The Snowflake Method Master Post

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about each step of the Snowflake Method, with examples of how I’ve used it in my own work. I’m really excited about drafting this way, and it’s been very helpful with Aphrodite book 3.

Here’s all the posts I’ve written on the topic. But first…

Check out The Snowflake Method Website. Read about the method from the man who created it, Randy Ingermanson, himself. A much more concise guide.

And if you have Scrivener, check out these templates built with the snowflake method in mind.

Here’s a few great articles on the snowflake method as well.

Now for my blogs on each step.

Step 1– Write a one sentence summary of your book.

Step 2– Expand that sentence to a paragraph

Step 3– Write a one page summary of each character

Step 4– Expand each sentence in your one paragraph summary to one page

Step 5– Write the synopsis from the POV of each character.

Step 6– Expand each paragraph from your one page summary to a page

Step 7– Create full fledged character charts detailing each character’s arc over the story.

Step 8– Make a spreadsheet outline of each scene based on your four page summary

Step 9– Write a narrative summary of each scene

Step 10– Write that good book.

 

Write that good book

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The final step of the Snowflake Method is to sit down and write the book. By this point, you should know what’s happening in each scene and where each character is development wise. I go through draft by draft, trying to do at minimum a chapter a day. The first draft started super detailed, with nearly complete chapters filled with dialogue, but as the book wore on, the draft got more and more rough as I’d recognize things my outline hadn’t accounted for or places the creative process took over. I’d go back to the appropriate chapters before and make notes to make the changes next draft, then forge on a head. The further I got into the book, the less stable the draft was because at a certain point, everything relies on what comes first. I found myself doing a lot less actual dialogue and opposition and more “And then this thing happens so that happened” summaries between the dialogue and narrative I knew had to be in the scene.

But I had a first draft within a month.

The second draft I focused much more on characters. Because my story is told in dual points of view via first person narrators, I have to take special care that my characters voices never muddle in their POV chapters. I also have to make sure they only know what they know. And I need to make sure the story from their POV is a complete arc without the other POV. The other POV should enhance their story, add detail, but not tell it if that makes sense.

So for draft two, instead of starting chapter 1,2,3 and working my way to the end, I wrote chapters 1, 3, 5, 7, all the way until the end. Once finished with a character, I read through their story, making notes of what needs to be expanded in the other POV and making sure it reads smoothly. Then I took it through writers group and made notes of points where they got confused based on information missing from the other half of the story and made sure to flag those points by making sure either my character was also lost or the scene needed to clarify that section for the first character was really well laid out in the second character’s pov.

Then I did the same thing for the second POV.

This process took a little over a month, but mostly because there were parts where I had to wait on input from others. This draft got rid of all summary and shifted the entire book into story mode. By the time I finished this draft (it’s really more of a combined draft 2,  3, and 4 because I go over it 3 times. First while writing it, then while reviewing it for smoothness, then  to make changes based on feedback), I was ready to send it to my editor for content edits. The story goes through two sets of content edits with my publisher, so while I wait to hear back from them, I take it through my writers group in 5,000 word chunks for draft 5. This is by far the longest lasting draft time wise.

Why go through writers group again? I’ve found the more eyes on a story the better. 90% of the time they’re flagging the same things my editor does, but that 10% of the time they catch some random inconsistency or say “hey, wait, I’m confused. Why doesn’t she just xyz” can make or break the story.

This is my favorite part of the whole process. The story just gets better with every draft. And the snowflake method made the earliest part of the process, what’s generally the hardest for me, much, much, much better.

How’s it worked out for you?

Writing an Outline in Narrative Description

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Step nine of the Snowflake Method is to go through each scene you created for the outline, and write a narrative description of what is going to happen in that scene, adding in any dialogue or partially written bits you come up with along the way.

A lot of people skip this step, but for me it’s very important. This is kind of my ultimate, get organized step. I go through the four page summary and pull all the information that has to be in that scene. Then I go through all the paragraph summaries for every character and note what they are doing in the scene, and if they aren’t in the scene what they are doing off screen during the scene, because even if they aren’t present, they still exist.

This is a fantastic way of making sure all the character timelines match up while plugging in all the threads for each subplot and character arc before I get started. As I’m writing that paragraph per scene of x happens and y happens, I often think of something that would have to happen first or would happen as a result of this, click back to my outline, and add it in to the appropriate scene. So a lot of my plot adjustments and practicalities happen before I even start officially writing the story.

This also comes in handy for summarizing my story for my editor or writers group.

This is also a great place to throw your story on the Story Grid, then go through and make sure each scene has all the essential elements to a scene in these summaries before you start writing. This is also a great place to apply the hero’s journey and the Save the Cat structure. You can look at each scene and determine where it fits in literally any plot structure you follow.

