WRITING KNOWHOW The Snowflake Method

This Writing KnowHow is one for all the planners out there as Words & Pictures Editor, Claire Watts, shares the Snowflake Method. 

I am a planner. I like spreadsheets and timers and lists with tick-boxes. I keep two diaries, one electronic and one paper, and two calendars (ditto). So of course I have to plan before I start to write. Of all the methods I’ve tried, the one that suits me best is the Snowflake Method.

Why ‘snowflake’? Because the idea is that you build up your plan, each step building on the last, as simple ice crystals build to the complexity of a snowflake.

You can find the original method created by Randy Ingermanson and a lot more detail here: https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/. Here is my slightly adapted method.

Step 1

Write a one sentence summary of your story.

Length: 15 words maximum

Time: 1 hour

Step 2

Expand your sentence to a paragraph outlining the story set-up, three major turning points (end of act one, midpoint and end of act two) and how the novel ends.

Length: 5 sentences

Time: 1 hour

Step 3

Write a character summary for each major character. Include a one-sentence summary of their storyline, their motivation (what do they want abstractly?), their goal (what do they want concretely?), their conflict (what stops them reaching this goal?) and what they will learn or how they will change by the end of the book. Finally write a one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline.

Length: 1 page per character

Time: 1 hour per character

Step 4

Go back to the paragraph you wrote in step 2. Expand each sentence to a full paragraph to create a skeleton of the novel.

Length: 1 page

Time: 3 hours

Step 5

Write a paragraph of description of each character, then write a paragraph of synopsis from the character’s point of view.

Length: 1 page per major character, ½ page for other important characters

Time: 1 hour per major character

Step 6

Expand each paragraph from step 4 into a page to create an outline. Add in details from step 5. Go back and fix earlier steps if you make decisions that change things.

Length: 4 pages

Time: 4 hours

Step 7

(This is where I veer away from the original method).

Take your outline from step 6 and break it into chapters. Aim for approximately the same number of chapters leading up to each of your turning points and leading to the end. Add in any key scenes that have come to mind as you planned. Scrutinise your outline, answer questions and fill in gaps.

Length: 4 pages

Time: 4 hours

Step 8

You’re ready to start writing after Step 7, unless like me, you have to have a spreadsheet. If you do, create a spreadsheet with a row for each chapter and columns for whatever you deem necessary. And then… GO!

Length: as long as it needs

Time: 1 hour

For me, working through these steps takes about twenty hours (yes, of course, I work to a timer!). I spread the planning over several weeks to give me time to let ideas brew in between each step. It’s not foolproof – no method is – but when it works, I find when I finally start writing, the story flows from my fingers with hardly a hitch. I’m told it also works for people who aren’t planners if they find themselves with a messy first draft. But I wouldn’t know about that…

Main Image by Erol Ahmed


Claire Watts is Editor of Words & Pictures. You can contact her at editor@britishscbwi.org

Do you have any suggestions for KnowHow? If there's something you'd like to know how to do or know more about, tell us. Email KnowHow editor, Eleanor at knowhow@britishscbwi.org

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