What Is the Snowflake Writing Method?

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the snowflake writing method

Writing a novel is hard. No doubt. You might start writing a novel on your son’s first birthday and still be stuck on that desk long after your son’s junior high graduation, writing the same draft from years ago.

For such an intricate and painstaking task, you cannot skip the planning process. For you to craft an awesome novel, a potential bestseller, you need to master and apply a purposeful methodology to your creative process.

Are you a seat-of-the-pants published author? How many books have you published?

My strong guess is, fewer than your potential.

Throw the snowflake technique into your book planning mix and I’m sure you would double your book writing rates.

What Is the Snowflake Method?

The snowflake method is a novel designing technique that is based around a story-building concept that starts with a simplistic deep theme and develops into a complexity, finished novel. The idea is, you start with a simple sentence and transform it into a full-fledged novel.

Although the method was initially developed for designing a novel writing process, you can also use it to write shorter pieces.

Who Created the Snowflake Method?

This method was designed by Randy Ingermanson, a theoretical physicist and award-winning author with six books to his name. For years, Mr. Ingermanson has taught writing techniques to audiences at various writing conferences and publishes a free, online monthly writing E-zine for advanced fiction.

It is understandable that this method has a math background (Randy Ingermanson is a physicist after all). The method shares the building process of a fractal called a Koch snowflake which Randy himself has linked to in one of his articles.

Why You Need to Design Your Novel/Story

More often than not, creative writing springs from spontaneous ideas, so you might be asking yourself, “why can’t I Just Start Writing?”

Because those spontaneous and somewhat fuzzy ideas won’t just merge into a great fiction piece on their own—they will be a lot of holes in the story. Before you can stitch good fiction, you need to have a proven guiding principle in place.

When you handle the designing process before you write your novel, you’ll find that writing that novel is quicker and the final product, better.

designing a story
You need to have a guiding principle in place before you can start to write your novel.

How to Write a Book Using the Snowflake Method [10 Steps]

The snowflake technique follows ten practical steps, which Randy vows will help you design and write a perfect first draft.

To understand the Snowflake writing method, we should understand how The Koch snowflake—the inspiration behind the technique—is built.

I will probably go geeky on you but bear with me. The Koch Snowflake is built up iteratively, in a succession of additive stages. First, there’s an equilateral triangle, then an equilateral triangle is added to each side of this triangle.

koch snowflake
The building process of a Koch Snowflake.

The successive stages involve adding more smaller equilateral triangles to each side of the triangle(s) in the previous stage.

The process is repeated and a snowflake is formed which might increase without bound if successive stages are added.

The process is a bit more intricate than what my condensed version describes, but you get the idea—start with a single simple building block, then expand it to form something comprehensive and tangible.

Here are the steps:

Step #1:  jot down a one-sentence summary of your fiction— Ingermanson recommends an hour max.

This sentence is your novel’s selling point, a spoonful sample of your juice. The sentence is analogous to the first equilateral triangle in the Koch snowflake creation process.

When you want to get your book published or are trying to hook the readers, this sentence will have to get the attention of the novel’s audience.

Ingermanson provided the following tips on how to craft a good sentence:

snowflake writing method step 1
Write a one-sentence summary of your story.
  • Write a short one. Probably 15 words or less.
  • Do not include character names in this sentence; try using descriptions instead.
  • Give the reader the richness of the story without divulging the whole story, describe what the main character is facing and what he or she intends to achieve.
  • Borrow a leaf from bestselling authors by studying their book’s blurbs.

Step #2: Develop the sentence into a broad paragraph that provides a comprehensive description of the story setup, major disasters, and ending of the novel, being mindful of the length of sentences in the paragraph.

Remember the addition of the smaller equilateral triangle to the first triangle in the creation of the Koch fractal? This is like that stage.

snowflake writing method step 2 1
Work around the one-sentence summary and develop it into a broad paragraph.

