The Snowflake Method of Drafting a Novel

5 Jan

by Julie Eshbaugh


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.



Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.  She is also a freelance editor. You can read her blog here and find her on Twitter here.



35 Responses to “The Snowflake Method of Drafting a Novel”

  1. Rowenna January 5, 2011 at 9:07 AM #

    It’s definitely an interesting idea–but I honestly think for me it would take some of the joy out of writing. I like taking bits and pieces and patchworking them–it may not be efficient, but it keeps the creativity churning for me–and I love discovering elements I hadn’t planned on and exploring them in the first draft. Now–as a way to assess and organize a sloppy first draft, or as a new way to write a synopsis–yes, I can definitely see this methodology as being helpful!

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 9:50 AM #

      Hey Rowenna! I personally have never used this method beyond step four – the step that results in the one-page synopsis. After that, I shelved the idea. Some of the steps seem very open to exploration; some seem fairly strict. I do like your idea of using it to tame an unruly first draft! Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  2. Nhi Le January 5, 2011 at 11:20 AM #

    Oh my God – I think I may have accidentally skipped from step 2 to 4, but this definitely looks and is pretty helpful at the moment. Thanks for posting this up! 😀 😀

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 11:23 AM #

      Your welcome! And don’t worry if you skip steps or move them around – like any other tool, use it the way it works best for you. 🙂

  3. Ellen January 5, 2011 at 2:01 PM #

    I think in terms of the character motivation and the one page synopsis, this would help me a ton. I’ve been told I tend to favor interior motive in some characters for exterior motive, so I could always stand to work more on improving there.

    And, since I’m nearing the query stage, it can’t hurt me to have a one page synopsis ready and waiting. Otherwise, I have my own system of outlining that works really well for me, so I don’t think I’d switch wholly to this.

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 2:37 PM #

      Hey Ellen! Glad this could help you in whatever way you can use it. Good luck as you approach querying! 🙂

  4. Brandi January 5, 2011 at 2:33 PM #

    This sounds amazing! I’m printing it out so I can use it for this story I’ve had in my head for months. Thanks, Julie 🙂

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 2:43 PM #

      Hey Brandi! Good luck using the snowflake method! I’m also trying it with a new idea, but I’m just beginning. If you think of it, come back and post a new comment here to let me know how this works for you. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  5. TymCon January 5, 2011 at 2:51 PM #

    If I used that method I’d get sick of the story and just start a new one…startign with a figth scene. maybe a giant snake as well.
    Oh do you know that book recomendation(I cant remember who did it) for a book called the Room?. That’s Eason’s Irish number one. And the author’s irish. Which I have no idea how I didn’t guess. I’m so going to buy that now.
    (Shrugs) Colour me biased.

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 2:56 PM #

      LOL Tim! I think it was Kat that recommended ROOM. I seem to remember it being in her post about books she wished she had time to read. I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

  6. Aya Tsintziras January 5, 2011 at 3:13 PM #

    This is so interesting! I especially like step 5. I might try this!

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 3:28 PM #

      Hey Aya! I love step 5 too! I’ve done a really toned-down version of it before – I basically wrote 1st person narratives from each major character’s POV, but only about certain things – almost like answers to interview questions. If you try this, or even just step 5, let me know how it turns out! 🙂

  7. Kristy January 5, 2011 at 3:45 PM #

    I do like this method in theory, but I find that when I’m writing, I tend not to follow this in practice. I think I just prefer the free form of the rough draft to let my ideas go and be where they are. But, I LOVE Rowenna’s idea of using this to rein in the rough draft. This method, I think, would be most useful to me in that capacity. It’s rather odd, though, because when I’m writing a script, I prefer the structured approach. I have a beat sheet, followed by a board onto which I put my scenes via index cards. I don’t really know why there’s a difference between mediums for me with regard to outlining. Perhaps I’m just strange. Hehe.

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 3:49 PM #

      Hey Kristy! That’s actually very interesting! I love the idea of using a “beat sheet.” Screenwriting is a very structured medium; I agree. I found I could never quite work within it well, which is strange since I like to work within at least some form of structure when writing a novel. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      • Kristy January 6, 2011 at 12:36 AM #

        The beat sheet I prefer is Blake Snyder’s. It doesn’t have the normal name breakdown’s that we’re used to, but it gets the information across just the same. I like it because it covers everything you need to write the story, whereas most beat sheets give you just the opening scene, inciting incident, act two break, midpoint, act three break, and then the finale. Snyder’s has quite a bit more to it. It’s fantastic in my opinion, and I bet I could adopt it for writing a novel, though I’ve not yet tried.

