The Snowflake MethodA Lesson by Idiotekque
You might have heard of the Snowflake Method, but do you know what it is? This article explains it simply and reviews whether or not YOU need it.
When it comes to writing a novel, there are a myriad and one different ways to go about it. Perhaps you’re a calculative individual, carefully outlining beginning to end of your future masterpiece. Or perhaps you’re a bit more like me, who might find a flash of inspiration, crafting an idea for something in your head and putting it down on paper; flying by the seat of your pants (as the term pantser comes from) while you paint your tale like an abstract picture.
Now, everyone has something that works for them. As is with art, one person might sketch the model of their finished product with light strokes, later erasing those guidelines and meshing out the finished product. Others might simply draw, creating exactly what comes into their head as they go. The finished result in that case might not have the flawless, mathematical proportions that some hold dear, but in the end, it might be far more creative. To some, that’s beautiful. To others, amateurish. As I’m bound to repeat in this post, to each his or her own.
Let’s bring a structured writing method into the spotlight: The Snowflake Method. If you’re an author, whether you write fiction, non-fiction, or anything in between, you’ve probably heard of this. Perhaps you’ve even used it. But for discussion’s sake, let’s pretend you’ve never heard the term in your life. This is my observations and opinions on the practice, as well as how I have seen others reactions to using it. If you’d rather hear exactly what the method entails before hearing a discussion on it, hop over here and read how it works for yourself (just be sure to come back after you’re done!).
Regardless, I’ll highlight a bit of a crash course in the ten-step process that the Snowflake Method utilizes. In short, it’s the ultimate progressively constructive way to build your novel from the ground up, from scratch. You’re starting with nothing, you’re laying down the idea, and then over the course of what will probably take a few weeks to a month, you’re slowly building the groundwork for your story. Some might be immediately turned off to that sort of commitment of time to not even writing your novel itself (I certainly was). When you’re inspired, sometimes you have to capitalize on that. When you have the idea in your head, you don’t always want to write about writing the idea later on, you want to write it now! That’s a major failing of this method, but that doesn’t make it a bad way to go about things.
Before I continue my analysis of the method, I’ll very briefly list the ten steps of Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. Ready? Go!
Right off the bat, you can tell how intensive this is. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your preferences as a writer, and even your personality. We’re not here to debate whether the method is right or wrong, since it’s arguably the most popular method around for writing a novel. As was highlighted on Randy’s page, the directions for how the method works gets over a thousand views a day. If that’s not popular, I don’t know what is.
So let’s talk about the effectiveness of this practice. What’s good about it, what’s great about it, and what’s awful about it? Since I’m a rather positive guy (when I’m not trapped within the throes of agony and despair), we’ll start with what’s …
Since I’m an uneducated fool, I asked published author and teacher Steve Alcorn what he personally thought about the Snowflake Method. His response was:
Let me try to decipher that. Basically, while it’s a simple process that explains itself and builds a novel from the ground up, it doesn’t take the story into consideration through the process. That might sound odd, since it’s helping you build… well, your story. However, there’s a clear difference between story and plot.
The plot of your story is what happens. If your protagonist is hurtling through country back-roads in his moonshine running hot-rod when suddenly his brakes go out, that’s plot. That’s what’s happening in your scene. When he slams on the brake pedal and realizes he’s headed straight for a tree, his heart pounding in his head, fear burning through his mind as he says a silent prayer for help, that’s story. The story (as opposed to plot) is the emotion behind your novel. It’s what your characters feel (since any novel worth it’s salt is going to be about a character or two).
So through the Snowflake Method, you’re building what? Your plot. You’re setting out what’s going to happen, when, and with who in your novel. That’s all well and good, but during this process, there’s not a whole lot of room for the emotion behind your writing. On your Snowflake spreadsheet, Amy and Jack are going to have an argument in front of their kids. That’s a scene. However that says nothing about their daughter, who hides her tears and sobs in her teddy bear and wishes she was at Grandma’s house.
Regardless, it is true that this emotion (the story) can find life as you actually write the novel, once you’re finished with the ten step process. However through focusing on building exactly what is going to happen in your novel, it’s easy for the entire process to become robotic. It comes down to you, the writer, on how you will handle that. There are a great many methods of building a novel, but be forewarned that with the Snowflake Method, you do have to watch yourself for certain failings. There is a proper fit when it comes to any writer and any method of writing.
From what I can see, a lot of writers take pieces of the Snowflake Method. It’s a bit simple, but it’s also extensive. That relates well into fragmented systems using portions of the ten step process. For example, when I researched this, I found that the character building steps might be a great idea for me.
I do not plan. I do, but at the same time, I write by the seat of my pants. In my head, I know what’s going to happen at the end, and even some key events that will happen in between. However I leave myself a great deal of room so that my creative juices can flow, so to speak. It allows spontaneous action, honest character emotion and reaction, and a high level of leniency when it comes to the evolution of the story. In my working novel, Children of Solus, I know exactly what is going to happen at the end. I know quite a bit about my characters and what lies in store for them, but in between? The events sometimes surprise even me. However, like I said, the character building steps of the Snowflake method have inspired me to try them out. I’m all for getting to know my characters better, and I look forward to seeing how that helps my writing.
That’s my method, and it works for me. Some writers wouldn’t be able to get anything done if they did it my way, but that’s just how writing is. What works for one does not work for another. As you learn what sort of writer you are, you’ll find what method works for you too. If the Snowflake Method does, that’s great! If you try it and it doesn’t, that’s alright too. Feel free to use pieces of it that do work for you. Just remember not to force yourself into a mold with it comes to your writing style. When you feel your creativity and inspiration is becoming cramped, odds are that your writing is going to show it. That’s not a good thing.
So how about you? Have you used the Snowflake Method before? How did it work for you? Have you found another method (perhaps even your own) that has given you good results?
I invite you to leave a comment on your experiences!
Added on December 17, 2011
Last Updated on December 17, 2011
AboutI'm 20 years old and I'm a writing student living in Hawaii. Writing is my passion, and I'm striving to break into the market doing something I really love.