It’s a long way from the idea to the finished novel. We want to help you simplify this path and plan well. To this end, today we will introduce you to the snowflake method. The snowflake method is one of the best-known plot structure methods. It is quite uncomplicated and it has already helped many bestselling authors. Furthermore, it can even be used for the planning of non-fiction books.
What is the snowflake method?
The snowflake method was invented by American physicist and writer Randy Ingermanson in 2014 to make it easier for authors to plot their books. It consists of 10 steps that build on each other and are connected to each other so that in their structure they are reminiscent of a snowflake. Snowflakes are unique, entangled by complicated connections, and yet perfect – that’s how your story should be. There is only one requirement before you can start using the snowflake method: you need a concrete idea for your story. If you need support, please read our blog article on the topic: How to write a book that can help you come up with ideas.
The Ten Steps of the Snowflake Method
The first step of the snowflake method is to summarize your story in one sentence. This sounds easier than it is, but once you’ve cleared that hurdle, it will help you in many areas – for example, so as not to lose focus while writing. According to Randy Ingermanson, there are the following aspects to consider in the summary sentence:
- Use a maximum of 15 words
- Generalize as much as possible
- Don’t use character names
- Writing from the main character’s point of view
- Focus on the question: What is the goal? What is the story about?
- Planned time for this task: 1 hour
Example: A halfling must destroy a powerful ring to save the world from evil.
Tip: The summary sentence also helps with the later marketing!
Step 2: Three disasters and one solution
In the next step of the snowflake method, you should formulate 5 sentences within an hour.
- The first sentence includes the main character, the location, possibly the time, and most importantly: the background and structure of the story.
- The second sentence describes the first catastrophe, i.e. the first conflict with which the main character is confronted. The protagonist usually can’t help it.
- The third movement is about the second catastrophe that arises while the main character tries to cope with the first catastrophe.
- The person unintentionally aggravates his own situation.
- The fourth movement deals with the third catastrophe. It occurs for the same reasons as the second disaster. That is, it surrenders, while the protagonist tries to avert the first and possibly also the second catastrophe.
- The fifth movement stands for the end, which ideally provides the solution to all disasters.
Step 2 of the snowflake method briefly summarizes the whole story, so this section could serve as the first basis for a blurb.
If you are writing a non-fiction book, then you should deal with 3 problems instead of 3 disasters.
Step 3: The protagonists
In step 3 of the snowflake method, each main character is to be worked out in a time window of one hour. It is important to answer the following points:
- What is the name of the character?
- How would you explain the character’s story in one sentence?
- What drives the character and what does he want to achieve?
- What prevents the character from achieving his goal?
- What does the character learn as he tries to achieve his goal, and how does he change?
By the way: If you notice when answering these questions that step 1 or step 2 are no longer completely conclusive, then you can adjust the first two steps of the snowflake method accordingly. Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. Your story should develop and you will always have new ideas. So do not hesitate to question your story yourself again and again and to incorporate new ideas.
Step 4: 25 sentences = one novel skeleton
Now complete your 5 sentences from step 2 of the snowflake method with 5 new sentences each, so that you have a paragraph with 25 sentences at the end. You can take a few hours to do this. Keep in mind that everything ends in disaster, except the end. Here, the conflicts and actions are to be further elaborated. Here’s how you could write the following in the new sentences:
- How and why is the conflict triggered?
- Who is involved in the conflict?
- Why is the conflict so bad?
- How do the characters deal with the conflict?
- How does the next problem arise, when trying to solve the previous one?
- In the end, 25 sentences make up the first rough skeleton of your book.
Step 5: What do the characters think?
It’s time to take a closer look at the characters again. Give your main and secondary characters a page to describe the story from your point of view. How detailed you do this is up to you. For this task, you can easily plan 1 to 2 days.
Example: My name is Frodo Baggins. I come from the Shire and currently live with my uncle Bilbo. Lately, Bilbo has been behaving strangely. He’s planning something and it’s not his birthday coming up…
In your character description, you can include the following points:
- What do your characters feel and think?
- Who are your characters’ allies and who are their enemies?
- How do your characters evolve?
- What morals does the character have?
- How would she act in the most important situations in your story?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of your character?
Tip: For non-fiction books, you can omit this step.
Step 6: It’s all a question of strategy!
Do you remember your 25 sentences? It’s time to expand it. You should currently have five sets five times. You can now turn any of these sets of 5 packages into a page. In about a week you will have 4 pages of text. On these four pages, you should focus more on logic and strategy in your story.
Step 7: More depth for the characters
In step 7, the snowflake method is again dedicated to the characters. It’s time for a backstory for each of your characters. In addition, you can think about the following aspects if you have not already done so:
- external appearance (hair color, clothing style, eye color, physique, etc.)
- social environment
- Date of birth / place of birth
- Quirks/ peculiarities
- Formative memories etc.
By the way: J. K. Rowling is said to have created very detailed profiles for each of her characters. This was certainly one of their success factors because profiles can help to put yourself in the characters’ shoes, making it easier to describe them vividly. If you wonder while writing how the character would act at this point, then you only need to look at the previously designed profile and already have the first source of inspiration available. This also makes plotting easier!
Step 8: All scenes in a table
Based on your four pages of summary, you now start with probably the longest step before you start writing, the scene planning. Attention: Scenes do not correspond to chapters, but you can say chapters consist of different scenes. Randy Ingermanson recommends using a spreadsheet at this point in the snowflake method. You create a row with multiple columns for each scene. The columns provide the most important details for each scene. You can decide for yourself what these are. Suggestions for this are:
- Location of the scene
- Time of day at which the scene takes place
- Perspective (From which character’s point of view is told)
- Mood / Lighting conditions
- Key Features
Result after elaboration: A list of about 100 scenes. However, the number of scenes also depends heavily on the story. So don’t feel compelled to write 100 scenes, but see what fits your story.
Tip: Think carefully about how the individual scenes fit your plot and whether you can incorporate conflicts because these increase the tension. After all, in the event of a conflict, your readers absolutely want to know how and whether it will be resolved.
Step 9: Supplement, supplement, supplement!
According to Randy Ingermanson, the penultimate stop of the snowflake method is relatively superfluous and therefore optional. The result of step 9 should be a 50-page summary, which consists of the approximately 100 scenes before, which have been worked out by additions.
Step 10: Turn the design into a story
In the last step of the snowflake method, the real work begins, but also the best part. The writing! You no longer have to think about the most important plot twists or discrepancies, after all, you have thought everything through well beforehand and designed a plan that you now only have to fill with your words. Turn to write and unfold your creativity to bring the characters and scenes to life.
Advantages and disadvantages of the snowflake method
- Your action makes sense throughout
- Their scenes are related in terms of content
- They build up tension piece by piece
- Your novel has no dry spells
- Your characters fit the story
- Helps you as food for thought
- The ten steps are a bit tough and very lengthy to implement
- Creativity can be inhibited by thinking too long instead of just writing on it
- In some cases, you will need more time for the steps than is specified
What you should keep in mind:
Time: The snowflake method takes a lot of time. You should therefore make sure to plan for them.
Write down ideas: Always write down your ideas immediately so you don’t forget anything. If you already have ideas for a later step, but are still at step 1, for example, you can already write down these ideas and come back to them later so that you do not forget anything. It is certainly also possible to shorten and summarize the steps.
Other plot structures: If the snowflake method doesn’t suit you, try a different plot structure, such as “The Hero’s Journey.”
Example of the snowflake method: If you need an example of how to implement the snowflake method, we recommend this video, in which the first five steps are explained in detail using an example.