        P.S. I’m anxiously awaiting the release of Firefly. I wish it would hurry! 😉

        • Julie Eshbaugh January 6, 2011 at 12:01 PM #

          Hi Kristy! Thanks so much for the info! I will definitely check out Blake Snyder’s beat sheet. If I can find a good way to adopt it to novel writing, maybe I’ll even post about it here. And thanks for your encouragement for FIREFLY! Several outside forces slowed down revisions/subs (my car accident being a major factor!) but we seem to have things back on course now! 🙂

  8. H. Holdsworth January 5, 2011 at 5:11 PM #

    This seems to be just what I’m looking for! The plot gods have blessed me with an interesting idea, but I’ve been having a hard time figuring out if it’s a full-fledged GOOD idea, or if the gods are just toying with me…After weeks of worrying over it, I thought I would just have to suck it up and write out the entire MS before I found my answer, or just give up, but this seems like the perfect middle ground!

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 5:17 PM #

      I completely agree with that! This method is a great way of testing out an idea. Good luck! 🙂

  9. Juan January 5, 2011 at 6:45 PM #

    Hola, Julie. Te felicito por tu web, es excelente.

    Disculpa (Excuse me) I don’t write english very well. Pero he logrado traducir al español el artículo y me ha gustado mucho. Casualmente, he escrito un cuento usando este método y me ha ido muy bien.

    Gracias. Thank you.

    Juan, from Perú.

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 6:56 PM #

      Hola Juan! He utilizado un traductor para esta respuesta, así que espero que tiene sentido! Estoy feliz de que haya disfrutado el puesto y es bueno saber este método ha funcionado bien con tu historia! Gracias por el comentario! 🙂

  10. Chele January 5, 2011 at 11:18 PM #

    Ooh I love the steps, they cover everything so even if I don’t follow the exact order I’ll always have an idea of what comes next! I’m gonna try this – I’ve been stuck lately and just needed to backtrack and reorganize my ideas, so this method will help loads! Thanks for posting ;D

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 5, 2011 at 11:36 PM #

      Thanks Chele! I agree; this seems like a great method for when you feel “stuck.” Good luck with it; come back and comment again on your experience! 🙂

  11. Ella January 6, 2011 at 12:17 AM #

    I’ve actually tried this before. Think I got to Step Five or so….I would have done the profiles, anyway – characterization is my favorite part – but I’m a pantser when it comes to plot, all the way. |D;;

    It can be useful to make you think about what your MC’s want, and where they’re going, but it’s a little stiff for my tastes.

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 6, 2011 at 12:31 AM #

      Hey Ella! Yes; I would think this would be a tough haul for a “pantser.” I do think that most writers would find at least one or two steps helpful. Like you, I really like doing the character profiles. Thanks for the comment!

  12. Elle Strauss January 6, 2011 at 2:58 PM #

    I’ve heard mention of the snowflake method before, but never knew what it was. Thanks for the clear explanation! I don’t think this method is for me. I can’t form characters clearly before the first draft. That’s where I discover whose actually in the story and what they’re like. I try to really get into their heads before the second draft.

  13. Elle Strauss January 6, 2011 at 2:59 PM #

    That would be WHO’s in the story… 🙂

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 6, 2011 at 3:32 PM #

      Hi Elle! Yeah, this method certainly isn’t for everyone. I’ve talked to other writers who feel like you do – that the first draft is really where they do the “pre-writing” that some others might do with the snowflake method or even a simple outline. I think you know what works best for you! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! 🙂

  14. Pico January 7, 2011 at 4:25 AM #

    I’ve seen this in different places across internet, but in all honesty, no one explained it as well as you Julie 🙂 Outlining is always very difficult for me, but I think I may give this is a go (now that I kind of get it, haha).

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 7, 2011 at 1:23 PM #

      Hey Pico! Thanks so much! I’ve also seen this in a lot of places, although, as you say, it’s been difficult to make sense out of it all. I eventually went right to the source and read the original version on Randy Ingermanson’s website. I’m glad you liked my explanation of it! 🙂

  15. Beth January 9, 2011 at 2:17 PM #

    What a great idea. I’ll definitely give it a shot!

    • Julie Eshbaugh January 9, 2011 at 4:10 PM #

      Hey Beth! Good luck trying out the snowflake method! If you think of it, come back and leave another comment letting me know how it went. 🙂

  16. Violation June 13, 2012 at 6:19 PM #

    What you’ve done is paraphrase a copyrighted work such that this page is a violation of copyright.

    • Julie Eshbaugh June 14, 2012 at 6:05 AM #

      Copyright violation occurs when there is no attribution to the original work and you claim it as your own. I not only give the original creator of the Snowflake Method all the credit here, but I link back to his website so that people can learn more and potentially buy his products. No copyright violation at all! If it were, then every quote in a book review would be a copyright violation.)
      If anything, this is a advertisement for Randy Ingermanson and his method. 🙂


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