’re like me and have a life with a job and kids and dogs).  Dr. Ingermanson has put together a method that will 1) allow you to do what you love to do which is getting that story frame down on paper, and 2) allow you to do it quickly.  Now it’s still not easy, but it is definitely not cookie-cutter, either.  By cookie-cutter, I mean that most people are afraid that they’re going to get into some sort of template writing where they plug in a few details and BAM! they have a story.  That I can assure it far from the truth, but we will get into that later.

How does it work, then?  The first step is to come up with a great premise and write it down.  This is about twenty-five words or fewer, to sum up everything about your story.  Sure, Lee, it sounds simple when you say it like that, you say.  I know, I said it, too.  When I read further (and actually tried it), I found that it wasn’t easy, but it was most rewarding.  I use that sentence now to describe my story to anyone and everyone who asks about it.  It makes my life so much easier when all I have to say is, “It’s a fantasy story about a sleight-of-hand swindler who must save the world from a deadly drought.”  Now there are more details I respond with if people ask, but that’s about it.  I start with the genre the novel is in, a bit about the type of character and what’s going to happen.  In this case, I implied that the world would dry up if nothing was done.  This is very important here.  This is your starting point for everything you do with this particular idea.  It will change over time, mine did once I understood more about it.  That’s part of the process.

The next step is a little easier, but no less difficult if you know what I mean.  This forces you to think about your story as a whole in one big shot.  What you’re going to do in this step is make a paragraph.  Just five sentences, but a paragraph nonetheless.  The first sentence is a short summary of what happens in the beginning, the setup if you will.      The second sentence is a brief summary of the actions that lead up to the main character starting his journey.  Here, you can include a key character or two that the protagonist meets and something that kicks everything in gear.  This sentence always ends in disaster.  That’s important.  The second, third and fourth sentences end in disaster.  If they don’t you’ll need to revise them and make them disasters or your story will be doomed to disaster.  The third sentence describes the first half of the middle up to the midpoint of the story to the next disaster.  The fourth sentence will describe the second half of the middle after the midpoint until the last disaster.  This is the worst of the disasters.  This one will make the reader think that there’s no coming back from this one.  Last, but certainly not least, the fifth sentence.  This tidies up the ending to include setting the world right again.    Keep in mind, all of this is for you and you alone.  You will not be publishing any other this so grammar rules need not apply.  This a vessel just to get your creative juices flowing.  Run-on sentences are acceptable in these cases.  You’re just getting ideas down so that you can focus on the story.

The next step now gets to deal with those characters.  By now, you should have a basic idea of who is going to be in it.  This is not going to be a complete list, it never is at this stage, but you should at least have a few characters in mind.  There are some details you have to fill in for each character you put in your list.

  • Ambition.  What is it the drives your character at the beginning of the story?  What is his lifelong goal to be?  Something abstract like being the best at something.
  • Story goal.  What is going to be his story goal?  What does he want that he can attain realistically?  Something tangible, like getting enough gold to travel north to find his mother.
  • Conflict.  All stories have it, if it doesn’t, get one.  This is the thing that prevents the character from attaining the story goal.
  • Epiphany.  This is where the character has changed.  What will he learn?  How will he change by the end of the story?  When will he discover this?

Now, this is my favorite part, now you get to repeat steps one and two for each character in the story.  That’s right, you need a story summary sentence and paragraph for each one.  Why?  Because every character has their own story, to include the antagonist.  A real antagonist should be as real as the main character.  They are often made from the same cloth.  They just have opposing ideas of how their world should be.  Antagonists are not always pure evil.  In their mind, they are the hero of their own story and the protagonist is ruining it all.  In my story, Copper Rain, my antagonist is a neat-freak.  He is the Magistrate of a rather large city.  He simply wants everything to be as neat and clean as possible.  There are no dirt piles, or trash heaps or anything resembling dirt in his town.  All of that is left outside the gates.  To him, everything is as it should be and his citizens are better for it.  To everyone else, he rules with an iron fist, forcing everyone to stay clean and orderly 24/7 without any relief.  It’s worse than having a super-strict homeowner’s association who wants to control every aspect of your own property.

This is also the point where your story starts to become interesting.  If you just have your main character’s point of view (even if it is your only point of view in the story), your story will seem flat and uninteresting.  At this point, your idea might be missing some details.  When you take this step, you are taking the story into the third dimension.  Now all your characters add some depth to the story.  Remember, people’s lives don’t start when you walk into the room (although, I know some people who really think that).  They had lives before and will continue to have lives after you leave.  Characters are the same way.  Many of the other characters are doing something other than what your protagonist is doing.  They may even be seeking the protagonist for something else.  Most likely, they are going to try to get the protagonist to do something with them or for them.  That’s part of the conflict I mentioned above.

If you do this right, you will have a rich story up to this point.  It’s a great start, but there is much more to do before we get to actually writing the story.  These are just the first three steps.  There are ten in all; ten being actually writing the story.

In the next articles, I’ll continue on with the rest of the steps.  This should give you an idea of how to begin and get everything going like it did for me.  I have to admit, I was starting to wane in the desire to continue writing.  When I discovered this, it put me on the path to publication (albeit self-publication, but still publication).  I hope you enjoy it as must as I did.

Happy Writing!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.