How to Use the Snowflake Method to Outline Your Novel

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 27, 2019 • 4 min read

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As a snowflake grows from its center core, it expands in all directions, breaking off into additional branches that give it greater volume and spatial scope. The process of fiction writing can grow in a similar way if you start with a simple premise and grow your ideal from there.



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What Is the Snowflake Method?

The snowflake method, created by author and writing instructor Randy Ingermanson, is a technique for crafting a novel from scratch by starting with a basic story summary and adding elements from there.

What Are the Advantages to Using the Snowflake Method?

The advantage of the snowflake method is that it offers a midpoint between the formality of traditional outlines and the intentionally unplanned approach known as freewriting. This makes the snowflake method an appealing prewriting method for novelists of all levels, from those writing their first novel to seasoned pros with advanced fiction writing skills

The primary advantage to using the snowflake method at the start of the writing process is its intrinsic conduciveness to free association and discovery. Traditional one-page plot or multi-page outlines can work beautifully for some fiction writers, as can notecards on a tackboard, but sometimes these processes can be unhelpfully cerebral.

How to Use the Snowflake Method

To begin using the snowflake method, think of a story idea and describe it with a one-sentence summary. For example, the sentence could be something like: “Two teenagers discover a secret cave that contains treasures that a group of criminals has been hunting for.”

The snowflake method then requires you to build that sentence into a paragraph, using that paragraph to create various character descriptions. From there, you use those descriptions to create a series of storylines that involve those characters.

This process of outlining a novel spans outward until you have a fully outlined novel, just as a snowflake expands from a single drop of water.

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The 5 Steps of the Snowflake Method

  1. Choose a premise and write it up in a one-sentence summary. This single sentence will be the foundation for your entire novel’s outline.
  2. Expand that one-sentence summary into a full paragraph. Use that sentence to write a one-paragraph summary to explain the main story of the novel. It should also identify core characters, and break their narrative into a structure with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you wish to conceive of your story with a three act structure, think about the primary exposition, the inciting action and development, and the climax. Keep in mind that you can also have more than just three plot points. No matter how many you choose, each of these plot points will be a spoke stemming off from the central hub that is your premise.
  3. Create character summaries. Rooting yourself in the narrative you’ve just written out in a single paragraph, begin to explore the major characters who will populate your story. What are their core characteristics? What is each character’s point of view? What roles will they serve in relation to the main premise?
  4. Build your character summaries into full profiles. Now it’s time to add a few more extensions to your snowflake by creating full characterizations from those summaries. Consider the characters you’ve just roughly sketched and ask: What is each character’s name? Which of these will be the main character? What are their biographies and backstories? How will each character’s goal, each character’s conflicts, and each character’s epiphanies help them overcome those conflicts? What do they look like? What are their affectations?
  5. Expand to a multi-page synopsis. By this point, the snowflake method has generated a core story, a multi-part plot structure, character names, and multiple character profiles (or character synopses). You are now ready to expand these elements into a brief four-page synopsis. As you encapsulate the whole story in full pages, focus on a list of scenes, who is in them, and what events will occur in them. Are there any major disasters? Remember that every event is building toward the end: the story’s climax. A great story with a weak ending will quickly be forgotten.

Once you have these elements drafted, your literary snowflake is complete, and you’re ready to dive into the first draft of your novel and start writing fiction!


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