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My views on the Snowflake Method

March 10, 2013

So…it’s occurred to me that I probably should have waited until I wasn’t so busy when I started this blog.  Furthermore, I probably should have made sure I had some sort of buffer.  Ah, the benefits of hindsight.

I’m currently working on the next part of my Farhome House story and plan it to be a fair bit larger than the scene I posted the other day.  So to keep things moving in the meantime, I thought I’d talk a little about Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method.

Before I came across this method, I had been of the opinion that the best way to write a novel is to plan loosely and then let the story evolve as you write it.  While this may work for some people, it certainly hadn’t worked for me: all four of my attempted novels had crashed and burned in various states of completion.  Last winter, feeling more than a little frustrated over my fourth failure, I decided to go and google for some advice on the issue.  Very soon, I came across this.

The article is quite extensive and is well worth a read.  Below, I will briefly summarise the method’s steps:

  1. Describe your novel in a sentence
  2. Describe the plot of the novel in one paragraph
  3. Write a one-page summary sheet for each major character
  4. Describe the plot of the novel in one page
  5. Write a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of each minor character
  6. Expand your plot summary into four pages
  7. Write detailed character charts for each character
  8. Make a list of all of the novel’s scenes.  Randy Ingermanson recommends using a spread sheet rather than a word processor for this.
  9. Write a description of each scene.
  10. Write the first draft!

Having spoken to a few people both online and off about it, it seems that several writers don’t like this method.  Many find it to be overly restrictive and time-consuming; indeed, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to follow the method all the way through, and this is all time in which you could have spent actually writing stories.

I, for one, have loved it.

Admittedly, I’ve taken quite a bit longer to work through it than I probably should have done: when I recently finished the 8th step, I had been at it for well over two months.  Furthermore I ended up making some fairly big changes during this step, as I realised that my original plot was too unwieldy in practice.  This might sound as though filling out the first seven steps was therefore a waste of time; it wasn’t.  I genuinely feel as though I’ve learned a lot about my story’s world and characters over these last few months and I doubt that I would have been able to produce a coherent list of scenes without having fleshed out my story beforehand.  Without the list, meanwhile, it would have taken me a lot longer to see the problems that my plot had.

I’m still debating with myself whether or not to include step 9.  Randy Ingermanson himself states that he considers this one optional and that he doesn’t do it anymore.  My current idea is to carry out steps 9 and 10 together, by writing a brief summary of each scene and then immediately writing that scene before moving on to the next one; that way, I might start feeling as though I’m making progress a little bit sooner.

If nothing else, I would wholeheartedly recommend giving the eighth step a try.  It provides a very convenient way to get an idea of your novel’s size, reorder your scenes and, finally, check whether all of your scenes are actually needed.

Having worked through the snowflake once, I should be able to do it a lot quicker in the future.  With that said, I will almost certainly use this method the next time I decide to plan a novel.

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From → Writing

20 Comments
  1. Even though I’m a pantser, I’ve attempted the Snow Flake method for the heck of it and stopped at #3. I just couldn’t continue! It felt too restrictive and tedious to me, and when I started to get bored with the story, I decided it was time to stop. It’s great that it worked for you though! =]

  2. In my opinion, the idea that the Snowflake Method isn’t worth it because it takes too long is absolute nonsense. Yes, it will take a while before you start actually writing anything. But you’ll have it all planned out, and then you hopefully won’t find any plot holes popping up randomly that you didn’t see before. But if you just learn the story as you write it, you’re going to likely have a lot of those to fix, so you’ll be spending a lot of time rewriting and editing to fix it. Either way, it really does take a long time to write a novel, eh?

    Having said that, I am more of a discovery-writer. When I start a new novel, I like to outline with this site. http://selfpublishingteam.com/6-writing-outline-templates-and-3-reasons-to-use-them/ Then, once I have an idea of where the story is going, I throw away the outline. Literally. See, if I don’t have a general idea of where the story is going, I never manage to get through it. But if I constrict myself to an outline, in my opinion, takes away the fun of discovering the story as I write it. I like writing plot twists that even I, the writer, didn’t foresee. I also know when my characters seem realistic by whether or not they do what I want them to. If they do, something’s wrong. If they don’t, then I think I’ve done a good job at developing who they are.

    I’m glad that you found a method you like, though! That’s probably one of the harder things about being a new writer; finding out exactly how you like to write. 🙂

    • Agreed on the time issue: time spent on the snowflake method is time that will not be spent filling in plot holes later on. Admittedly, several of things I wrote over the course of filling out the snowflake have since been discarded, but I’ve nonetheless found it to be an exceedingly useful exercise.

      It took me ages to work out how I ought to write. For years, I fancied myself as a pantser; as it turned out, I wasn’t.

      Thank you for the link, by the way. I’ve just had a little look through it and I particularly liked the in-depth character profile. I had a lot of trouble finding decent profile templates back when I was first filling out the snowflake, so I can see myself using this site’s template in the future.

