Continuing Education 2: The Snowflake Method
Randy Ingermanson (right) is well known as The Snowflake Guy. With his off-beat sense of humor, some might think he’s flakey instead of snow-flakey, but what lurks behind that humble, jovial exterior is a brilliant mind. Who else would think of using a mathematical pattern to write a novel?
Randy calls his Snowflake Method “designing your novel.” This doesn’t make you more creative or write the novel for you, but it will help you organize before you write and analyze what you have written. A win/win.
Randy doesn’t push “one right way” to be a writer. He celebrates our differences. Therefore, pantsers can Snowflake their way out of a sagging middle after it is written, while plotters can create outlines quicker. And those plotsers? They can just use the parts that work for them.
The Snowflake Method works for pantsers, plotters, and plotsers—just use the parts that work for how you work.
Randy began by explaining the Koch snowflake—a real snowflake made of simple triangles turned in different ways as the design becomes increasingly complex. He made the leap to novel writing by noting that a novel begins with a central idea (the triangle in the Koch snowflake) and then expands on that idea, adding more ideas (triangles) until the book is written.
Two parts to the process
- Creation involves inventing what does not exist, which can be unpredictable and chaotic and cannot be taught.
- Analysis includes breaking down what already exists, which is orderly and predictable and what Randy teaches with the Snowflake method.
- The one-sentence summary or selling tool: It should be short (about 15 words) and should tie together the big picture with the personal picture. Example: “A lonely high school girl discovers the boy she has a crush on is a vampire.” Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.
- The one-paragraph summary: One sentence sets the story up and is followed by one sentence for each of the three main disasters. Add one more sentence for the end. This one-paragraph summary guarantees you have good sound story structure.
- The character summary: A book is not about plot. It’s about characters. Write a one-sentence summary of the character’s private story line (step one). Write down the character’s values, ambitions, goals, conflicts, and epiphanies and you’ll have a one-paragraph summary (step two).
- Write a one-page synopsis: Expand each sentence in Step 2 into its own paragraph. You’ll have a one-page synopsis by simply expanding the ideas already in your story.
- Write character synopses: Write a full-page description of each character using what you learned in Step 3. Tell the story from that character’s POV. This is great to include in a proposal.
- Write a four-page synopsis: Expand Step 4 to four pages. Each paragraph in Step 4 expands into a page allowing you to make large strategic decisions.
- Write character charts: Write several pages and express all you know about your character. The more detail, the greater depth of the character.
- Sketch out the scenes: Use an Excel spread sheet—one row for each scene and one column for each aspect of the scene. For those panicked by spreadsheets, Randy gives Nike advice: “Just do it!”
- Write a long synopsis (optional): Expand each scene to several paragraphs. Use this to jot down all you need to include in that scene including the setting, characters involved, and the conflict.
- Write: Write your first draft with Randy’s assurance that you will be amazed both at how quickly the story comes together, as well as its depth.
(After Step 7, if you’re a published writer, you could move straight to your proposal.)
The best thing about this CE track is that we not only learned about the method, Randy made sure we applied it in a fun and memorable way.
First, he gave us examples of each step from both classic and modern literature and then he put audience members on the “hot seat” to discuss aspects of our WIPs. We worked on one sentence summaries and figured out motivations for our characters. His teaching made learning the Snowflake Method an unforgettable experience.