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Updated: Nov 18, 2018

snowflake method
Like a snowflake, a good story has its own unique web of patterns.

If you’ve read much at all about writing you’ve probably heard of the Snowflake Method, but what is it?

To simplify, it’s a method that moves you through your story’s structure and design. Think: when you look at a snowflake, it looks pretty simple. Put it under a microscope, and you begin to see the complicated designs that form its overall structure.

Randy Ingermanson breaks it down in a lengthy article about the subject. He suggests doing the following (my comments follow in bold):

1.) Write one sentence that summarizes your story.

Absolutely do this! The elevator pitch is so important. No one wants to stand around listening to you yammer on about your story because you can’t find a concise way to hook them. When you ramble on, people stop listening.

2.) Expand on that summary and go through major plot points.

Not a bad idea. Personally, I would have a hard time doing this. Writers have a notoriously difficult time with the middle chunk of stories. It can’t hurt to outline, though. It might even spark some ideas. I outlined 1/2 of If I Let You Go and most of the story changed as I was writing.

Ingermanson seems to like the Three Act Structure. I think we all go for it because it’s what we’re most exposed to. A story that deviates from that structure would stand out – maybe not in a good way.

If I had to sum up my three acts of If I Let You Go:

1. Edwin has just been promoted and meets a woman at his new job, but they can’t talk – it’s pretty hard to get to know someone when you don’t have a mouth. But Airlee, the woman, isn’t exactly who he hopes she is… As for the other characters, they all have their own blossoming issues.

2. A life-changing event takes place, leading to another promotion for Edwin, thus causing him to leave behind the home he’s familiar with. He finds that his new home isn’t all it was cracked up to be and finds himself lost in the midst of a rebellion.

3. An attack leads to characters making decisions about their loyalties.

3.) Get detailed about your characters. You should include names, backstories, goals, the character’s arch, and a one-sentence and full-paragraph summary about them.

For complicated stories with a lot of deep characters (or where the characters are at risk of blending), do it. It’s a pain, but you know what else is? Editing. I still have 10,000 words in the bucket and many drafts to go.

4.) Expand the conflicts. Basically, take your three major plot points and branch off of them. Create a full-page outline.

Sounds good to me.

5.) Write a full-page outline for each major character.

I feel like this could be a colossal pain, but it will help show you where you’re missing a character’s presence, if something needs tweaking in an arch, etc. One thing I’m unsure of in my own story is how to space chapters because it’s mostly in the present tense and needs to have a certain flow. Sometimes characters don’t show up for 30+ pages. If I could go back and rework this without torching the entire story, I would. (edit: many months later, I did rework this without torching the entire story)

6.) Expand on the one-page synopsis of the story and make it four pages.

Four pages might be a bit much at this stage. By now, I’d start writing. Personally, just typing away gets my brain juices flowing. This step wouldn’t work well for me, anyway.

7.) Expand on your characters. Create full charts, including details like birth dates and their favorite foods. You don’t need to include anything in the story, but it will give you a better understanding of the characters as you write them.

I think this could be going a little far, but a few extra details can’t hurt.

8.) Use a spreadsheet and go down your outline, listing scenes. For each scene, detail what happens and from whose POV. Include how long you expect the scene to be.

I did a modified version of this. It helped me realize the story was going to be short and that I had to go back to the drawing board for some scenes. I went from a having a barely 40,000 word story to now having a book that looks like it’s going to reach 60,000 by the time it’s finished.

9.) Take each scene and flesh them out by writing narrative descriptions for each. This creates an easy way to reorganize chapters in a binder and can serve as a first draft.

Ingermanson himself doesn’t do this anymore. If you’re really unsure of yourself, I say go for it, but it doesn’t seem necessary.

10.) Start writing. Use your outlines and summaries. According to Ingermanson, writing speeds can triple with the addition of some good ‘ol organization.

Have you ever started a story that either doesn’t go anywhere or just doesn’t seem to end? I have. Fun fact: If I Let You Go isn’t my first book.

My first book was about a group of underprivileged teens and young adults living in a shoddy area of California. They get stuck inside during a bad rainstorm and get to know each other, becoming entwined in each others lives for years to come. It was 365 Microsoft Word pages. I remember clearly; I cried when my brother wiped the family computer and destroyed the file, which I hadn’t saved on an external drive.

Assuming I double-spaced, it was about 91,250 words long. It had no structure. It never ended. I was 13 when I wrote it and the depth of the subject matter wasn't handled the way it should have been. The concept of narrative structure was still developing.

I had a lot of early angst to work out ,and damn, hammering away at the keyboard was therapeutic.

Writers all have one thing in common, I feel; notebooks we’d blush at if anyone found them, stories locked up tighter than our social security cards.

Poor story-building isn’t exclusive to people who don’t understand how a story functions. A little organization can go a long way in working out the kinks that invariably pop up while writing.

What are your thoughts on the Snowflake Method? Do you think it’s overkill?

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