      • Yes. One of the nice things about the snowflake is you can discard those ideas before you start writing, while if you do it in the middle of a draft, you have to go rewrite a bunch of stuff, and that’s tedious.

        I’ve often wondered if I’d be better off at outlining, so I decided to try it a few times. But I can never seem to outline past about half way, before I give up and just start writing. I like having a loose idea of where it’s going, where I can let the story grow and change as I go, but not go wandering blindly in the dark.

        Your welcome! I have to admit, that’s the best character-profile I’ve found, too. All of the others are either WAY too much information, or they’re too vague, or just rather useless. I like that one, though.

  3. I saw you reference the Snowflake Method on other posts, but didn’t know what you were referring to until I backtracked and read through this one. What follows is my opinion and refers chiefly to me and my writing method, and by no means is meant to suggest that I am attempting to prescribe to anyone else how to write.

    Okay, having said that, are you freaking kidding me?

    Ahem. To put it mildly, this method would not work for me. I rarely outline anything. The closest I have recently was with my current WIP, Princess of Shadows, for which I wrote a two page or so synopsis, much of which became obsolete in the course of the first draft. My most productive method seems to be 1. I have a general idea of the action of the novel, 2. I have a general idea of the setting and the characters, 3. I have some specific scenes in mind and maybe some dialogue. That’s usually about it. Otherwise everything develops out of the narrative as it goes along. The chief male character in the first Divine Lotus book didn’t exist in my original conception; he suddenly appeared about fifty pages into the book, apparently out of sheer necessity. I’ve had the same thing happen in other stories. I’ve had entire new subplots unfold out of the interconnections of situations I anticipated. Scenes I’ve planned turn out to be useless or unneeded; characters I planned on fade away to nothing.

    In short I think I have to let the tale unfold naturally in the course of writing it. If I tried to follow the Snowflake method in any rigorous way I would just frustrate myself, and probably produce crap.

    But…that’s me. Everybody’s different, especially writers. If you’ve found a method that works for you, hang on to it and work it to death. Everyone of us, in different ways, needs every trick we can think of to get words on the page. This stuff ain’t easy.

    Good luck.

    • Sounds like you’re a natural pantser :). I’ve also tried loose novel outlines in the past, but the results left a lot to be desired. All but one of these novels crashed and burned well before the end. As for that one, I rather wish it had.

      That said, I do agree that the snowflake is a little too in-depth and I have indeed began to deviate from my plan in in a couple of places. It’s the best method I’ve found for myself so far, but I might well go with a slightly less detailed outline the next time around.

      Honestly, producing basic outlines and just letting the story flow sounds a lot more fun than in-depth planning. I just wish I could do it the former way without the plot getting bogged down around 5-10k in. Maybe I’ll give it another shot further down the line.

  4. BTW, just to be clear, the vehemence of my post has nothing to do with you, brother– it was about what would be, to me, a straightjacket method of writing, esp. “8.Make a list of all of the novel’s scenes.” A sheer impossibility in my case.

    I just wanted to mention that because I sometimes come off harsh online when I don’t mean to.

    • Don’t worry: I figured it was about the snowflake alone 🙂

      Funnily enough, 8 is actually my favorite step of the lot and it’s something I intend to keep using even if I otherwise abandon the method. I guess we just have very preferences when it comes to novel writing.

  5. I was planning on writing a novella as well, but I’ve crashed twice at around 4k in, and I was trusting my instincts and the growth of the story to guide me as I wrote. I discovered this method via Google and will be the method that I’ll be trying this time around. Let’s hope it works for me, but nevertheless, the learning curve is immense every time somehow.

    • Hope it goes well for you!

      I’m planning to use a slightly looser planning method next time, but I don’t regret using the snowflake at all. I learned a lot from using it; chances are you will as well 😀

  6. Kitty Pryde permalink

    Imagine what Michaelangelo could have done if he could have had paint by numbers! Or Rembrandt! None of that messy craft! Or art! They could have just churned ’em out.

  7. I’m a newbie following the snowflake method. I’ve been developing characters and scenes for a while using no particular method. Just writing notes and sticking them to a wall.

    Anyway, I have a good idea about my story but I need direction. I’m giving step two a shot now and it’s taking me forever. Randy sez it should take me 1 hour. 1! I’ve been at it for longer than that and I KNOW my three disasters. Do you think this is just beginner’s growing pains?

    • I think it’s exactly that. I started a new writing project quite recently, and I had a MUCH easier time outlining that than I did whe outlining my previous story. Like all aspects of writing, I reckon this is one of those things that gets easier the more you do it.

      Though, with that said: if you have your setup and your three disasters, then it sounds to me like your step two is practically done. I’d suggest just writing anything in as the last sentence and then moving on to step three. Step three deals with characters, so that might give you the inspiration you’ve been waiting for.

      Good luck with it all!

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