Convergences: Snowflake method, step 1 1


A promise is due, I’m talking you about the snowflake method by Randy Ingermanson. This is a very effective method of writing developed for those who are organized or who would like to be. It is easy to learn and a lot less likely to frustrate the writer than the other “miracle methods” that I had the opportunity to test before.

Here is a very brief summary of the method:

Step 1: summing up in one simple sentence the general subject of the novel.
Step 2: summarizing the story in one paragraph of five or six sentences.
Step 3: making a presentation of the main characters, not descriptions, but a summary of their motivations, their narrative threads and what will change in them during the plot.
Step 4: taking the paragraph of the step 2 and making each sentence a complete paragraph, leading to a one-page synopsis.
Step 5: making a description and a plot summary on one page for the main characters, most basic for the secondary characters.
Step 6: developing a synopsis of the step 4 on four or five pages.
Step 7: making character sheets, complete with detailed background and synopsis by Me.
Step 8: writing the list of scenes.
Step 9 (optional): making a detailed description of what will be the novel (about fifty pages, according to the author).
Step 10: writing.

If you prefer to read the entire method now, you can find it here.

Now we’ll see a step in more detail:

But before you start writing, you need to get organized. You need to put all those wonderful ideas down on paper in a form you can use. Why? Because your memory is fallible, and your creativity has probably left a lot of holes in your story — holes you need to fill in before you start writing your novel. You need a design document. And you need to produce it using a process that doesn’t kill your desire to actually write the story. Here is my ten-step process for writing a design document. I use this process for writing my novels, and I hope it will help you.

Step 1) Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Something like this: “A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.” (This is the summary for my first novel, Transgression.) The sentence will serve you forever as a ten-second selling tool. This is the big picture, the analog of that big starting triangle in the snowflake picture.

When you later write your book proposal, this sentence should appear very early in the proposal. It’s the hook that will sell your book to your editor, to your committee, to the sales force, to bookstore owners, and ultimately to readers. So make the best one you can!

Some hints on what makes a good sentence:

  • Shorter is better. Try for fewer than 15 words.
  • No character names, please! Better to say “a handicapped trapeze artist” than “Jane Doe”.
  • Tie together the big picture and the personal picture. Which character has the most to lose in this story? Now tell me what he or she wants to win.
  • Read the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list to learn how to do this. Writing a one-sentence description is an art form.

So I left working my little – but oh so powerful – brain during an hour on Convergences, my current novel, and here’s the result:

Youth of an inter-universal guild must stop a destructive war caused by an hereditary enemy.

At once brilliant and attractive, right? (Say yes!) Short (15 words only), no character names, and since there are several main characters, their common interest.

Well it’s not perfect yet, but I’ll inevitably improve it one day or another. At least now, the foundations are laid and can identify the concept in one sentence of your story. Why only the concept? Oh no, don’t tell me that these words really reveal the whole story. This is just laying the groundwork that will allow you (or in this case, my modest and indispensable person) not to depart from the guideline of the adventures that you write and greatly diminish the risk of off topic. And if you deviate, either you have to rewrite what is wrong, or make some adjustments.

Because remember: it is a help, and you’re the writer.

For the next post, I think the approach step two, unless I finish one of my long articles that are waiting in the drawers.


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One thought on “Convergences: Snowflake method, step 1

  • Frank

    In the buisiness industry, this is known as the elevator phrase. Because if you meet your future publisher in the elevator, you’ll usually only have time to tell them 15 words before either of you get off; and these words must sell them on the idea, without beguiling them.

    Of course, the business industry doesn’t say how to arrive at those 15 words; you do.