The biggest thing this step does for me is defeats the fear of a blank page. When I sit down and start actually writing out the scene, I know exactly what is supposed to go here, and bits of it are already written. It makes it much faster. And it doesn’t kill the creative flow of the story because it takes nothing to click back and adjust the scenes as I go.

Here’s an example:

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Outlining

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Step eight of the Snowflake Method is to break that four page summary down line by line into the scenes needed to tell that story, and turn those into a spreadsheet outline. Use one line from each scene.

Make just one line for each scene. In one column, list the POV character. In another (wide) column, tell what happens. If you want to get fancy, add more columns that tell you how many pages you expect to write for the scene.

Lost? Scrivener does this really well in a nifty setting called Outliner.

I was nervous about doing this part of the snowflake, because I hate spreadsheets. But now that it’s done, I can see how valuable it is as I move into writing the first draft. I did it just like Mr. Ingermanson (the snowflake guy) said. I took each line of the four page synopsis and tried to figure out what kind of scenes were necessary to tell that part of the story. Then I divided up the scenes into chapters and put them in folders labeled chapter 1, 2, 3, ect.

Here’s an example from Book 3 of the Aphrodite trilogy.

Major spoiler warning since book 2 isn’t even out yet.

Here’s a paragraph of the four page outline.

(1)Aphrodite stranded herself on the island of the DAMNED despite being unable to communicate with the gods or having any access to her own powers. She’s fished out of the water by the demigods and thrown into a hospital room with Adonis, presumably for a check up, but there are guards at the door.

Scene wise this breaks down as follows:

Aphrodite finds herself stranded on the island of the DAMNED. I’m going ahead and including her being fished out of the water here rather than the next scene, because the setting changes after she’s fished out of the water, so that’s a natural break.

Scene 2 is her being thrown into a hospital room with Adonis and discovering guards at the door.

Now, I have duel points of view going on, so my second paragraph focuses on my second POV character. Meaning Aphrodite’s scene 1 doesn’t happen first in the book.

Here’s what that looks like in spread sheet form.

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I’ve grouped these two scenes into a chapter. In bold, you have the brief description of the scenes. Beneath that you have the lines from the four page summary summarizing what’s happening in the scene. The next column says who the POV character is for the scene. The next column tells me who is in the scene. Next column is setting, and what day it is in the story. That’s for my benefit, because I need to keep track of my timeline. Scrivener also tells me how many words I’ve written in each scene and what draft I’m in. You may find you need more or less columns based on your style and the demands of the story.

As book 2 goes through edits that impact book 3, it’s easy for me to go through and adjust this outline. I can see it all in a glance, I can make the changes quick and easy, and when I write the actual scenes, I know exactly what needs to happen in each scene.

Now, I’m a discovery writer by nature, so when I’m writing, my characters tend to surprise me. Or I think of some amazing plot gem that changes everything. It’s super easy to click back to the outline and note the adjustments that need to be made and pinpoint any already written scenes that need to be adjusted beyond outline mode.

One thing that is not happening is a major problem I used to have. I’m never opening my word processor and going, “Okay, I know what just happened, and what has to happen in a few chapters, but how do I get there.” I’ve already figured that out, slowly in a painless process. Will it change, absolutely. But I don’t have anymore days just staring and wondering what to write anymore.

 

 

 

 

Writing on Wednesday: The Snowflake Step 7

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Step seven of the snowflake method cycles back to characters and create full fledged character charts for each character. I actually flip-flopped this step and step five when I snowflake. I did the charts first, then did the one-page synopsis of their version of events. But that’s just me.

There are a ton of character charts you can download to give templates. The important things to remember to include history, motivation,  goal, and how the character will change by the end of the novel. Some of those you should have from step three, but this is your chance to expand. All the appearance stuff is going to vary based on the author. You can get as in depth or shallow as you like. I tend to hit hair, eye, and skin color, build, and distinguishing features. I also do habits, mannerism, and personality. These descriptors help me to say consistent and help me see the character.

Here’s an example of a character chart from the third book in the Aphrodite trilogy. I’m leaving off the history, motivation, ect to avoid spoilers. Those would be in paragraph form.

 

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Habits/Mannerisms:
Rocking on her feet, pushing her hair behind her ears, biting her lip, twirling
flowers
Likes/Dislikes:
Hades, her friends, doctor who, anime, plant life. She doesn’t like horror movies,
getting sweaty, getting talked down to, or being in the dark.

The main template comes from Belinda Crawford here: http://belindacrawford.com/2012/12/27/5-more-scrivener-templates/

I made some adjustments to the character sheet, which you can check out here. Character Sketch

 

 

 

Writing on Wednesday: Snowflake Step 6

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For step six of the snowflake method, you return to the one page plot synopsis and expand it into a four page synopsis. To do that, take each paragraph in your one page synopsis and expand it to one page. This is a great place to let all the frustration you might have felt trying to boil the novel down to one page release. Here you can add many of the details.

