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What Is the Snowflake Method for Writing a Novel?

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I have had a lifelong passion for reading and writing and graduated with a bachelor's in English literature.

Think of the final product (your book) as a snowflake, which each part making up its shape.

Think of the final product (your book) as a snowflake, which each part making up its shape.

The Snowflake Method

Looking for how to write a novel? The Snowflake Method is just one of many options out there for writing. Furthermore, there are many different versions out there for the Snowflake method for writing a novel, based mostly on Randy Ingermanson's method. The Snowflake method for writing a novel is great for those who are more of the visual learner types. The best part is that it can be changed to suit your individual needs, which is why there are so many versions of it out there.

The basics behind the Snowflake writing method is that visual image of a snowflake shape created by a step by step process. As you can see to the right, there is an image of a snowflake, shown as one whole shape. Below it, you can see how that same image can be broken into individual pieces that go from very big shapes to very small, each with its part to play in the final product. In order to make that final snowflake, each shape had to be crafted and put together to create the final snowflake that you see.

The Snowflake method for writing a novel involves breaking down the writing process into pieces, starting with those larger ones, and then working on the smaller ones as you write. In other words, you start off with the broad pieces of the writing process, such as deciding what to write the novel about, before getting focused on details such as developing characters and dialogue.

According to Ingermanson, co-writer of the ever-popular Writing Fiction for Dummies (shown at the right), extensive planning is well worth the effort. He claims it shortens the writing process and even leads to better results. Since he's already published six novels and won dozens of awards, I trust his opinion. Therefore, if you are looking to speed up your novel writing or just get better at it, the Snowflake method for writing a novel may be the method for you.

Remember that this novel-writing method can be changed to suit your individual needs. Just like every real snowflake you see come wintertime, every book and its creator are different. Feel free to use this as a guide and make changes wherever necessary to make it your own.

The Snowflake Method is one way of breaking down your novel into parts before you delve into actually writing it.

The Snowflake Method is one way of breaking down your novel into parts before you delve into actually writing it.

How to Outline a Novel

  • How to Outline a Novel
    Should you write an outline for a novel? Find out the basics about outline-writing and see if it's the best way for you to start writing your book.

Novel Planning Tip

Remember that everything you are doing at this stage is for you. Nothing has to be perfect and everything can be revised and rewritten as needed, even if it means going back a step or two.

The Snowflake Method

A break down of the snowflake image.

A break down of the snowflake image.

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

According to Ingermanson, there are ten basic steps to writing a novel using his Snowflake method. Don't expect this process to last through just an hour or two of sitting down and writing. The more time you take and the more effort you put into it, the more you will be rewarded once you actually get to writing a novel. Just remember that without all this planning and organization, you may find yourself lost in your own writing or taking more time putting it all together than you would have otherwise.

1. The Big Picture

See that big triangle to the right? Your first step in the Snowflake Method for writing a novel is to create that triangle in your snowflake. The triangle represents the big picture, or selling point, of your novel. It would be the proposal you send in your query letter when you start looking at publishing the finished product and the central focus of your entire book as a whole.

Yes, it's only one sentence with maybe fifteen words total, but don't be fooled by its size. Ingermanson recommends taking at least an hour coming up with the perfect sentence and even doing some research if necessary. To get an idea of what to do here, just take a look at the one line blurbs in the New York Times Bestseller list.

2. Setting the Stage

Now that your overall story for your novel is set into just a few words in a snazzy, concise sentence, it is time to add a little foundation to help support it with more details. I call this step "setting the stage," but, you are doing more than just creating a setting for your novel to write about.

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This part is represented by the second portion of the picture to the right, adding a little more to that big triangle in the middle of the picture. What you want to do is take at least another hour expanding that sentence into a paragraph describing the basic story, with the story set up, major conflict, and final ending to the story. Ingermanson recommends one sentence for the story set up, one for each major disaster within the story, and one more describing the ending.

3. Adding Some Body

This next portion of the Snowflake method for writing a novel is all about the characters, or bodies, that make up the novel. This is where things can really get time consuming. Since characters are the most important part of novel writing, you want to do as much brainstorming about each character as possible in your planning stages before writing. Ingermanson says to write a full page on each character you will include in the novel, including the following information:

  • Name
  • One sentence summary of their storyline
  • Motivation (their abstract wants/needs)
  • Goal (their concrete wants/needs)
  • Conflict (what prevents them from reaching their goal)
  • Epiphany (what they learn and/or how they change)
  • One paragraph summary of their storyline

4. Creating a Skeleton

This part of the novel writing process, according to the Snowflake method, is where you really get into building the body of your novel as a whole, which is why I describe this step as "creating a skeleton." Go back to step two where you created that fantastic five sentence paragraph. Now, take each individual sentence from that paragraph and make individual paragraphs of those, which means five whole new paragraphs at the end of this exercise.

