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Snowflake outlining?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by sleepwriter, Feb 24, 2014.

  1. sleepwriter

    sleepwriter Dreamer

    I found out about the snowflake method by chance on a Google search and decided to give it a try since it seemed like a good way to think out the details of my story without feeling overwhelmed. I've started, and its been helpful so far, but I'm starting to feel like some of the steps are redundant.

    Has anyone else run into this? Do you find it useful to stick it out, or do you skip ahead? I'm thinking of skipping forward to listing out my scenes rather than writing 4 pages of summary and narrative, just to convert it to a list anyway. I wouldn't mind doing the work if it actually proved time-saving in the long run. Thoughts or experiences anyone?
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I haven't tried this method of outlining, but my initial reaction is to suggest you go for it. Skip that step you don't want to do and see how it goes without it. The purpose of the method is to help you create a good usable outline, not to have you jump through hoops.
    That said, it may very well be that the step you're skipping IS important and that you'd benefit from doing it. You've got two ways of figuring that out - do it or skip it. Personally I'd skip it and start on the next step. If when doing so I'd find that I'm having difficulties with it, I'd go back and do the skipped step. That way I'd gain a better understanding of what it's supposed to do and why it's there. At least, that's the theory.

    Could be you don't skip the step and you discover the need for it while working on it, but you might not, it's hard to say for sure.

    Skip it and see what happens.
    sleepwriter likes this.
  3. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    I gave up on it. I found it very formulaic (which is the point, I suppose), but it is quite rigid and (as you say) there's a certain amount of redundancy in it. I've since found out I'm a total pantser by nature, so this kind of strict structural approach was never going to work for me. Finding out a system that works for you is one of the more interesting aspects of writing.
  4. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    I have and do use it but I take my pick of what I want to do.
    I like the help it gives me in working out a plot. I can take a lot longer to do this as I go through steps 2, 3 & 4 several times until I hit the story I want to tell.
    Something I don't do all the character creation when it says, I usually do that more organically, as and when.
    One downside to it is that I have found myself feeling the story is written when I've gotten through to Step 8. I've lost that need to get the story on paper, because now I know what happens to the characters but it does mean that I have a very solid start if I ever want to come back to it...

    This is my cut-down of the Snowflake [not really any different from other peoples]
    Step 1) Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel.
    Step 2) Take another hour and expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major disasters, and ending of the novel.
    Step 3) For each of your major characters, take an hour and write a one-page summary sheet. [More like 15-30 minutes and then make the rest up as and when]
    Step 4) Take several hours and expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a full paragraph.
    Step 5) Take a day or two and write up a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of the other important characters. Tell the story from their PoV [A lot of fun but it can mean a lot of rewriting of steps 2 & 4]
    Step 6) Now take a week and expand the one-page plot synopsis of the novel to a four-page synopsis.
    Step 7) Take another week and expand your character descriptions into full-fledged character charts detailing everything there is to know about each character. [This can be fun but more as a way to play and it generally screws with the plot so I have to go back and tweak that]
    Step 8) Take that four-page synopsis and make a list of all the scenes that you'll need to turn the story into a novel. [This is where the wheels can come off for me]
    Step 9) Write a narrative description of the story, scene-by-scene.
    Step 10) Write the real first draft of the novel.
    sleepwriter and Ruby like this.
  5. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I found using it with a combination of pantsing worked really well for me. Basically, after doing the Snowflake Method, it forced me to make a logical story that has a conclusion, which is what I've struggled with by and large for a long time. I would write and write and write and have no idea where the story was going. While it was certainly more fun to do so, it often left me wondering how the hell all of it was going to tie together.

    So I did the Snowflake Method and then I looked at what I had. I don't feel like it's rigid for me because I still pants a large amount of my novel when I run across something that makes me go "Well, this is the most logical step, but what if I go this way?" This allows me to have a structure, but also to veer from it when things get too predictable or formulaic. When I create my structure, I try to leave spots open for "what if" moments.

    I feel like some people need that structure, mostly those that can't finish anything. If you can pants and finish loads of things, cool, but if you're like me and pants to no end, having a structure like this is very helpful.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2014
    sleepwriter and Ruby like this.
  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    After reading what CupOfJoe posted it looks like the snowflake method is quite similar to the method I'm using for my current WIP - except my method didn't do anything in particular to develop characters.

