Outlining a Story with the Snowflake Method

i-got-a-2-dollar-handjob-from-your-sisterA good friend of mine suggested this outlining method to another writing group member and after looking through the steps, this is another way I plan on outlining my own nano-monstrosity.

Similar to the Cat Method from a few days ago, this one takes specific stages in order to plot and plan the order of madness around the brainstorming of ideas flowing. The snowflake method begins by starting small, literally with a single sentence, and blossoming into a giant multi-spanning goldmine of branches and sugar-dipped awesome sauce that can only further sustain your own creativity into fiction.

Step 1: Summarize the entirety of your story, conflict, pain, or whatever the main “gist” of the goal into one simple and solitary sentence.

For instance, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer/Philosopher’s Stone summary would go something like “A young boy with a legendary past travels to a wizards school while facing fears to learn about a hidden world.” I’m pretty terrible at writing these things, but the idea is to make them as tight and short as possible. The original creator of the Snowflake method, Randy Ingermanson, said to try getting the sentence down to 15 words. I think that’s impossible – but I’ll leave that up to you. (I also linked his page if you click on his name.)

Also, leave out detailsĀ such as proper nouns of places and names to make the biggest part of the blurb focus on what the main goal of the book is all about. This simplifies the step one process. Cause it’s about to get stupid.

Step 2: Take the one sentence summary above and expand it into a paragraph outlining the main components of conflict.

The example here (sticking with the Harry Potter Book 1 theme:) is “Harry receives a letter from a strange school requesting his presence. When his foster/step parents refuse, a Wizard collects Harry and tells him about his past and who is really is, not the worthless step-child who lives under the stairs. On the way to school, he meets Hermione and Ron and quickly becomes friends. At school, the three learn that there is something hidden in the school that the evil wizard Voldemort wants to become human again. Voldemort happens to be the Wizard who killed Harry’s parents. While trying to find information, the tree use their best abilities to work toward a common goal and defeat the teacher allowing Voldemort into the School.”

And so on and so forth. This is more useful for setting up the big conflicts and fail-points within the story itself. If you know ahead of time what points you plan on hitting when the writing starts, this is perfect since you can then bridge everything from it. Or, if you plan on panting everything, just write the conflicts that come to your head and see where it takes you. In many cases, the first sentence should be used for the setup and backdrop, then the next three sentences should be conflict/resolution. While the last sentence summarizes the finale. There are multiple formats for this section, and in many cases, this is the part that will most likely change while you even write the rest of this outline.

Step 3: Since the part two is the high-level overview of the arc, part three is the further branching of the main characters. Begin with the main character’s name, and one sentence describing them in as much detail as possible. I like to think I’m trying to describe them to a 4-year-old and keep having to hold their attention, so I have to make it as interesting as possible. Next, write a sentence about their main motivation in the story. Then, write one sentence about their ultimate goal for this book. Next, what are their main conflicts in the story? How many? Write one sentence for each conflict and how they fail trying to solve them (since the story won’t be interesting unless we see real conflict.) Then write one sentence about how that character grows/grew or what they learned on their journey – or what they plan on achieving ultimately. And finally, a small one paragraph outline of their own storyline.

Tip: After you do this for a few characters, go back and alter Step 1 and Step 2. Go ahead. I know…I know.. But don’t worry, this isn’t the only time you’ll want to do this.

Step 4: By this stage you should know the idea of where the main story is going. You know the conflicts, where the people are, what they’re doing, and how they plan on doing it. The idea is to look for any broken areas within the story itself. All conflicts and climaxes end in disaster except the ending, and everything else filters out through your smaller synopses paragraphs because you have them in a sort of “short-hand” outline-ish view.

This part is building the skeleton of the novel. Don’t worry about details as of this point. World building and timelines aren’t as important at this stage unless they’re integral to the main plot element. At this point, you’re looking for large holes where things are missing for the flow of continuity. Sub-plots and all that goodness come next.

Step 5: Take each character and build a full-page point of view of the story synopsis from their perspective. Walk in their shoes and see what happens.

For example, going back to Harry Potter: Write a page on what happens from Hermione’s first-person perspective. Then Ron’s, then Dumbledoor’s . . . the idea is to build the world they live in through the eyes of the characters. This also gives the characters more life to breathe within the world itself.

Step 6: This is where the expansion blossoms into full bloom. Take everything you have up to this point and build it into a full four-page synopsis outlining each act and character arc within. This is still high-level enough to not need details, but strategic enough so you can fix any problems with sub-plots and smaller character arcs within and around the main arc itself.

Tip: Here’s another spot you can go back and fix things in earlier steps now that you know more about the entirety of the world and the characters both. Fix as much as you can now, so that you have less to fix later.

Step 7: Write full-fledged character sheets on the main characters – both protagonist and antagonist. The writer of this method doesn’t go into too much detail into how to do this other than “full name, birthday, history, etc.” but I would suggest using the Character Profile sheet on the Roundtable Podcast website as a foundation since I know first-hand that it kicks much ass.

Tip: You got it. Go back and fill in more details.

Step 8: Make a spreadsheet of all the scenes from Step 6. In one column, list the POV character, next to it write the general synopsis for the scene. If you want to set goals for each scene, list how many words or pages you’d like to see each scene in an additional column. This way you can go back and have a checklist of each scene (and rearrange them as you write) in case they move depending on the way the story writes.

Don’t get discouraged when the spreadsheet grows to huge numbers. The creator of this method mentions his spreadsheets are often 1,000 lines long.

Step 9: Go back to the word processor and take each scene, writing down ideas for each line in the spreadsheet. Things you’d like to see happen such as cool dialog prompts or a specific disturbing event. If a scene doesn’t have conflict or a climax of some sort, you know right then it’s time to delete the scene or re-write it into something else.

Opinion: Personally, this step seems like overkill. I can understand the spreadsheet for goal markers, but then taking the goals and expounding them to see if they work? No. I’ll fix that in post.

Step 10: Write the first draft. Because of all the pre-work you’ve put into the story already, this step flies into the word processor. The author of the method mentions people complaining about much of the creativity being lost due to the pre-work, however none of the creative juice in physically telling the story has happened. That’s what THIS part is for.

And before this post grows any longer in words, have fun writing! And don’t forget that this isĀ fun!

-Chris

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