Monday, December 14, 2015

Epic Literature and Superheroes

Stephen King once said that he wrote The Stand out of his desire to write an epic comparable to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Dune is one of the greatest epics in science fiction literature. I love all of these books and the idea of epic literature in unfamiliar settings.

I have often wondered if there's a place in literature for an epic story about superheroes. I believe the world of comic books have given us plenty of epic storylines, but I'm more interested in a fat novel. Is there a place for a sprawling, original work of epic fiction about superheroes? Something that contains the common elements of epic stories like Dune, LOTR, and The Stand? Something that will stand the test of time, be taught in classrooms, and become part of our collective consciousness?

I would SO like to write something like that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How I'm Using the Snowflake Method for my Christmas Story

The Problem

I'm writing a story. I've put in a few hours already, and I'm up to about 2500 words, but I'm still in the beginning. This is a problem because I'm used to writing very short stories and I still have a lot more story to go. This overwhelmed me.
I was overwhelmed.

What's Different

When I wrote those stories before, I knew ahead of time that I was going to keep them short. Sometimes I had a specific word count target, sometimes I had a general word count target, sometimes I just had a distinct understanding of how long it should take the story to be told. This time, however, I don't have any of that. I'm writing a parody of stories like Divergent and The Hunger Games, so I've got a clear understanding of the big events and tropes of the story. I'm also refraining from limiting the size of the story. I'm going to let it be whatever it needs to be. 

A side effect of this is, compared to my more recent projects, I'm doing a lot of writing but not getting very far. I was quite aware that this is to be expected, but I still felt like I was drowning.

It was like I was drowning in too much story.

The Snowflake Method

While doing the Writers Digest Platform Challenge in October, I ran across the article, "The Snowflake Method For Designing A Novel" by Randy Ingermanson, Ph.D. This article described an iterative approach to writing a novel. You begin with a single sentence describing what the story is about, then a paragraph fleshing out those ideas, then several paragraphs describing your characters, and eventually adding more and more levels of complexity until you end up with a novel. From a graphical perspective, Ingermanson describes the single-sentence step as a triangle, while the final product has become exponentially more complex at each side, resulting in a snowflake design.

Ingermanson's Snowflake Illustration

When I saw this the first time, I suspected this might be helpful for me since I have a bad habit of starting really cool writing projects, only to abandon them out of a sense of fatigue when the logistics of tracking details become too much for me to handle.

Where I Am Now

In one sitting, I went through the first two steps of the Snowflake Method--the one-sentence summary and the one-paragraph summary--and got knee deep into the third step, which fleshes out characters in detail by giving them their own one-sentence summary, motivations, goals, challenges, epiphanies, and ultimately a one-paragraph summary.

Before I started using the method, I had a clear understanding of what my story was going to do, but not much of an understanding of why. Now, I know the major players much better. I understand where the story is going next and why it feels like the beginning is taking so long to write (this is ok, it's not going to be a Very Short Story). Best yet, I have a much better understanding of how I'm going to tackle most of the big chunks of the story.

I'm looking forward to investigating the subsequent steps of the Snowflake Method. From what I can tell, it's really going to help me stay focused and not get lost in the details. This story might not be a novel in the end, but the principals behind this method still apply.

Then there's the fact that the story is a Christmas story. And I'm using the Snowflake Method to write it. Snow's usually associated with Christmas. Cuz it's Winter'n'stuff. And that's funny.