Similar to writing, everybody has their own style of planning their novel. Some don’t even bother to plan at all and prefer just throwing everything on the page as it comes. For some writers, planning is an interesting step in the process that allows them to explore several aspects of their story without committing to chapters. For others, planning can feel tedious and chore-like.
No matter your stance on planning, it may be time to try something new. Enter writer Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method”. If your planning methods seem stale and you need a new tool to help your writing, dive into this method with us and try it out in your next writing session!
What is the Snowflake Method?
The “Snowflake Method” is a writing and planning style that starts with the most basic summary of your novel and is slowly elaborated on until it is a complex web weaving together every character and plot line. It is hailed as an excellent way to plan to avoid plot holes, as every new element is introduced slowly and directly tied to the central idea.
The method is named after a snowflake because of the idea that every angle of your story summary grows to be more ornate as you delve into each topic more thoroughly. What may start out as a single sentence will slowly grow into a unique shape with a variety of angles as you add paragraphs and whole pages to your plan.
Another appealing element of this method is that it allows you to plan without sitting down to a page and simply throwing down every detail about a character that comes to your mind. Everything starts from a single sentence and is slowly added to until you have whole ideas. If planning your whole novel seems intimidating, fear not. This process starts with small baby steps and progresses so logically you won’t even realize you’re planning until you’re a whole novel in!
It All Begins with a Sentence
That’s right. Don’t worry about listing out every character and scene right off the bat. All you need is a few words.
Write down a one sentence summary of your novel. Don’t worry about too many complexities, simply focus on who your main character is and what he/she is doing. Nothing too detailed or complicated.
If you’re already stuck, think back to how you came up with the idea for this novel. Surely you didn’t have a two thousand word summary immediately. Maybe you were just sitting at dinner and the thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to write a love story between two world leaders?” and that’s how you got into writing. Great news! That’s all you need!
Write out your plain sentence making sure it names at least one character, a conflict and a resolution. You can tweak your sentence as you see fit, but don’t make it more than one simple statement… Yet.
A Sentence Blossoms into a Paragraph
You’ve spent an hour perfecting your first sentence. Perfect. Now comes your chance to elaborate.
Pick apart your first sentence and transform it into a full paragraph summary, almost like something you would use as a book jacket. Now is your chance to introduce another character, any extra plot points, or other events you’d like to bring up. Like your first sentence, spend time perfecting this summary until it is something you feel good about.
Once your summary is to your liking, set it aside for a while. We’ll be back to work with it later, but let it rest while you move along to the next step.
Begin Weaving Character Story Lines
Now that the framework for your plot is in place, you can move on to character development.
Much like your plot summary, begin by telling each character’s life story in a single sentence. You’ll want to consider everything that goes into their position in the story including character motivation, relationships, goals, and their day to day life.
After compiling a list of details, condense them down into something simple like, “Jane Doe loves her family in rural Iowa but had bigger dreams for her future that pushed her to move to Boston”. Like with your first plot sentence, you can take some time to clean up your initial statement to something a little more elaborate, but don’t progress to multiple phrases yet!
Write a sentence for each of your characters that aims to summarize nearly their whole lives. Once you have a sentence per character, move along to the next step.
Expand Your Biographies to Paragraphs and Pages
After all your characters have a sentence telling their tale, begin growing those sentences into a paragraph per character, much like what was done with the plot line. These paragraphs are a great time to begin tying your individual characters together as we continue weaving our full story web.
Once you have paragraphs, move on to full pages. Even if you have characters that you don’t anticipate playing huge roles in the novel, expand upon their backstories to give them more depth and catapult them out of one-dimensional territory. While some details may seem superfluous now, who knows, they could come in handy later!
Combine Plots and People by Giving Multiple Perspectives on Your Story
You’ve got characters, you’ve got plot lines, now is the time to fuse them together into what will eventually become your novel.
No matter whose perspective your novel centers on, it is always important to remember that each of your characters should have their own perspective on the events transpiring in order for them to really maintain a three dimensional appearance. If your unsure how to turn your characters from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, this step will give you a few ideas.
For each major character participating in your plot, use a page per person to retell the events of the story from their own perspective. Even if you intend for your novel to be written in third person, this step is important in giving all of your characters their own personal opinions on what is happening in their lives.
While retelling the events, consider your characters opinions on the events transpiring. Not everyone is going to be happy with election results in the same way that not every character is going to take the same side in a war or a fight. Use these retellings to develop different perspectives.
Beyond different points of view, use this exercise as a chance to develop personalities. Consider the different cultures that influence your characters, how they feel about the other participants in your story, and their goals for the future.
As you write from various characters’ perspectives, ponder how they think and talk. Especially when writing in third person, consider what words and phrases your characters know and which ones they don’t. A five year old talking to themselves probably won’t know the word “scintillating”, so be careful to include words that fit into appropriate character vocabulary.
Time to Break out The Charts
Now that every character has had the chance to tell their tale, keep expanding upon your characters’ lives using charts to help your planning.
When you have stories with multiple characters, details about individuals can get easily lost in your pages upon pages of planning. Although you may love your carefully crafted biographies, there will come a time when Excel will become more useful than Word.
Now that you’ve dedicated all this time to developing character backstories, compile all those details into a few spreadsheets including things like employment, family history, hobbies, and beyond for each character. This format will provide details in a much more manageable way, especially when considering character relationships and examining things like character foils.
Break Plot Lines into Scenes
You’ve developed your characters, you’ve elaborated on your plots, and you’ve re-written your one sentence summary about a thousand times. Finally the time has arrived to make a scene list!
Take that lovely plot paragraph and branch it out into all the scenes you’ll need for your chapters. This step will take a considerable amount of time, but will ease transitions when you actually begin putting your first draft into motion.
Depending on how your novel is divided, it might be beneficial to list out chapters as you move through the scenes, especially if you transition between multiple settings per chapters. This is where you can take the opportunity to add however few or many details you’d like. You can take this chance to branch each scene into smaller events or you can wing it! Totally up to you.
Get that First Draft Going!
Put all that planning to work and get started writing. Hopefully through this planning technique you’ve given yourself a considerable framework to begin with and tons of tools to help yourself avoid those dreaded plot holes.
Whether your current planning method seems stale or you’d just like to try something new, it might be time to give the snowflake method a shot! You may just find that this method can help you write a novel that, like a snowflake, is unlike any other out there.