Do You Want To Build A Snowflake?
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
I'm normally the kind of writer who comes up with things as I go along, but I've recently become aware of The Snowflake Method of plotting out stories and novels, and have since fallen deeply in love!
This method was developed by Randy Ingermanson (he has a book that goes into much more depth, so if you'd like to know more about it, go check him out! Title: How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.) Recently. I've seen a lot of people writing about it, each one kind of doing it in their own unique way, and it has definitely helped me out, so I thought I'd share my own experiences of trialing this surprisingly (or maybe expectedly) helpful way of planning out a story :)
What Actually Is It?
As far as I've been made aware, the Snowflake method is quite literally titled. You know how snowflakes form? How they start off small, and gradually grow and grow, spreading out branches, and becoming more complex? Well with this method, planning a story becomes exactly like that! You start off small and simple, and you build up to form great complex layers of character and plot.
It can be reasonably quick, too; I've planned out the basics of two separate future works in roughly two days each using this method, and though they are, of course, going to need some serious tweaking, at least I've got something there to work with rather than stumbling blindly through an unknown realm of hidden plot points (as fun as that often is).
Now, I'm not going to pretend that this method will work for everyone, and even if it does work for you, you might find yourself adjusting it, anyway. But if you're interested in planning out a full fictional work (I believe it would also work for non-fiction if you're that way inclined) then it can't hurt to give this method a go :)
The 10 Steps Of Building a Snowflake (Eagle Edition)
These are the stages you can follow to snowflake a story plan, or at least they're my take on said stages. It doesn't matter how long it takes you for each stage; some might take you a few minutes, others might take you a few days. Take as much time as you need, I say, just as long as you stay dedicated to getting this story of yours mapped out :D
Step 1: One Sentence
First of all, you just need to write down a sentence. How easy is that?! Just a single line describing the overall theme and premise of your story.
A lot of people say that this sentence will end up being the 'hook' to your work that'll drag in readers, but for now it doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't even have to be cohesive to anyone but yourself. You can always adjust and perfect it later, remember? You have that power.
So eliminate the stress of perfection, and just write down a single sentence that gives you an idea of what you want your story to be about. Try to keep it around 20 words, and avoid mentioning specific character names.
Step 2: One Paragraph
Now you need to take that sentence and turn it into a paragraph. But not just any ol' paragraph. This is where you start to actually build on your story, and the events that come with it, so you want to give each word purpose, if you can.
Five sentences is usually the magic number for this stage, with each one defining a separate stage in your story. This structure typically targets a 'three-act' storyline, where there's an intro, three separate 'disasters' or problems that are encountered/build upon each other/ need to be solved, followed by a conclusion, but there's no reason why it can't be adjusted to whatever length you see fit.
To keep it simple, however, I'll break the 5-sentence version down into a little more detail:
Sentence 1: Introduce character(s) and overall backdrop/setting
Sentence 2: Summarise the first quarter of the story, leading to the first 'disaster'
Sentence 3: Summarise the second quarter of the story, leading to the second 'disaster'
Sentence 4: Summarise the third quarter of the story, leading to the third 'disaster'
Sentence 5: Summarise the final quarter of the story, including the conclusion.
See how this kind of structure makes it easy to adjust?
And, again, this paragraph doesn't have to be perfect the first time around. You can come back and adjust it as many times as you'd like, or until you're happy with it.
Step 3: Characters
Unlike I expected, this stage isn't necessarily about describing the character. It's more about describing their motivations and purpose. So, for this stage, you only need a page to half a page of detail, telling yourself:
- Character's name
- A summary of the character's storyline (Basic description of their role and/or purpose in the story. Can be one sentence, one paragraph, or more if you're feeling adventurous!)
- Their Motivation (what drives them emotionally/psychologically?)
- Their Goal (what do they want to achieve, physically?)
- Their Conflict (what (or who) is keeping them from achieving their goals?)
- Their Epiphany (what they will learn/realise, or how they will change, by the end of the story?)
Step 4: One Page
For this step, you can take the paragraph you wrote for Step 2, and expand each sentence into a paragraph of it's own. I usually keep to the same five-sentences-per-paragraph structure, but you're welcome to adjust it to suit each quarter of your story. This will really help to flesh out the individual 'disasters' as well as the events leading up to them, their solutions, and the ultimate climax and conclusion of the full story.
You don't have to keep to a single page for this. I sure don't. Let the plot flow naturally, rather than trying to restrain it too much. But this'll be great to get you in the mood for constructing a plausible, well-linked plot if you're the kind of person who has trouble coming up with an ending for a story (or the kind of person who knows how it starts and how it ends, but just needs to bridge that infuriating gap in the middle)
I've also found that this stage will also help you figure out where any plot holes or inconsistencies might pop up, so you can fix or eliminate them before you spend all those hours on a full first draft.
Step 5: In depth Character Synopsis
Again, this character step isn't focused on describing the characters. That will come, I promise, just not quite yet...
In this step, the aim is to write a version of your Step 4 synopsis from the perspective of each of your main characters. You can do it for minor characters, too, (and this can be really helpful, as it makes you consider previously unconsidered details, such as what they're doing when the story's not really focused on them) but typically try to simplify it for anyone who's not as important as the protagonist (e.g. half a page, rather than a full page)
This stage is great for fleshing out the purpose and story arcs of your individual characters, as well as their relations with each other. Added to that, it can also help you iron out your plot a little more.