The creator of the snowflake method divides his book into four equal parts: the first three parts are used to develop the major disasters, and he uses the last part to develop the story’s ending.

That’s his personal preference, you are free to do it your way. If you would like to go with Ingermanson’s way, he recommends writing about five sentences—one sentence having the backdrop and story setup, one sentence for each of the three disasters, and the last sentence has to describe the ending.

Step #3: step 2 provides a bird’s eye view of the novel. Step 3 has to do something similar, only that this time it has to do with building storylines for the characters.

snowflake writing method step 3 1
Focus on your characters and write a summary for each one.

Each of your major characters should have a one-page summary. This summary should contain:

  • The character’s name.
  • A brief wrap-up of the character’s storyline—in a single sentence.
  • The character’s needs/motivation
  • The character’s objective
  • The character’s conflict (what impedes him/her from attaining the goal/objective?)
  • An epiphany (what does the character learn? What changes in him/her?)
  • A wrap-up of this character’s storyline—in one paragraph.

Note: The creative process must be flexible and its elements mutable. If you feel like going to stage one and changing things, it’s perfectly fine. You’re still creating, patching holes in a story that’s just made up of incoherent ideas.

Step #4: By this stage, the story is slowly taking shape. You have to take each sentence of your summary paragraph and develop it into a full paragraph.

snowflake writing method step 4 1
Develop each sentence of your summary paragraph into a full paragraph.

Each and every last paragraph excerpt the last one should end in a disaster. The very last paragraph has to describe the way the book ends.

At the end of the stage, you should have a good skeleton of your book.  You shouldn’t be worried about the length of the paragraph; the idea is to have a set of well-arranged ideas that are starting to make sense.

Step #5: Now you must create “character synopses”; describe the major characters in a full page, and dedicate a half page to each of the other characters.

snowflake writing method step 5
Create character synopses.

In these “character synopses”, you’re telling the story from each character’s point of view. Again, allow yourself some flexibility and go back to the earlier steps to make changes that align with the new dimensions that you might have added to your characters.

Step #6: The story must have become richer by now, with several backstories for the characters. Now, you must go back to step (4) and expand each paragraph from that step into a full page.

snowflake writing method step 6
Expand each paragraph from your summary into a full page.

You know what this means right? There will be new threads that didn’t exist before step 4, so you have to go back and fill in some of the new meats.

Step #7: In step 6, you were expanding paragraphs from step 4. Now, you have to go back to step 3 and expand the details. Character descriptions have to be developed into character charts—describing all the itty bitty things about each of the characters.

snowflake writing method step 7
Go back to step 3 and expand the details about your characters.

Things that you should describe include birthdate, description, history, goal, et cetera. You should also include the changes the character will undergo by the end of the story.

Once again, revisions will have to be made to all the previous steps. It’s during this stage that your story’s characters come to life. They might even want to change the story themselves, do not ignore them, just change whatever they demand you to change—after all, they are the owners of the story.

Step #8:  This step involves making a list of all the scenes in your story, using a spreadsheet.

snowflake writing method step 8
Create a spreadsheet to outline your characters’ POV and scene descriptions.

If you ever thought that all you needed in your writing career was the good ol’ MS Word, think again.

This step actually requires you to understand or learn spreadsheets—which is a pretty easy thing if you ask me.

Use the four-page plot outline you made in step 2 to make a spreadsheet that provides one-line descriptions of scenes in your novel.

Make one column for the POV character and another relatively wide column for the description of the scene.

When you are finished with filling the two columns, you can add a third column for assigning chapter numbers to each of the described scenes.

Once you have filled the columns, you will have a better vantage point of the whole storyline, and you can rearrange the scenes to make a storyline that makes sense to you.

Step #9: Ingermanson says that this step is optional.  Anyway, it might still be useful.

snowflake writing method step 9
Take the scenes from your spreadsheet to a word processor and develop them into a full-page descriptions.

