Today I want to introduce the snow flake method to you, which is a well-known (if not the most well-known) method for plotting a story, developed by the American author Randy Ingermanson. It consists of 10 steps that build up on each other.

1. Step

duration: 1 hour

The first assignment is also the hardest in my opinion:
Describe the plot of your story in one single sentence.
This sentence will be the common thread throughout your entire novel and where everything else rests upon. Try to keep it short and concise and use 15 words at most. Don’t use any character names, but use colorful descriptions of your protagonist like „penny-pinching millionaire“, „witty detective“ or „conceited rockstar“ instead.
The sentence for Randy Ingermansons novel „Transgression“ for example was:
„A physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.“

2. Step

duration: 1 hour

Now you’re going to set the biggest milestones in your story and write a sentence to each one.
In the first one you’re going to write down the initial situation of your novel, the starting point. The second, third and fourth one depict the most important turning points/ catastrophes while the fifth and last one comprises the ending.
While the first turning point can be a random event, the other ones should be triggered by the actions of your protagonist.

3. Step

duration: 1 hour

During the fourth step you’re going to write a one-pager for every main character of your story. It should contain the following information:

Start by writing one sentence that describes the story of this character, similar to step 1, but with names this time. Next you’ll define this persons motivation and goals. Aside from that, you’ll also want to determine which obstacles will be in this characters way and what stops him or her from reaching his or her goal. Next, consider in which way your character will change during the progression of the story (Who was she at the beginning, who is she at the end? What does he learn?)
Last, but not least, take your one sentence and expand it to a whole paragraph.

If you realize now – or at any other point – that some parts of your story don’t fit together, you can always go ahead and change some things.

4. Step

duration: a few hours

Write a summary of your novel on one page.
Take the 5 sentences from step two and expand them to five more sentences each. Each paragraph – except the last one – should end in a conflict.
What you’ve written now is quite similar to an exposé.

5. Step

duration: 1-2 days

Concentrate on your characters again and write down the plot of your story from the view of each character. For a main character you’re aiming for one page, while a minor character only needs half a page.

6. Step

duration: 1 week

Turn to your plot summary from step four and amplify this synopsis to around four pages.

7. Step

duration: 1 week

Back to the characters again: Make character sheets containing all characteristics and details concerning this person. For each person of course.

8. Step

duration: ?

Depending on your expanded plot summary from step 6, you’re going to make a list of all scenes that your novel contains. It’s recommended to make a table with the columns „Scene“, „Point of View“, „Activity“, „Setting“.
According to Ingermanson you should have around 100 rows (depending on the length of your novel).

9. Step

duration: 1 week

This step is optional and Ingermanson skips it nowadays. For completenesses sake I’ll explain it anyways:

You take the table from step 9 and expand each row content to a whole paragraph with the information what happens in that scene. You can add anything from descriptions to excerpts of dialogs.

10. Step

…start writing 🙂 Enjoy the process and good luck!

I hope you’ve got a little insight over this simple, but extensive method. Don’t feel pressured to use it or to stick to each and every step, but use what helps you and ignore what doesn’t. Some people love this approach while others hate it. Try it out and see if it fits you and your writing style.

Randy Ingermanson has actually written the book Writing Fiction for Dummies together with Peter Economy. If you’re interested in fiction writing I highly recommend reading this book – it’s incredibly useful!

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