If the idea of methodically building your novel appeals to you, then the Snowflake Method, designed by Randy Ingermanson, might be just what you are looking for. (A link to Ingermanson’s site can be found at the end of this post.)
The Snowflake Method contains ten steps. These ten steps will take you from your concept to a completed first draft.
Step One – Write a one-sentence summary of your novel. The best summary sentence is one that includes a reference to the character who has the most to lose and the thing he or she wants most to win. The one-sentence summary for Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES would be something like this, “A girl tries to stay alive in a fight to the death against twenty-three other teens that is aired on live television.”
Step Two – Expand your sentence into a full paragraph. In this paragraph, you should include the story set-up, each disaster, and the ending. You can decide the cause of each disaster, whether it is internally caused or brought on by external circumstances, and include those details as well.
Step Three – Next, your characters. For each of your major characters, write a one page summary sheet that includes the following:
- The character’s name
- A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline
- The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
- The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
- The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
- The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?)
- A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline
Step Four – Expand each sentence of your summary paragraph from step two into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in a disaster. The final paragraph should tell how the book ends.
At the completion of step four, you should have a fairly concise one-page skeleton of your novel. (Don’t sweat it if it’s longer or shorter than one page. The point is that you are taking your seed of a story from step one and growing and expanding it.)
Step Five – Write a one-page synopsis of the story from the point of view of each major character. (For more minor characters, you may want to write a half a page.) This step may seem tedious (and it can be time-consuming if you have a lot of major characters,) but it will really get you into the heads of the people who will give your story life. You will begin to see where they agree and where they clash. While plot is always important, honestly drawn characters are what make us lose ourselves in a novel.
Step Six – Take a fresh look at your one-page plot synopsis from step four and expand it into a four-page synopsis. One way to approach this would be to expand each paragraph from step four into its own page. This step gives you the chance to find the complexity in your story, discover new plot ideas that may have been inspired by your character explorations in step five, and weave in subplots. By keeping it to four pages, you can also easily identify plot holes or problems with the story’s logic.
Step Seven – Expand your character summaries from step three into full-blown character charts. Make sure that you not only know each character’s motivations and goals, but also the smaller details, such as the one thing they would grab before running from a burning house, or the person who has been the greatest influence on them. This is the step where you make sure your characters are fully alive in your mind.
Step Eight – Take the expanded synopsis you created in step six and make a list of every scene that needs to be written to tell your story. If you’re adept with spreadsheets, creating one for this task will allow you to use the columns for details such as setting and POV character. For those of you who like to hold your writing in your hands, index cards will work just as well.
Step Nine – Using the scene list, write several pages of narrative for each scene. If you choose to add in dialogue, that’s fine. By the end of this step, you’ll have a miniature rough draft of your book.
Step Ten – Write your first draft!
So what do you think of the Snowflake Method? Do you think it would be helpful, or do you think it would hold you back? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
For more information about Randy Ingermanson and his writing theories and methods, you can visit his website, here.