Have You Used the Snowflake Method?

As I’ve mentioned, I’m both starting a new novel and presenting a workshop on outlining. For the workshop, I will be talking about the Snowflake Method developed. by Randy Ingermanson, so I decided to try it for my new story.

It’s not easy…

…but, if you’re a plotter, you may love it.

Step 1: Basically you start out with one sentence that summarizes your story. Ingermanson suggests that sentence be fifteen (15) words or fewer. (He also suggests taking an hour to come up with this sentence.)

Try it. Summarize a story you’ve written or one you are writing in one 15-word sentence.

The nice thing is, once you have that sentence, you can use it as a tag line or elevator pitch.

Step 2: Expand that one sentence into a 5-sentence paragraph with one sentence summarizing the beginning (setup) of your story, three sentences for the major plot points, and one sentence for the conclusion. (Again, he suggests taking an hour to create this paragraph.)

The nice thing with this paragraph is it can be the basis of your query letter and can be expanded to create a synopsis.

Step 3: At this point, Ingermanson suggests creating character interviews for each of your major characters. Start as you do for step one: write the character’s name and a one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline. Then, besides a physical description, tell the character’s GMC (goal and motivation/both abstract and concrete, along with what’s keeping the character from reaching his/her goal) and what will he/she learn (the character’s arc). After that, write a one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline.

In addition to helping you understand your characters, this process may also help you decide whose point-of-view to use for each scene. (Which character will gain the most or lose the most?)

Steps 4 to 10: From this point on, it depends on how detailed you want to be. (Like a snowball, you’re building layer upon layer.) You can expand the descriptions of what will happen in each scene, expand the character sheets, and/or try writing scenes from different points of view to see which works best.

Personally, I would never write the book if I did all of that. It would take all of the surprises out of the writing process. I like my characters to take over and direct (or change) what’s planned. If something doesn’t seem to be working, I might go back and try writing parts from a different pov, but I don’t see myself doing it for every scene.

I’ve done steps 1 and 2 so far for my new story, now I need to work on those character interviews. Overall, I think the snowflake method is too detailed for me, but there is a lot about it that works, and I’m willing to try anything that works. What about you?

For more information about the snowflake method, Google “snowflake method.” Randy Ingermanson has a book for sale through Amazon (the ebook isn’t expensive) and a web page where he describes the method in detail.



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21 Responses to Have You Used the Snowflake Method?

  1. Melissa Keir says:

    I’ve not used it either but I’ve heard from people that it does help them with the elevator pitch, blurb and synopsis all of which are tough for some people to do after they write the book.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Maris. I’ve never heard of the snowflake method but anything that helps me get through the process is welcome. But, like you, if I did all that work before writing the book I’d never write the book. All the fun would be gone, not to mention the surprises.

  3. Beth Caudill says:

    I looked at it a few times. I like Steps 1 – 3 but the detailed stuff doesn’t work for this pantster.

    Although for Step 1, I’ve been using 25 words – got that nugget an online class many moons ago.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Beth, I think limiting that one sentence to fifteen words is good in the sense of teaching writers to cut the unnecessary, but I hate anything that sounds like a rule. If 25 works, use 25. If 18 words are better, use 18. The idea is what’s important, in my mind, not the number.

  4. Watson Davis says:

    I was upset the first time I heard about The Snowflake method because I had already developed and was using my own Snowflake method. I used (and still do) Holly Lisle’s Sentence that she describes in several of her classes/workshops for the sentences. But Ingermanson’s version of this is better than what I had created because I didn’t spend as much time on character development.

    With that said, I’ve been using this now for a couple of years and written several novels using the method. I love it. The past two years, I’ve gone into Nano with nothing prepared except for a general idea of the story and then used this method over the first 2-3 days of Nano to plot out my story, and then written the FULL novel in the remaining days of the month. (One of those novels was 90k words long.)

    When it comes to “Oh, if I spent that much work on the novel, I’d never write it”, to each their own but I personally think that’s just wimping out. An outline is not a straitjacket. Just because you’re writing to an outline that doesn’t mean the story can’t grow and change as you’re writing it.

    Just look at every version of the story as another draft with that single sentence being the first draft, and then the expansion to 4-5 sentences being the second draft, etc. Every draft and every revision can change and change as the story morphs into what it needs to be.

    For me, at least, having that outline and knowing what I’m going to be writing every day totally removes writer’s block from the process for me and makes me that much more productive.

    • Paula says:

      I agree, Watson, that having an outline doesn’t mean one is tied to staying within it. That’s what makes writing so enjoyable (except when it’s not-HaHa). We’re always in charge of what finally ends up in that last draft.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Good thoughts, Watson, and I applaud you for using it during Nano and reaching 90K. I’m at the point where I really need to develop my characters, so it’s time for me to get to work.

  5. Hewhocantbenamed says:

    I like this one. Almost poetry, boiling it down to the root.

  6. I haven’t tried this one. Might give it a whirl on my next book!

  7. It sounds like an interesting method –but in general, I can’t answer all those questions until after I’ve written the first draft.

  8. As always, your post is worth tweeting, Maris. I consider myself a plotter, but at my age, I’m not taking time for unnecessary steps, either.
    Happy Writing, Annette

  9. Paula says:

    I’m thinking I could probably use this method for non-fiction as well. At least the beginning steps for querying an editor.

    I recently read a book by John Irving (one of my favorite authors) and there is an interview at the end. He says at one point that he is a writer who outlines. He makes a strong case for it and says he’s always done it that way.

    I tend to write my fiction in short form, as you know. But I usually know exactly what will happen in the beginning, middle and end of the story.

    Thanks for giving us the lowdown and the steps; I’ll be saving this blog post in a folder for future reference.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Paula, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for non-fiction. The 1st sentence would give you your opening argument or position, the next three would be your supporting evidence, and the 5th sentence would be your conclusion.

  10. I’ve attended a workshop on this method not realizing at the time I wasn’t emotionally ready to start writing again. Thanks for posting this! I might just have to give it a try
    Good luck and God’s blessings

    • Maris Soule says:

      Pamela, I’m glad you’re writing again. Take a look at this method, and if it fits your way of writing, that’s great. If not, maybe it’s simply not the right method for you.