I’m a pantser, not a plotter. I do a kind of vague outline for the series as a whole and the individual books. I’ve got a ton of tools, notecards, and a dry erase board that I use when I’m brainstorming the story, but for the most part, once I start writing, I just plow through until I’m finished, then go back in revisions and fix all the inconsistencies. I know the major plot points going in, but not much between.
But when I started writing Aphrodite Book 3 (I really need to come up with a name for it), I knew I needed to do something different. When I revised Aphrodite, most of her character arc that I had planned for her entire trilogy ended up in the first book. And almost every scene with Ares had dialogue taken directly from book two. Book two was pretty much gutted, and that’s fine. It made Aphrodite a much stronger book. But that meant that I had to completely change book two to suite a character who was in a wildly different place than I’d imagined her starting and a romance that was way further along than I intended it to be.
Revisions for Love and War are still ongoing and since it’s a middle book, any change in the sequence of events or characters is going to equal massive reverberations to book three. So when I turned in Love and War and tried to get started on Book 3, I found myself stuck. I know the major events. Those aren’t going to change. But how the characters get there, that’s in flux. But deadline wise, I can’t just not work on it until Love and War goes through revisions. Plus, it’s a process that goes both ways. While I’m writing I might have a revelation about a character that I want to plant seeds for in book two.
I’ve been using the template since the first of April, and I’ve made some great strides. Part of that is because in writer land, anything new and exciting that gets you writing is a good thing. The rest is the fact that this method rocks. The best thing is, as I’m going through and figuring things out, I’m not just making changes to my outline, I’m making notes to focus on in the revisions of Love and War. So this has really helped me flesh out some of my background characters a lot more and given me a lot of ideas for how the plot can progress while still leaving me a lot of flexibility to make changes without having to gut my entire novel.
I’m going to be talking about this template over the next few weeks.There are ten steps to the snow flake method, so I’m going to go ahead and start with step 1.
Step 1: Take an hour to come up with a one sentence summary of your story. Here’s the guidelines offered on advanced fiction writing.
- Shorter is better. Try for fewer than 15 words.
- No character names, please! Better to say “a handicapped trapeze artist” than “Jane Doe”.
- Tie together the big picture and the personal picture. Which character has the most to lose in this story? Now tell me what he or she wants to win.
- Read the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list to learn how to do this. Writing a one-sentence description is an art form.
You’re going to want to take the whole hour to tweak the words and really think it through. I promise you as a frequent writer of query letters, do this before you write the book. It’s so much easier to expand on an idea then it is to shrink one. Even if you don’t use the snowflake method, you’re going to want a ten second summary.
Also, know that this will change as you go through the snowflake method and the actual writing of your book.
Now I’d love to share the one line summary for book three, but since book two isn’t out yet, I’ll refrain.
Aphrodite’s one line summary using the snowflake method would have looked something like this.
When demigods start going missing under mysterious circumstances, a gorgeous goddess investigates with help from the one man immune to her charm. (22)
But that’s too many words. So let’s cut under mysterious circumstances, because if they’re missing, the circumstances are already pretty mysterious. And start is a filter word and I don’t mention the setting, so I’m going to try this.
When demigods go missing, a gorgeous goddess boards a cruise to investigate with the help of the one man immune to her charms.(23)
Still too many words. I know the fifteen word thing isn’t set in stone, but focusing on that word count while trying to get the gist of the story in it is really helpful to my thinking process.
A gorgeous goddess boards a cruise ship to investigate missing demigods with help from the one man immune to her charm. (21)
A goddess boards a cruise to investigate missing demigods with help from the one man immune to her charm. (19)
Still too long and too abrupt. Maybe the cruise isn’t as important.
When demigods go missing, a goddess investigates with the help of the one man immune to her charm. (18)
A goddess investigates missing demigods with help from the one man immune to her charm. (15).
It’s still not perfect, but through this exercise I’d figured out three things that were super important to me in telling this story. Demigods are missing. A goddess is looking for them. She’s joined by a guy she can’t charm. And she’s on a cruise ship. If I take the rest of my hour, I can probably work the cruise in somehow, but that book has already been published, and I think I’ve made my point.
This is a really good exercise to help you think through the most important base components of the story. And playing with the words in a small, unthreatening chunk gets your brain working on the plot.
Plus it’s fun. Can you summarize what you’re working on in a 15 word sentence? If you’re not working on anything, how would YOU summarize Aphrodite in 15 words? What were your biggest takeaways from the novel?