Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Secret of Using the Snowflake Method for Scenes or Short Stories

Do you know the Snowflake Method? It is a method, taught by author Randy Ingermanson, to help you go from a vague novel idea to a workable outline in ten steps. In "Writing Fiction for Dummies" he goes to great lengths to show how to use it to create a novel.

But what if you can't write or plan at great lengths? What if you only are ready to write short fiction right now? Or what if you just can't plan out a whole novel before you start, but your novel comes to you in scenes and short sections, so that you write it as if it were a series of short stories? It may be that you are in the middle ground between being an outliner and a seat-of-the-pants writer, and need to plan things, but only on a scene-by-scene, section-by-section basis.

Never fear, the Snowflake Method can be used in scenes and short stories, too. You just adapt it a little. I've been using the Snowflake Method for the opening scene in what I'm working on now. Because I have Asperger Syndrome, I'm not really good at planning out a whole novel in advance. So I'm writing scene by scene--- and planning this scene in advance.

The full Snowflake Method is meant to cover a full novel. For shorter work, you don't have to do all ten steps. The initial steps may be all you need to write your scene or story.  Here are some hints:

Step One: Storyline
A storyline for just one scene is a lot smaller in scope than one for a full novel.  Here is my scene storyline for the scene I am working on: A cat-girl is stuck in a drab grocery store job until she fights with a werewolf and meets a student mage. If I were to write a storyline for the whole novel/novella instead of just this scene, it would be different. But as yet I haven't fleshed out a lot of the rest of the story. But I do know enough about what will happen in the scene to write this.

Step Two: Three-Act Structure
Your scene is not going to have 'three acts'. It's just a scene! But you can probably divide it into three sections--- beginning, middle and end. In the Snowflake Method, this is supposed to come to about 5 sentences. Mine tend to run over, and I have in the past used what was intended as my Three-Act Structure to be my Short Synopsis (Step Four). But for a mere scene, you may not get as far as doing a Step Four. The Three-Act will be enough.

My Three-Act from today introduces the setting--- a small rural grocery story--- two major characters--- the cat-girl and the student mage--- and minor characters--- the couple that owns the grocery story, and a mother werewolf and her children. There is action--- a minor supernatural creature is banished. And the scene concludes as the cat-girl, who has shape-shifted into her cat form, tries to flee an irate werewolf and is caught by the student mage. (The next scene will show the result of this chance meeting.)

Step Three: Character Definitions
Here is where you write out some brief info on the characters--- name, ambition, scene goal, conflict, epiphany--- and write a one-sentence and one-paragraph summary of the story/scene from the point of view of the character. For scene/short story snowflaking, this gives you more than you need to know about most of the characters. I wrote this out in full for my two major characters, who are not only the focus of this scene, but are the major characters in the rest of the story. The more minor characters, I am going to do far more abbreviated versions of the character definition work.

For a lot of writers, these three steps may be plenty to write the scene or short story. For others, you may go on to do the other steps, particularly if it is a longer short story, or if you lack confidence when you sit down to write out a scene.

Question: Have you ever tried the Snowflake method to write a scene or a short story? Does it sound like something that might work for you?

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