Monday, October 11, 2010

The Snowflake Method

I'll admit it, I'm a plotter.  To some degree anyway.  I like to have a roadmap that shows where I'm heading.  Sure, I might drift from the map at times but it's nice to have the map, just in case.   So, this year for NaNo I thought I'd give something different a try during my plotting.  And, I thought since misery loves company or something like that, I'd have y'all join me in the process.

For this week, let's work on step 1 & 2.  I've copied them here for your convenience but you can find the whole process on this site

When you get your steps done, feel free to post 'em in the comments for the rest of us. we go!!!

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.

Step 2) Take another hour and expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major disasters, and ending of the novel. This is the analog of the second stage of the snowflake. I like to structure a story as "three disasters plus an ending". Each of the disasters takes a quarter of the book to develop and the ending takes the final quarter. I don't know if this is the ideal structure, it's just my personal taste.
If you believe in the Three-Act structure, then the first disaster corresponds to the end of Act 1. The second disaster is the mid-point of Act 2. The third disaster is the end of Act 2, and forces Act 3 which wraps things up. It is OK to have the first disaster be caused by external circumstances, but I think that the second and third disasters should be caused by the protagonist's attempts to "fix things". Things just get worse and worse.
You can also use this paragraph in your proposal. Ideally, your paragraph will have about five sentences. One sentence to give me the backdrop and story setup. Then one sentence each for your three disasters. Then one more sentence to tell the ending. If this sounds suspiciously like back-cover copy, it's because . . . that's what it is and that's where it's going to appear someday.

1 comment:

V.R. Leavitt said...

Thanks for posting this. I started outlining this weekend but will go back and re do some stuff based on this info.