I’m not going to post my four page summary for Persephone here, because spoilers, and hello, space. But since I’ve already shown how I expanded one line into one paragraph, I can show that one paragraph’s expanse into a page. I’m going to be doing the second sentence/paragraph because paragraph/page one would basically be background and set up, and that’s a bit easier to come by.

Spoiler warning for Persephone ahead.

Sentence 2 from one paragraph summary: When Boreas, the god of Winter, attempts to whisk her away to a not so winter wonderland, she’s rescued by Hades and offered refuge in the Underworld.

Paragraph 2 from one page summary: Persephone thinks her mom has lost her mind. She runs away to her friends house only to discover that her best friend is also in on the secret. Before Persephone can process that they might actually be telling the truth, she’s attacked by a season. Boreas, the god of winter, has his eye on Persephone and now he wants to whisk her away to a not so winter wonderland. She’s rescued from the serial rapist by Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and offered refuge in the Underworld until the end of winter. The catch? He has to marry her to take her there.

So now, do the same thing. Break this paragraph down into sentences and turn each of those sentences into a paragraph. So let’s do that with Persephone thinks her mom has lost her mind.

Persephone’s mom starts spouting off insanity about being the goddess Demeter and Persephone herself being a daughter of Zeus. Assuming her mom is hysterical, Persephone plays along by asking logical questions to get her mom to realize how crazy she sounds so she’ll snap out of it. But when her mother answers her questions with a deadly certainty, Persephone realizes her mother legitimately believes they are gods. Persephone is considering googling the local mental hospital when her mother starts talking about taking Persephone’s priestess and best friend and skipping town. That’s when Persephone realizes her mother’s delusions could turn dangerous.

This progresses neatly into paragraph two. Persephone runs away to Melissa’s house to warn her, and discovers Melissa was already in on the secret. Now could the above sentence be better? Absolutely. I could use the word when about a billion times less. The construction isn’t great. If I ever sent that paragraph as part of an expanded synopsis in a query package, I’d absolutely go over it and smooth it out. But for my drafting purposes it tells me Persephone’s feelings and the events that are happening sequentially. Writing a scene from the information in that paragraph would be easy. It’s just more expanding.

Tune in next week for more of the snowflake!

 

 

 

 

Writing on Wednesday: The Snowflake Step 5

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Step five of the snowflake method is to write a character synopsis for each character in the book. Major characters get one page, minor get half a page. This builds on step three. To get the most out of this part of the snowflake, I suggest writing each one from the character’s point of view, as if they were recapping events. This help builds the character’s voice and tells you really useful things like what minor characters were doing while they were off screen for major chunks of the book. This step right here was probably the most useful step in drafting Aphrodite 3–Untitled, because I had so many characters to keep track of and their different interpretation on events impacted the plot in a big way.

Here’s an example of a character synopsis from a fairly minor character in Aphrodite 3– Untitled. I’m only including the first two paragraphs to avoid spoilers, but this should give you an idea.

Now, this is not my best writing ever, or particularly good. This drafting was purely for my benefit, so it hasn’t been polished or made pretty.

~@~

I have nothing against Persephone as a person, but I don’t trust her as a leader. I advise her, push her, and outright bully her to take a more extreme stance against the demigods, sensing her hesitation to do anything that could endanger Hades or make her responsible for lost lives. I thought she was being weak.

When I meet up with Aphrodite and Medea in the dreamscape, I give Aphrodite advice and am pleased to see how far she’s come, though she still has Persephone up on a pedestal. Even Poseidon seems to worship the very ground Persephone walks on. I also get a feel for Medea and realize she’s a very broken, very unstable young girl. But I think we can help her. Furthermore, I think we should……

 

 

Writing on Wednesday: One Page Summary

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The fourth step of the snowflake method is to turn your one paragraph summary into a one page summary and it’s ridiculously easy.

See, if you’re anything like me, you felt like your one paragraph summary didn’t capture enough of the story and you’ve been itching to fix it. Well now’s your chance.

To do this step, take each sentence in your one paragraph summary and expand it into a paragraph.

Here was my one paragraph summary for Persephone:

Persephone thought she was just a typical, modern day teenager until she realized she was being stalked by a season.When Boreas, the god of Winter, attempts to whisk her away to a not so winter wonderland, she’s rescued by Hades and offered refuge in the Underworld.
Unable to physically reach Persephone in the Underworld, Boreas begins going after her through her dreams. When Persephone learns to defend her mind from the deranged ice god, he kidnaps Persephone’s best friend and threatens to kill her unless Persephone agrees to take her place. In a desperate bid to save her friend, Persephone embraces her power as a goddess and succeeds in killing the god of winter, only to learn an even larger danger is lurking closer to home than she had ever imagined.