What you do is copy the scenes from the spreadsheet and take them to a word processor to expand it to full page descriptions of the scenes.

This is where you start being creative with your dialogue and add conflicts to the scenes, if you think the conflicts are going to ginger the soup.

Step #10: Now, the time is ripe for you to start stitching the first draft of your novel. Having patched up a lot of major holes during the last 9 steps, you will find out that there are some minute scene-specific details that you have to address. But, having dealt with the major details before starting to write the first draft, you’ll find that you’re better off than a writer who hasn’t planned his novel.

snowflake writing method step 10
After doing the 9 steps, it’s time to write your first draft!

For you, it won’t be difficult figuring out how “Luigi eludes state police after he goes on the run”—you already know he has someone on the inside.

You planned that already.

You can still go back to fix the design document, because you’re still creating, and there are a lot of elements in the story that can adopt new dynamics.

Ways to Use the Snowflake Writing Method

When You Are Struggling with Your Novel: sometimes you write an unplanned and terribly bland first draft of your novel. If you are desperate to resuscitate this story, you can summarize your story in one sentence—sort of initiate step (1) of the Snowflake. If that clarifies the story, you can initiate the next few steps of the Snowflake writing method. You never know what masterpiece was hidden under that rubble. Plus, you have got nothing to lose; after all, you already know that the first draft was horrible.

When Your First Draft Needs an Extra Oomph: so, you finally finished the first draft of your novel. It isn’t horrible, but now that doesn’t feel like a manuscript of a potential bestseller. Some parts need rewriting and some parts need some sugar added.

Think about what your novel’s about. Try to a 15-word blurb; what would you say your story is all about? Imagine you’re speaking to a book editor or an amazon reader.

If you come up with those 15 words, you’ve just completed Step 1 of the Snowflake. Try out the subsequent steps to see whether the method can fix your manuscript.

When Your Editor Piles a Heap of Corrections On You: let’s imagine you get an email from your editor telling you that there are mounds of things that you got wrong with your draft. Now your head is all swelled up, thinking about how you are going to make all the recommended changes before the given deadline—which is fast approaching.

Is it time to evoke the magic of the Snowflake method? Yes!

Start implementing the steps, and by the end of step (9), you will see clarity in the parts that need fixing. You can then use the map created by the snowflake method to make the revisions and add some patching parts.

Benefits of Using the Snowflake Method

#1.  Helps You Find and Describe Your Story’s Core theme

When a story idea pops up in your brain, there are a lot of things that just float around in your brain. No coherence, no core theme, or moral.

The Snowflake method helps you figure out what you want your story to tell and communicate to the readers.

#2. It’s a Time-Saving Novel Writing Hack

The snowflake method will save you a lot of time, I assure you.

That’s because all the important details are covered way before you start writing. When you start writing the draft, you only think about writing itself rather than what will happen next in the story; hence you write quickly.

#3. Gives Your Story a Steady Substructure

Since your story has a core theme and a central message, it becomes a story with a strong foundation. The snowflake technique gives your story a stable core because it pressures you to start your story with a foundation. The sentence that the technique always forces you to start with—the theme of your story—is the steady base that a story built using the snowflake method will always have.

#4. Ideal for Large Volumes of Work

Using the snowflake method, a bulky project can be broken down into manageable steps that can be turned into realistic daily writing goals. The Snowflake method can help you revive those writing projects which had no hope of one day meeting the reader’s eyes.

With the snowflake method’s systematic way of writing, large literary works become less intimidating because this writing scheme is designed in such a way that you build the story slowly but steadily, piece by piece.

My Final Thoughts…

So what I’m saying? Is it the best writing method?

I think it is.

Will it work for you? It might.

Look, it’s not a magic bullet, but it surely will help you craft a masterpiece—faster.

If you haven’t used it before, trying it out isn’t such a bad idea. After all, what have you got to lose?

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.