You are not…: Examining “Snowflake”

Yesterday I was talking about finding the middle ground between plot outlines and writing by the seat of your pants, and during some research I discovered something called the Snowflake Method. I promised to come back here and take a look at it, and here I am. Aren’t you just lucky?

The basis of the Snowflake approach is that it’s all about design. The creator, Randy Ingermanson, has essentially taken an engineer’s approach to novel-writing by breaking plots down using the same method that he used for software development. I admit, I balked at the concept at first. “Who is this software engineer to tell me how to craft novels?”

But then I actually read his Ten Steps of Design and the philosophy behind them and realized that, not only did he have a pretty good basis for creating those steps, those steps actually reflect a lot of what I already do. I don’t want to pull too much traffic from the guy’s site, as that’s not what I’m here to do at all, but here is the rationale behind his method:

 But before you start writing, you need to get organized. You need to put all those wonderful ideas down on paper in a form you can use. Why? Because your memory is fallible, and your creativity has probably left a lot of holes in your story — holes you need to fill in before you start writing your novel. You need a design document

The ten steps take the story from an initial pitch-style sentence for the core concept of the novel (this is what I sometimes start with; sometimes it’s a scene that’s been in the back of my mind like an itch I just can’t reach) and turn it into a paragraph describing setup, roadblocks, and targeted ending. That moves onto the characters and, by the end of the first week or so, the theory is that you’ll know if the story is broken and needs work. You then continue to expand on what you’ve already created, adding sentences to the paragraph, and more description of the characters.

He also predicates his story structure on having “three major disasters and an ending”, which is just a good a structure as any, I suppose, and a pretty simple way to build enough of a story to entertain the reader. It’s something for me to consider in the future, I suppose.

He goes on to advocate using it not only for just starting out on a novel, but also trying to resurrect a horrible first draft and get to work on a novel rewrite. I have to admit I’m considering using it for the former, as I have a 75% finished novel from a few years back that could use a good rewrite and then be issued.

Oh, being a software engineer, he has also written a piece of software for the purpose of following the snowflake method, but I definitely balk at the price, as it’s $100 without a discount for buying Fiction Writing for Dummies and $50 with that purchase (effectively $65 or so,  depending on where you get the Dummies book). Compare that to Scrivener, which I am currently test-driving, which will be about $40 once the Windows version is ready to go.  It’s just hard to justify that kind of purchase when the process is rather easy to follow on your own.

Overall, though, I like the process, and it seems like a good hybrid between outlining and writing by the seat-of-your-pants. It gives you enough to get started, but doesn’t require you to go overboard with plotting every single move. I tried to stay safely non-specific about some of this stuff because, well, I can understand. I’ve put a lot of work into my own writing process and if I was going to market it, I’d at least want other writers to direct traffic to it. I’d definitely recommend at least checking out the article and seeing if it’s for you, though; I’m going to incorporate some of the stuff that I liked into my 0wn process.

Okay, so the second part of what I wanted to talk about today comes courtesy of, yet again, the Art of War for Writers (have I pumped this book enough yet?). In the book, he suggests viewing your writing as a business and, as such, having a basic business plan and set of goals. Not just for the basis of trying to be businesslike, though it helps I’m sure, but to help narrow your focus and understand just what it is that will help you to achieve your goals. It struck me because I’m kind of reaching that point in my own career. I’ve had an explosion of ideas and concepts, and I see so many paths that I could follow.

One of the most interesting suggestions in the book is to envision yourself ten years from now and imagine what you would want to see looking backwards at your career from this moment. Don’t be afraid to dream too big or crazy – it’s just a general map of where you want to go. He also suggests getting as specific as possible, looking not just for general stuff like “be the published author of X mystery novels” but also “these novels reflect my view on human nature”, etc. There was a time that I would have hated the concept, but today I love it. I’m going to start putting it together very soon, in fact, and will probably post it here.

Last item of business is that I think the sequel for Corridors of the Dead – City of the Dead – is beginning to percolate up from my subconscious. For the last few weeks I’ve had this scene of a man in a sword fight with another man on a snowy plain, and one of the men is suddenly cut down by something from behind. I wasn’t sure what at first. Then other details started to fill in, such as the identity of the unseen killer. Why they were out there in the first place. Etc. Only in the last few days did I start to figure out the identity of the protagonist in the scene, and the purpose for which I was seeing it. Now the elements of the sequel are starting to fall into place nicely, and this scene provides a good method to start the sequel by hitting the ground running. The best part is that I have time to develop other scenes in the novel in the same organic fashion, as Entanglements stands between now and City of the Dead. Still, I’m excited. I think it’s going to be a good one, and that’s all you can really ask for.

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