    Basically, the way I did it is I started out with a very rough outline - just a sentence - and then rewrote it a couple of times adding more and more detail with every rewrite. I think that in principle it's probably the same as the snowflake method, or at least very close.
    The benefit it had for me is that it got me thinking about all the parts of the story before I started writing it. I now know what all the major events are and what the outcome of them needs to be. There's still room enough to wiggle in little incidents and details, but the main story is set and for me I think that's a good thing.

    The way I did character was I just wrote a few short stories with the character as the MC. These don't have to be actual stories with a plot and an ending or anything like that. Rather, they're more like mental situations; the character finds themselves in an everyday situation (going shopping, brushing their teeth), what do they do, how do they behave?

    It worked out pretty well and while I don't have a specific document describing character traits I have a very good feel for the character.

    I started outlining that way as an experiment (I didn't know about the snowflake method at the time or I'd probably have tried it) and I've been posting about it in this thread: http://mythicscribes.com/forums/brainstorming-planning/10410-experimenting-outlining-3.html
    The post in the link is the last one which sums up the entire process from start to finished scene along with examples of the actual outline written.
    sleepwriter likes this.
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I couldn't get past step 1, the one-sentence summary of your novel. For me, it's more like:

    Here's a concept or two that I want to use.
    Here are the elements that go into those concepts.
    Here's how I'm messing with each element.
    Here's where that messing-around takes me.
    Here's where I'm stuck, so I'm adding a new concept that seems to work.
    Here are the elements of the new concept.
    Here's how the new elements affect the old elements.
    Repeat to add new concepts until the full story emerges.
    Now I have my one sentence concept.

    - - > Here's some cool scenes that appear throughout this process whenever elements come together.
    - - > Here's what's needed to support those scenes or present the aftermath of those scenes.

    Now let me do a quick mind map and check a few categories to make sure I've got my bases covered and we're good to go.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    I'm more in Devor's camp. I know the basic structure of my story, but there are a thousand ways to get from Chapter One to The End. And I don't know most of them. I have to start writing in order to get to know my characters and their world.

    When I tried this and other outline approaches one of two things happen. One, I produce an outline that is clear, complete and concise. It is not always alliterative, alas. Trouble is, once I start writing, I discover a whole secondary set of issues that blow my outline to smithereens (which is either in Oregon or Colorado, according to Google Maps). Those issues might be lurches in character development, logistical nightmares just getting from Point A to Point B, or lapses in world consistency. Whatever, the outline never survives, much as battle plans never survive actual battle.

    The other thing that has happened is I get only a few points into the outline and I have generated so many unknowns, it's impossible to proceed. By the time I work them out in theory, I'm better off just writing the danged story.

    I feel bad. The guy obviously tried very hard to give me something I could use, and I couldn't make it work.
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    I actually find the redundancy helpful in a strange way. Let me explain.

    Basically, if I'm expanding the same ideas over and over again, it makes me see any flaws in the overall structure of my novel. This allows me to catch anything that seems odd or just wouldn't work for the particular novel I'm working on. For me, even if I don't use what I come up with doing the Snowflake Method, I found it to be a useful exercise in developing a whole structure for a story. I do find myself too scatterbrained to pants like a true pantser does. My success rate of finishing novels has jumped significantly since I've started outlining. I don't know if this is a coincidence or not. Here's how my former process worked:

    Phil 2005-2011?

    1. World-build for a really long time. And I mean world-build. Almost everything would be laid out.
    2. Start writing the novel with only a basic idea of where it was going.
    3. Write strong for about 25,000-40,000 words.
    4. Crap out.

    Phil 2012-2014

    1. Get an idea.
    2. Create an outline of some form.
    3. Minimally world-build as I outline.
    4. Follow the outline for the most part, only veering off when it was becoming too predictable.
    5. Re-outline according to new adjustments.
    6. Finish a first draft.

    So for me, I've only finished first drafts of books I've outlined. Now I just have to figure out my best way to edit! :)

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