Snowflake Method – Plot Theory

Welcome back to the blog. This time around I’m talking about plot methods. I’ve talked about plot and wHY you NEEd it before, and my question when I have someone convince me to try something is always, okay, but HOW?

I’m starting a new series on the different types of plot structures that I’ve come across and especially ones that I’ve personally used. Today, we’re diving into the Snowflake Method.

I came across this plotting method about three years ago now, because I was searching for something that would bring multiple character perspectives into one solid narrative.

Prior to using the Snowflake, I basically flew by the seat of my pants. In the writing world, this is typically referred to as “pantsing” or “gardening” and I was guilty of nOT plOTTing anYthING for way too long in my writing career. As a bit of perspective, that means that I had written first drafts of nearly 6 novels without any plot structuring at all.

I usually start with a premise for a novel because I have a great idea for a story. Somehow, this means that I have a beginning, I have an end, and nothing in the middle. I also have no feeling for the main character past the day they bloomed onto the first page of my novel.

Working from this is hard, you guys. Like, so freaking hard. I mean, you start out seeing how great your baby can be, and then you write it, get stuck so many times, give up on your life because your characters are flat and this isn’t going anywhere and omg that character just got himself arrested out of the blue…

So then I had an idea for a story that was character-based for once in my life, and I was completely out of my league as to how I could write it. And I started searching, and searching, for a way to develop these three children into fully their own characters.

Originally created by Randy Ingermanson, the Snowflake Method teaches you to start really small, and work your way deeper. You’ll switch between character development and plot development at each step, which means no matter where you’re starting from, you’ll always have to work through both aspects of Story.

Let’s go through the steps of the Snowflake Method and then, since this is getting lengthy, in another post I can walk you through how this goes.

Step One: Write one sentence about your entire story.

Give yourself an hour of time to come up with one sentence that speaks about your entire story. This is so much harder than it might sound, because you want it to say so much. If you are already struggling to boil your story down, I suggest you read New York Times bestseller blurbs for inspiration. You can also think of this as your “elevator pitch” and the key points should be that your sentence has:

  1. 15 words or fewer.
  2. No character names.
  3. Tied the big picture to “personal picture” – what does the character have to lose and what do they want to win?

Step Two: Expand your sentence from Step One into a full paragraph.

Take another hour and expand your sentence. This is easy to think about as your own book blurb on the back of the novel. In this step, you should keep your sentence focus on:

  1. Approximately 5 sentences.
  2. Story setup.
  3. Up to three major disasters.
  4. Hint at the ending.

Step Three: Write a one page summary of each of the main characters.

In step three you shift focus to your main characters. This is not the time to be thinking of full character profiles or anything really deep. Think for about an hour per character on who your character is, what they look like, and what part they will play in your story. In my one-page summary, I try to address:

  1. Name and pertinent physical details.
  2. Storyline.
  3. Motivation.
  4. Goal.
  5. Conflict that keeps him or her from reaching that goal.
  6. Epiphany.

Step Four: Expand each sentence from Step Two into a paragraph.

Switching gears once more, you will now go back to your plot, and refer to step two in order to further develop your plot. Over several hours, think both about your plot and about how your characters will fit into that plot. I will often copy step two, verbatim, onto the next clean page and make each sentence its own paragraph, which looks and feels a lot like the entire back cover of a novel. Again, for clarity’s sake, focus on:

  1. The setting and genre.
  2. The main characters and how they come into play.
  3. The conflict readers will expect to read about.
  4. The ultimate thing that will need resolution.

Step Five: Write a one-page synopsis of each of your Main Characters and a ½ a page synopsis for each of the other important characters.

Switch gears again, and now write a one-page synopsis of each of your main characters and about half a page for your other side characters. This is still not a character sheet. This is a running narrative trying to tell the story from each of these characters. Focus for 1-2 days on:

  1. Your character’s motive.
  2. How their storyline plays out.
  3. What happens to them in the end.

Step Six: Expand each paragraph from Step Four into a one-page description.

Are you getting the feel for how this back and forth works yet, and how it can fully develop your novel? Switching once more to plot, you need to now expand each paragraph from step four into their own descriptions. Take about a week to do this. These will become the key scenes that will be the backbone of your novel, so go all out and take the time to describe each and every one of them in detail.

Step Seven: Expand your character descriptions into full-fledged character charts, detailing everything there is to know about them.

Okay, okay. Now you can go crazy with character charts. This is your time. Take about a week, and write down every single thing you know about your main characters, and most of what you know about your side characters.

Step Eight: Take each page from Step Six and write a one-sentence description of every scene that you will need for each page.

Now that you have this giant file, it’s time to start reigning it back in so you can start writing this thing in earnest. Uh, yeah, soon you’ll need to write this whole thing. That was the point, right? Having a short list of scenes becomes your outline which will

Step Nine: Take each line from your outline, and drill it down further, including pictures, quotes, songs, etc. Make the story come alive. Play around with the scenes and reorganize them.

This is the time for the Pinterest board frenzy that you started when you first got the story idea. Make the aesthetic board. Delve into character models. Check out location inspiration.

As much as I’d like there to be a step ten, there isn’t one. Keep tuned in next week, where I will be outlining my very own Urban Fantasy novel Utopian Melody for you, using the Snowflake Method.

Until then, tell me. Are you a Gardener or an Architect? Do you Pants, Plan, or Plants? What method do you use to outline, and what method would you like to see me go over in another post? Let me know in the comments!

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