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.

14 comments:

  1. Haha. I enjoy your humor Robert. "This overwhelmed me." Pic of a down dog "I was overwhelmed." That is funny stuff!
    The last paragraph is just as you said, funny.

    So, I've seen this method before. It's a variance on the mind-mapping organizational theme. I've never used it until now - with my current project, mainly because it's such a vast endeavor - and I love the structure of it.

    I'm interested to see if it plays out full term or if you abandon it at a certain launching point, like bird from the nest.

    Btw. Speaking of structure. I am digging your website design.

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    1. Yes, I can see it as a mind map, but I appreciate how focused this method is on fiction projects. I guess if I'm going to have someone hold my hand, I want them to really hold the fiznuck out of it.

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    2. Also, thanks for your words about the design. It's mostly a Blogger template, so I can't take too much credit for it.

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    3. I'm with SC on the pic of the pup. Thank you for reminding me of your blog post here about the Snowflake Method, Robert. I went to the website and downloaded the free article and How To Write A Scene. Thanks for your updates on how it's working for you. I'm not a huge planner when I do my first draft, but I do need more direction for revision. Love your website, by the way. Way cool.

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  2. This is really interesting to me - I have the same issue of starting longer projects and becoming fatigued. I'll be interested to read how this works out for you as you continue! Please do a follow-up post! =)

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    1. I will. If I take too long, please remind me.

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  3. I've seen this method but not used it yet, though I'm a planner all the way. Now that you've explained the process and your experience with it, I'm inspired to give it a run, myself. Thank you for this write-up, Robert!

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to read it. I'd love to hear how it goes for you.

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  5. I am actually using this method as I draft my first novel. I abandoned it because Injust wanted to write what was in my head. I realized, there wasn't as much there as I imagined. The snowflake forces the author to answer the difficult questions to ensure a textured work.

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  7. I am so intrigued by this method. Can't wait to hear how things pan out.

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  8. Robert I'm a pantser all the way, but I'm very interested to hear about other writer’s methods. I have a voracious appetite for books on writing and have yet to find a method that works for me, besides writing at the speed of light and forcing my brain to come up with material. The snowflake method has been on my radar for sometime, I may pick it up and give it a read over Christmas, like you said snow, winter- you know, what better excuse!?

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