Now break it down by sentence.

Sentence 1: Persephone thought she was just a typical, modern day teenager until she realized she was being stalked by a season.

Paragraph 1: Persephone thought she was just a typical, modern day teenager until strange things started happening around her. Girls are snarky with jealousy, water turns to ice whenever she’s around, her best friend is acting like she’s hiding something from her, and her car was nearly blown off the road by a freak ice storm in the middle of Atlanta. But it isn’t until a guy tries to drag her out of her mother’s flower shop, screaming that she’s a daughter of Zeus that her mother finally fesses up.

Persephone’s a goddess.

Sentence 2: When Boreas, the god of Winter, attempts to whisk her away to a not so winter wonderland, she’s rescued by Hades and offered refuge in the Underworld.

Paragraph 2: Persephone thinks her mom has lost her mind. She runs away to her friends house only to discover that her best friend is also in on the secret. Before Persephone can process that they might actually be telling the truth, she’s attacked by a season. Boreas, the god of winter, has his eye on Persephone and now he wants to whisk her away to a not so winter wonderland. She’s rescued from the serial rapist by Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and offered refuge in the Underworld until the end of winter. The catch? He has to marry her to take her there.

Sentence 3: Unable to physically reach Persephone in the Underworld, Boreas begins going after her through her dreams.

Paragraph 3: But marriage doesn’t mean much among the gods, and Hades doesn’t seem interested in the profoundly younger goddess. Persephone gets to know the residents of the Underworld and discovers the place isn’t the epicenter of doom and gloom that she’d been imagining. And Hades isn’t so bad himself. She’s just starting to get the hang of the whole Underworld Queen thing when Boreas attacks her in her dreams.

Sentence 4: When Persephone learns to defend her mind from the deranged ice god, he kidnaps Persephone’s best friend and threatens to kill her unless Persephone agrees to take her place.

Paragraph 4: Hades realizes the younger goddess has no clue how to protect herself or use her powers, so he takes it upon himself to teach her. The more she learns, the closer they grow. Meanwhile, Boreas is rapidly running out of winter, so in a last ditch effort to get his hands on Persephone, he kidnaps Persephone’s best friend, threatening to kill her unless Persephone turns herself over to the deranged ice god.

Sentence 5: In a desperate bid to save her friend, Persephone embraces her power as a goddess and succeeds in killing the god of winter, only to learn an even larger danger is lurking closer to home than she had ever imagined.

Paragraph 5: Despite Hades’s protests, Persephone leaves the safety of the Underworld and faces down the god of winter, determined to save her friend and find out why he’s so obsessed with getting his hands on her. She discovers Boreas is working for Zeus, her father. Persephone succeeds in destroying the ice god, but at great cost. Her best friend is killed in the cross fire. Persephone makes a deal with a Reaper to restore her friends soul and inadvertently locks herself into a promise to keep his shady dealings from Hades. Since gods can’t lie, her promise is binding, and it isn’t until after she makes the deal that she discovers the reaper is working for Zeus and the Underworld is in more danger than she ever could have imagined.

Put it all together and that’s a pretty decent one page summary of Persephone. Is it the greatest summary ever written? No.But it’s considerably more comprehensive then what I sent out in my query letters. If Persephone weren’t already out in the world, I’d spend many more hours polishing this summary into a better reflection of the book. (I’m really proud of my book 6 one page summary, but alas, spoilers). But as an example of how a single paragraph might expand into a page, this works.

Even if you don’t use the snowflake method to outline, this has changed the way I look at my one paragraph and one page summaries for query letters. It’s worth it for that alone. And I haven’t even gotten to the good parts yet.

More on Characters next week.

Writing on Wednesday: Snowflake, step 3

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The third step in the snowflake method has to do with characters. The snowflake website says to do this step for each of the main characters, but I do it for all of the named characters in my book who have more than two or three lines of dialogue.

For each character take an hour and write the following:

  • The character’s name
  • A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?
  • A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

This step, particularly the one paragraph summary of the character’s storyline is really helpful to me, because I have so many moving pieces that it’s important that I know what each character has been doing in the background during all the events of the story. Even if they don’t appear “on screen,” knowing what they’ve been up to, why they’ve been up to it, and what conflicts they’re facing helps flesh them out.

Here’s what step 3 looks like for me in scrivener.

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Writing on Wednesday: The Snowflake Method

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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.

So, I’ve decided to try something new. The Snowflake Method. Click the link there and read all about it, and if you have scrivener, download this template. Trust me, you’ll thank me.

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?