Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Writer's Mind: Snowflake Method

This is a plotting/brainstorming method I tried out for Fractures, my fantasy NaNo novel this year. I'll talk about what I liked about it and what I didn't like quite as much.  I definitely learned a few things from it. If you're interested, I've also written another, more general post on plotting a novel.

What is the Snowflake Method? 

The snowflake method is a way to brainstorm a novel by starting small and making it bigger and more complex. It's based off of a concept called the Koch Snowflake, a type of fractal. Without getting into math stuff (yuck), here's a good little illustration: 
From here.
Essentially, it's a way of arranging triangles in a mathematical pattern that results in a snowflake picture that can be infinitely complex. If you like the mathematical jargon, click on the link in the caption.

Math and fun shapes aside, the Koch snowflake uses the same ideas as the Snowflake method. You use a big idea (like a triangle) and then keep expanding upon it to get a more complex story. 

Snowflake Method Steps

(Information was taken from here. I don't claim to have come up with this, because I'm a recovering pantser and still experimenting with plotting. The link has more detailed info if you're interested). 
  1. Write one sentence that sums up your novel. 
  2. Expand that sentence to one paragraph.
  3. Write a skeleton outline of each of your big characters--motivation, description, one sentence character arc etc.
  4. Elaborate on your paragraph of plot and turn it into a page or so outline. 
  5. Flesh out your skeleton character outlines. 
  6. Continue to flesh out your plot using info from your characters so that you have a several page long plot summary. 
  7. Write a super detailed outline of your characters. 
  8. Make a list/spreadsheet of every scene in your novel. 
  9. Take that spreadsheet and write a paragraph of description for that scene. You'll have a skeleton book now (one paragraph for a scene).
  10. Write the real rough draft, using your notes. 

Pros and Cons

I didn't quite follow the above instructions, due to the fact that I started too close to NaNo to complete all the steps. I basically did steps 1-5 and then wrote my rough draft. I'm considering trying to do an entire book this way at some point (perhaps for one of my novel re-writes). Maybe I'll meander less from my intended plot. I basically re-designed my story halfway through NaNo (my perpetual problem with plotting; I never seem to follow my plot). 

  • I actually knew a bit about my characters. This is abnormal for me. It was wonderful to have  an idea of how they should behave.
  • My plot wasn't a complete mystery. I had a beginning, climax, and ending planned out. Again, this is abnormal for me. 
  • I spent less time brainstorming while writing. I mainly had to figure out the little details between point A and point B, rather than trying figure out what point B was. This made NaNo less stressful. 
  • I still managed to deviate from my plot line. I realized that, if I followed my outline, I'd get to the climax far too quickly. So I added in a bit of pre-climax action...and it took over the story. For like 30,000 words. Maybe this would change if I got to steps 8 and 9 next time. This is why I'm interested in trying it again. 
  • I didn't feel like I really got to know my characters. Characters are one of my perennial struggles. They tend to sound the same, act the same, and behave irrationally. While doing the character outlines helped me a bit, I felt like they were just paper cut-outs. I think character development is something that I'll perennially have to edit into my story. 
  • It takes a lot of time. I got all excited about my story...but I wanted to write it before I was really done with plotting it. I got that wish, due to NaNo. In the future, I don't think I'm going to do this with NaNo coming up too soon, though it certainly helped me to exceed my NaNo goals. 

Plotting in the Future

I think I'm going to try the snowflake method all the way through at some point. I'm really intrigued  by the idea of writing one paragraph for each scene. I'm just always hesitant to plot too much, since I have a tendency to throw it all out the window in the middle of the story. I hate to put that much work into plotting if I'm not going to use it. 

If you're interested in trying this method out, you might be interested in ywriter, a free writing program. It allows you to put paragraph descriptions of your scenes together, as well as character notes. I didn't use it this NaNo, but I've used it in the past. My main complaint is that it formats things differently than Word, which can lead to some real editing nightmares. I also dislike having to edit in it. 

Are you a plotter or a pantser? How do you plan out your stories?


  1. This is really interesting. I've heard of the snowflake method before but I've never had the chance to use it (although the math behind it is really interesting). I typically plot differently for each of my novels depending on its needs (yes, my novels have needs, don't question my logic). I've completely pantsed it and I've plotted quite a bit as well. *shrugs*

    That's interesting that you still deviated from you plan, but that may be from not completing all the steps? I hope you get to try it again with better results.

    I think I might use this for my next novel. It's a series/trilogy (it's weird (I bet you didn't see that coming :) )) so actually knowing what's going to happen might save me from rewriting the entire series. Thanks for sharing! I can't wait to try this out.

    1. I totally understand novels having different needs!

      I think leaving out the steps was a mistake. If I complete the whole process, I think the next one will (hopefully) go a bit better.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I've heard of this method before. *nods* It sounds like it would work really well for some people, but I think it would be a nightmare for me. For a while there, I was a planster--I mostly pansted things, but I also planned a little. Now I'm a hardcore panster and any other form of novel writing throws me off my rocker. But I'm glad this method worked decently for you! And I hope following all the steps next time makes it even more of a rewarding experience. :D

    1. It certainly wouldn't work for someone who loves writing by the seat of their pants. While I enjoy that way of writing, I hate the intense editing that results from it. I'm hoping that by doing something I'm not a huge fan of (intense planning) in exchange for something else I really dislike (intense editing). Thanks for the comment!


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