Remember that the first sentence of your paragraph from step two has the story set up, the next three focus on each disaster within the story, and the last sentence has the ending. This should be the same basic focus for each paragraph you are now creating. At the end of this exercise, your novel plans will have grown from one paragraph to a whole page. Congratulations!

5. Building Character

Once again, you need to go back to a previous step to get started in the next step in the Snowflake method for writing a novel. This time, you want to go back to step three and add a little more to what you started for your characters. Remember, all you are doing for each step is advancing yourself to the next one, eventually getting yourself to a point where you will be absolutely ready and confident to get started writing a novel.

All this step requires is that you write an additional page description of each major character and about a half a page for other characters for your novel. What you are creating is a "character synopsis" for each character, preferably from their individual point of view. These help develop the characters a little more and make them easier to sell later on when you start taking with editors.

6. Expanding the Story

For this step, you want to go back to step four and expand each paragraph into a whole page. This is where your story will become just a little more detailed and you really start to figure out the logic of it. This may take up to a week to do and it may require going back and redoing some portions of your planning process.

7. Expanding the Characters

Once again, go back another step, this time to step five, and expand on what you have done there. By the end of this step, you want full-fledge character charts detailing each character and their story. If at any point you feel the need to go back a few steps and rewrite or start over, go for it. This is completely normal for the Snowflake method of writing a novel and it is well worth it in the end when you actually start writing your novel.

8. Make a Scene

Take what you have done in step six and begin making a list of all the scenes that will make up this story for your novel. Ingermanson suggests using a spreadsheet and listing each scene, line by line, which each column detailing what happens in those scenes. In the end, he says you should have about 100 lines total. This is an effective way to have everything laid out neatly in an easy visual to understand at a glance.

9. Write it Out

Take that spreadsheet from the previous step and make each line into a multi paragraph description of the scene. This is basically a start at your first draft. It isn't fancy, but it keeps everything in order and ensures that you are on the right track as you finally get to write and create your story.

Don't be afraid to get messy and sloppy here, since it is your very first draft. The Snowflake method for writing a novel isn't supposed to be really pretty, just organized. Ingermanson suggests printing out the final product so that any inspiration or notes can be added to the margins and so that you can rearrage scenes and chapters whenever necessary.

10. What You've Been Waiting For

Finally, step ten is to really create that official first draft. You may be surprised at just how fast the story flies from your fingertips as you sit down and actually start writing a novel. Have fun and let the creativity flow, now that you've got all that logic and anlysis out of the way.

Writing a Novel

The Snowflake Method

© 2013 Lisa


Susan Hazelton from Northern New York on October 18, 2018:

What a wonderful description of the Snowflake Method. It is nicely written and easy to understand once it is broken down this way. I am saving this article for future reference.

Bob chris on December 30, 2016:

this method is super useful for me and I'm not even in high school yet!

Nicole Grizzle from Georgia on May 18, 2015:

This simplifies the novel writing process pretty easily. If anyone struggles with planning out a story, they should definitely try this. Thanks for the hub!

Sarah B from Klamath Falls on February 06, 2015:

I've always felt like writing a novel was too complicated to even start, but this inspired me! Thank you!

Kawika Chann from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place on June 04, 2014:

I dig the snowflake method, but I think certain types of writing dictate what what method to use... sometimes if the story is very complicated with equally fantastic characters, the snowflake method becomes the clear choice, other times, it's all an adventure. The reader finds out what happens when the writer always a surprise. Up/useful/follow. Peace. Kawi.

William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on October 08, 2013:

I really appreciated your hub on this important topic. Thanks! ;-)

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on May 01, 2013:

What a novel way for writing a novel. I had not heard of the snowflake method, but it is interesting and I think a good way to begin writing a novel. It certainly gets the author organized and think through the characters, plot and conflict. I think I am from the old school though - I just begin writing, usually from an idea from intuition, and then the story just writes itself. It just seems to flow out of me. Probably why I've only written short stories and not the novel I want to write yet. I will keep this in mind for future use thought. Thanks for and interesting and informative hub! Great idea!

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