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How To Outline Your Novel Using The Snowflake Method

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In the writing world, there are two types when it comes to planning a novel. These go by the terms Plotter - one who plans beforehand, usually creating some sort of outline - and Pantser - one who takes their ideas and just rolls with it to see where the story takes them. In my writing practice, I've literally been all over the board. I've tried lots of different outline types and even tried doing no planning at all and writing without really knowing where my story was heading. None of the ways I tried clicked with my creative process and I was left utterly inspired very quickly. That is, until I found the amazingness that is The Snowflake Method.

Want to watch the video version of this post? I've got you covered!

The Snowflake Method is an approach to writing developed by writer Randy Ingermanson and is composed of ten steps. The goal is to have an extensive outline filled with everything you need to know about your plot and characters in order to write your novel. Something about the way this method is structure just really jives with me so I'm here today to show you how you can use it to plan your next novel.

The Ten Steps To The Snowflake Method

1 - Write a one-sentence summary of your book.

First, you'll challenge yourself to write just one sentence to explain the plot of your book. Yes, really. I admit this is probably the most difficult part of the process. For me, at least. The idea is to make this around 15 to 20 words to avoid a run-on. On the plus side, this sentence will be a great marketing asset when the time comes.

Here are a few tips:

  • Don't use character names. Better to say “a young wizard” than “Harry Potter”.
  • Tie together the big picture goal of your novel and the personal picture. Think - which character has the most to lose in this story? Now tell me what they want to win. Example - “A boy wizard begins his training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.” -Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling
  • Read the one-line blurbs on the New York Times Bestseller list for inspiration on how to do this.

2 - Expand the sentence into a full paragraph.

This is where you will start planting the seeds to your plot. This paragraph summarizes the entire book, including the ending.

Here is the general structure:

  1. Sentence one will be the backdrop to the story - where is this taking place, who is your character.
  2. Sentence two will be a summary of the first quarter of the story leading to the first disaster.
  3. Sentence three will be a summary of the second quarter of the story leading to the second disaster.
  4. Sentence four will be a summary of the third quarter of the story leading to the third disaster.
  5. Sentence five will be a summary of the fourth quarter of the story leading to the conclusion.

Here's an example:

On his eleventh birthday, orphaned Harry Potter is invited to leave his miserable life with his aunt and uncle to attend a school for witches and wizards. Harry learns that an evil wizard, Lord Voldemort, tried to kill him as a baby and lost all his own powers instead. When Harry nearly dies in a jinxed game of Quidditch, he suspects that sinister Professor Snape is responsible. When Harry has to do a detention in the forbidden forest, he witnesses a shadowy figure drinking unicorn blood, a magical life preserver. Harry sets out to stop Snape from returning Voldemort to power, only to face Voldemort himself.

3 - Write a one page summary of each main character.

Here you will want to know their name, a one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline, character’s motivation, the character’s goal, the character’s conflict, and the character’s epiphany (aka what will he learn and how will he change). Then, you'll want to write a one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline.

4 - Expand each sentence in your one paragraph summary to one page.

Here you will be expanding on each of your plot points. To do this step, take each sentence in your one paragraph summary and expand it into a paragraph.

For example sentence one of the paragraph summary would look something like this-

From - On his eleventh birthday, orphaned Harry Potter is invited to leave his miserable life with his aunt and uncle to attend a school for witches and wizards.

To - Harry Potter thought he was just a typical boy until strange things started happening around him. He is forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs in his aunt and uncles home and lives a miserable life. On his eleventh birthday, a giant named Hagrid informs Harry that he’s really a wizard, and invites him to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

...or something like that.

5 - Write the synopsis from the POV of each of your main characters.

Now you get to build on your characters. This is a fun part that allows you to get into the heads of your darlings and see the plot from their point of view. This exercise helps you hone in on your character’s voice and tells you extremely useful things like what minor characters were doing while they weren't actually present in any given chapter.

6 - Expand each paragraph from your one-page summary to a page.

This is where you will start to get a grip on the high-level logic of the main plot points. So, just like we expanded each sentence into a paragraph in step 4, you will now expand each of those paragraphs into a full page. Details, details, details.

7 - Create character charts for each of your main characters.

I offer a free character chart template here if you'd like. But the important things to remember to include are birthdate, physical appearance, family history, personality traits, quirks, and of course their goals and motivations throughout the book.

8 - Make a spreadsheet outline of each scene based on your four-page summary.

This step is very time consuming but so SO important for my writing process. Take each paragraph from your summary above and brainstorm all the scenes that are necessary to tell that part of the story. So, get your favorite spreadsheet maker fired up and type out one line for each scene detailing chapter number, POV, setting, date/timeline, characters involved, and what happens in each chapter.

If you snag my Snowflake Outlining Trello board (below), you'll get my spreadsheet template fo' free.

One thing to remember here is that although everything is planned out - you CAN diverge from this outline as you write if your story takes a different direction. My characters are notorious for taking me somewhere I never even saw coming, and that's A-okay and super easy to update the spreadsheet when that time comes.

9 - Write a narrative summary of each scene.

I'll admit I do not write a full narrative for step nine. Instead, I use this as an opportunity to brain-dump #allthethings that are floating around inside of my head (or that I've previously scribbled out in my notebook). Dialog ideas, location descriptions, or any other tid bits of information you don't want to forget before it's time to write that scene.

​10 - Write your book.

By this point, you should know what’s happening in each scene and where each character is development wise. It's time to get that first draft down on paper!

This is where I print out all of my character descriptions, spread sheets, and the like and slap them into my handy dandy novel binder for easy reference while writing.

Now, you might have noticed that this outlining process is kind of labor-intensive and definitely time-consuming. I was able to get steps 1 - 9 done for my current WIP in 10 hours spread over the course of a couple weeks. But once you have all of this detail written out and available to you, it becomes so much easier to crank that first draft out.

Want a copy of my Trello Snowflake Outlining Board?

It will help you stream-line your plotting and become a hub for all things your-book!

If you’re a Thriving Scribe Tribe Member, you can find the printable in the Tribe Resource Library today! If not, you can click the button below to sign up.


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