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SnowflakeOn his Advanced Fiction Writing web site, physicist and fiction author Randy Ingermanson offers an exciting method for developing a novel, called the ‘Snowflake Method,’ which he describes in detail on his page, “How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method.”

Since encountering the Snowflake Method, I’ve been using it on my current fiction project, and I find that it’s interesting and fun and is helping me to focus in on the story in a marvelous way. It has already helped me to identify some fundamental issues with the structure of the story and should help me to avoid a whole lot of re-writing later on.

In a way, the Snowflake Method reminds me of the concept of idea mapping, or Mind Mapping, in that it is radial in concept rather than linear. Ingermanson has you start small and unfold each little element of the novel simultaneously, in kind of a fractal pattern. He uses a snowflake as a metaphor, because the story starts as a simple set of points, each of which is expanded into its own set of points, each of which is in turn expanded into its own set of points, until eventually the first draft “crystallizes.”

Each step in the process is hard work, but at the same time no step is hard to understand — Ingermanson basically has you walk through a set of processes, almost like the exercises you might find in a Writer’s Digest manual on novel-writing or a university fiction-writing course — only you’re actually working on a real novel, instead of just an academic exercise.

The basic steps are:

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of the novel.
  2. Expand that summary into a paragraph.
  3. Write a one-sentence summary of each character’s storyline, then each character’s motivation and other key elements of that character’s role in the story.
  4. Expand each character summary into one paragraph.
  5. Expand the summary of the novel into a full page.
  6. Expand each character summary into a full page.
  7. SnowflakeExpand the one-page summary of the novel into four pages. As you do these various expansions, you are taking single sentences and expanding them to paragraphs at each step.
  8. Take each character description and expand it into a full character chart. At each step, Ingermanson encourages you to go back and revise the previous steps, as you learn new things about your story and its characters.
  9. Take the four-page synopsis and develop a list or spreadsheet of each scene you will need for the story, perhaps 100 scenes.
  10. The next step, which Ingermanson describes as optional, is to create a multi-paragraph summary of each scene — thereby building a narrative description of the whole story.
  11. Start writing the first draft of the novel, working out the “small-scale logic problems” as you go along.
  12. As you go along, continue to go back and fix problems with the earlier design documents.

I can see that this method saves a tremendous amount of work and useless material that will inevitably result from seat-of-the-pants writing.

ARK — 11 Sept. 2010

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