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How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

Renuka Savant May 12, 2019
The Snowflake Method of writing helps you create a structural layout for your novel, in order to get you started. In this Penlighten post, we're aiming to help you plan a novel using the Snowflake Method.

Why 'Snowflake'?

The Snowflake Method is a scientific approach to writing a novel, invented by theoretical physicist, Randy Ingermanson, also an award-winning novelist himself.
The method seeks inspiration from the manner in which a mathematical snowflake is created―by repeatedly adding more steps in a structured manner. By starting small, one has to list several orderly aspects, adding each one to the previous steps, until you have a ready storyline.
Every author worth his salt knows how even the most reliable creative fountain can run a dry spell. It happens invariably after a golden idea germinates―you are so overwhelmed with possibilities, that it's really hard to actually start.
As an author, you are best equipped with ingenious techniques to help yourself get out of this rut. But once in a while, a helping hand works like a charm too.

What the Snowflake Method Entails

The Snowflake Method is a 10-step process derived from a fractal pattern―going from a triangle to an elaborate snowflake by adding a simple plot progression at a time.
The purpose of the method―provided it's executed correctly―is to help you avoid falling prey to major plot hole issues requiring painful rewrites. It stipulates that you wrench the story idea out of your head right at the start.
Beginning with a basic triangle, you go on to create a full-fledged snowflake that is the complete outline of your plot. Work within this outline to expand your story, adding the finer nuances as you go ahead. As you do, you'll often find new ideas pop up, most of which are rather add-worthy, because you're already clear about the direction of your novel.

The 10-step Snowflake Method for Writing a Novel

Create a one-sentence big picture

The 'big picture' here refers to what will be the one-sentence summary of your novel. Take an hour to write this sentence, which will later be your guiding star throughout the course, until you reach the conclusion. Think of this as the analog of that big starting triangle in the snowflake picture.
As an example, this is a probable summation of Jeffery Archer's Kane and Abel.

Born on the same day on opposite sides of the world, the fate of two men remains entwined, battling for the success and triumph that only one can claim.

As you can see, there are no character names, no unnecessary details, and yet, the line conveys it all.

Expand it to a summary

Your next hour should be dedicated to the cause of expanding that sentence into a summary of the novel. This should include the setup, disasters, and conclusion. The ideal summary is limited to five sentences.
Now, depending upon your style of writing and your preferences, split your story into acts (two or three), and place your highlights accordingly. Dedicate enough attention to the conclusion.

Summarize each of your major characters

Now that you're armed with a bird's-eye view of the storyline, it's time to zoom in a bit and go forward with the expansion. The next logical step to follow is listing the characters in their order of importance.
Then, go on to write a page defining each character―their nature, motivation, goals, highs and lows, changes, and finally, their contribution to taking the story forward.
As you do this for each character, you will realize how each one contributes to the development―and this is where you'll encounter the most number of conflicts, cliches, and the means to resolve them.

Make a one-page story

With a clear view of your characters in hand, you're now ready to draft a one-page version of your novel. After about a week of serious brainstorming, you're equipped with the basic story, along with definitive details about each character.
Now, there aren't any compulsions to keep this restricted to one page, as you're possibly going to be bursting with ideas, and you may feel the urge to expand. But expand if you must, do so only slightly.

Blow up each of your characters

Dedicate the next 2 - 3 days to detailing each of your major and minor characters, focusing on each character's version of the story. These different points of view also help you refine your original plot, adding or subtracting content to make it better.

Blow up the one-page story

With several story threads in hand, one from each character's POV, you are way more clear about the novel's progression. Therefore, it's time to head back to the one-page story created in step number four, in order to expand it.
Clearer perspectives means that you're free to head into some serious strategic planning, allowing in more of those ideas and changes. Use a good week to go through this step.

Create detailed character charts

Getting into the nitty-gritty of each character is an exciting phase of writing. This is the time when you pick each character, and begin detailing them right down to their birth, their childhood, their idiosyncrasies; basically, what makes them the person they are. Chart each one separately, and focus on shaping their personalities vis-à-vis their role.

On to the spreadsheet

Okay, you've gathered a lot of material right now. And you're also perhaps a bit overwhelmed by it all. The best way to sort it all is by creating a spreadsheet.
Make proficient use of the rows by taking it scene-by-scene, using the columns to describe the scene, the characters involved, their POV, and if you wish, even add some dialog. Create spreadsheets to suit your needs, splitting them scene-wise or chapter-wise.

Write a narrative

This step is optional, and it entails writing a narrative description of the story by making use of the spreadsheet created in the previous step. Begin writing a few paragraphs of the initial few chapters from the spreadsheet, using the dialog and conflicts mentioned in there. Remember, this is a trial, and you are free to take the penultimate step.

Get on with the first draft

It's finally down to the real deal―this is where you begin working on your first draft. You'll be relieved to learn how well-prepared you are at this stage, with the solid storyline and the finely-etched characters.
Of course, the need to constantly improvise will never desert you, but all said and done, you'd be in a relatively stress-free zone, considering the amount of groundwork at your disposal.
Every writing method has its pros and cons, and many believe that the Snowflake Method leaves very little breathing space for spontaneity. To each his own, of course, since writing is an extremely personalized passion to have. If this method appeals to the writer in you, give it a shot by all means. If not, feel free to let it snowball elsewhere.