A lot of people who follow the Snowflake method say that this is their favourite step, too, so don't be afraid to be a little creative with it!
Step 6: From Paragraphs to Pages
Here, we're really starting to grow our snowflake of a story. You remember all those paragraphs you wrote for Step 4? Lovely, well expand each of those into a full page :)
I know, I know, it sounds like a lot. But hey, what's 5 or so pages, when you're writing a novel? This is going to be fun!
In this stage, you can really work out all the logical details of your plot, and help your characters make the plausible decisions that lead to or solve the various disasters which drive your story onwards. You'll definitely find yourself fixing plot points, and correcting the directions taken by your plot, and this is a good thing! This means you're uncovering any problem in your story before you've wasted time writing it all in fully-fledged detail (a problem I have faced, many a time).
Step 7: More On Characters, Yay!
Okay okay.... Now you can describe your characters! But when I say describe, I don't just mean the colour of their hair and eyes. I mean describe Every Little Thing about them that you can possibly think of.
What do they look like? Sure!
What do they sound like? Definitely!
Where did they grow up? What's their family like? Favourite food? What are they afraid of? The more answered questions, the merrier!
You have to know your characters inside and out, so be sure to include every minute detail, even if half of those details are never going to be mentioned in your story. It'll still help to make a real, well-rounded, more believable character, which is the key ingredient in any novel.
Step 8: Scenes and Spreadsheets.
So, now that you've got the overall storyline and characters all worked out (even if they're not yet perfected, remember you can always add later!), you might be thinking it's time to start writing the novel! And sure, you can jump straight to that step if you'd like, but the Snowflake Method has a few more stages to cover before we get there, so why don't we go and check them out, first?
Step 8 is here to expand on your (give or take) 5 page outline, even further! This can be a big step and, I'll admit, I haven't yet reached this stage with any of my WIPs, so how about we go at it together?
I'm not normally a fan of spreadsheets, but apparently this kind of spreadsheeting is supposed to be fun. I've deduced that, since writing is fun and this is all about writing, it should rightfully be fun by association. I guess we'll find out!
What's needed for this step is to make a list of all the potential scenes that would make up the outline you constructed in Step 6. You wouldn't necessarily have to do this in a spreadsheet form, at first, you can just jot it down in a word document, or on a piece of paper, whatever floats your boat. But after this, you can start adding detail to your list, and that's where the spreadsheet comes in handy.
Start making columns for things like: describing what happens in the scene; POV character; setting/location; time and date (if applicable); scene length; chapter number, etc. And fill in each column for every scene you plan on having in your story.
Along with grafting a full backbone for your story with this spreadsheet, you'll also be able to identify any unnecessary scenes (i.e. those without some form of conflict) before you've written them, fallen in love with them, and then have to break your own heart deleting them from the draft (another problem I've faced many a time).
Of course, when it comes to writing the first draft, I don't see anything saying you can't diverge from this outline, so maybe think of it less as a law to follow, and more of a guidline to help pave the way. Sometimes you might come up with a better solution halfway through writing the final scene, and other times your characters start thinking they know the story better than you do and take the wheel.
Step 9: Narrative Summary
This step is as close to writing the draft as you can get, without actually writing the draft. Essentially, take a page per scene and jot down a narrative summary of what's going to happen in the scene. This can include setting descriptions, snippets of dialogue that you really want to include, and any other important tidbit you think could be necessary for writing the first draft.
Some people use this stage as a 'dump point' for throwing up all the creative writing ideas they have for every scene, while others actually take it really seriously, and make sure each scene is perfectly outlined before they start writing it. Others, yet again, skip this step entirely. I don't know what I'd do for this stage, because... you guessed it... I haven't reached it with any of my WIPs either. But, if you do end up giving this a method a go (and/or have already tried it on a previous story of yours) let me know what works for you!
Step 10: Write The Draft, Mate.
Yeah, that's right.
You heard me.
Now is the time to take this beautiful Snowflake of yours and turn it into the very first draft of your brand new story! *"Celebration" by Kool & The Gang plays loudly in the background*
You've done all the hard work, carving out the skeleton of the plot and giving each part of it careful consideration, so now you get to employ that creative mind of yours and add in all the flowery flesh that really makes up a story; beautiful descriptions, witty dialogue, emotion and personality. You get to write the novel you've been planning for the past however long.
Because of all the effort you've put in previously, you should find this a breeze; no longer will you find yourself tripping over plot holes, or running into walls of cluelessness, because you have already grafted yourself a wonderful guideline to follow, whenever you find yourself getting stuck!
So go, write your story. Enjoy writing your story! This is the relaxation of the writing process, and you've well and truly deserved it, you story planning Legend, you!
Well, that's that, I guess.
I really hope this Snowflake Method can help you out with any of your writing plans for the future, just as it's helped me in the past.
Here's a couple of links to the pages I found that helped me learn the method. As I mentioned before, everyone does it differently even if it is the same method, so if you're intrigued by the notion of building Snowflakes, be sure to check them out to see if they have any more tips and tricks to offer you on your journey!
Happy writing, everyone!