Writing a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

There are several versions of the Snowflake Method to writing a novel.  My personal favorite is Randy Ingermanson’s version on his website, AdvancedFictionWriting.com.  I strongly suggest reading Ingermanson’s page on the Snowflake Method if you are about to put it into practice.  I based my version largely on Ingermanson’s, but being a visual learner and thinker, I tried to make it more of a visual illustration.  I also use medium sized, color-coded note cards for step 9, again, because I am more visual and like to play with colored paper and pens.

It is important that you look at a few different versions of the Snowflake Method and select the one that feels right to you.  You can also tweak any version to fit your personal preference.  I was in a kind of rut, block, whatever you want to call it, and this method really gave me the clarity and organization that I needed to get my story off the ground.

I also tried to make it fun, hence the colored paper and pens.  This way, I look forward to writing every day.  I also use pictures a lot, as you will see below.  Once again, I strongly urge a visit to AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Happy writing!

The Snowflake Method:

*You will find that as you do each step, you will go back and revise what you have written in the previous steps.  This is encouraged.  Right now nothing is etched in stone and your story will grow and evolve as you start to fine-tune it and learn more about your characters.

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1.  Write a one-sentence description of your novel.  The sentence should not be too long, about 15-20 words, but should give a summary of your novel in broad strokes.  It is helpful not to use character names, and to make sure your sentence captures the dilemma faced by your main character.  Writing an effective one-sentence summary of a novel is difficult and will take time to master.  Ingermanson suggests looking at the New York Times Bestseller List for examples.

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2. Expand your sentence into a one-paragraph description of the novel, making sure to include a description of the back-story, major complications, and resolution.  This paragraph should be about 4-6 sentences long.  The first sentence should set up the story, the middle 2-4 sentences should each describe a major obstacle or conflict that the main character has to face, and the final sentence should describe the end of the novel.  This will help determine the main sections of your novel.

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3.  Think about each of your characters in turn.  Write a one-page summary of each character’s storyline, including:

  • Like in step 1, a one-sentence summary of what happens to the character in the novel
  • Motivation & concrete goals: what makes the character tick?  What do they want on a broad, general level? What does the character want specifically?
  • Conflict: What is keeping the character from reaching his or her goals?
  • Evolution:  How is the character changed by the conflict?
  • Like in step 2, a one-paragraph summary of what happens to the character in the novel.

For my character descriptions, if I find a particular photograph that makes me think of a specific character, I copy and paste it to that character’s description.  If there is a place or object that is important to the character, I also try to include a picture of it to that character’s file.

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4.  Take each sentence from step 2 and turn it into a paragraph.  This will yield a one-page summary of your novel.

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5.  Write a one- page character synopsis for each main character, telling the story from their point of view.  For secondary characters, write a ½ page synopsis.

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6.  Expand each paragraph from step 4 into a one-page description for each.  This will give you a pretty clear picture of your story and the various storylines that you have developed through your character descriptions.

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7.  Take each character and write a full character description, including absolutely everything there is to know about the character- favorite food, best friend, zodiac sign, what they eat for breakfast.  There is a great character description template at Creative Writing Now.

You can also include a character map: female, or male.

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8.  Take each page from Step 6 and write a one-sentence description of every scene that you will need for each page.  It helps to do this on a spreadsheet, adding the point of view for each scene in a separate column.  This way, you can play around with your scenes and move them as you think about how you want to tell your story.

I color- code my spreadsheet depending on either the character storyline, or point of view, if I use more than one.

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9.  Now take each line from your spreadsheet and either write out and print a 1-2 page description of each scene, or write it out on color-coded note cards.  I like to include pictures, quotes, songs, etc. in these sections to make the story come alive in my head.  Play with the scenes, reorganizing them and moving them around.  This will yield a detailed synopsis of your novel.

Here is what my notecards look like:

work in progress



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10.  Write your novel using your detailed synopsis as a guide.

Good luck!