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How to write stories: The Snowflake method


The hardest thing to create in a story is the plot, that is basically the sequence of events that your story will tell. Now we will learn the methods of many different authors to create a good and consistent plot.
First of all, I'll ask you to imagine a triangle. In the sides of this triangles rise new triangles. And in the sides of the new triangles rise new triangles. And this keep occurring forever, until the last triangles get so tiny we can't see them anymore, in a way the image looks like a beatiful snowflake. We call this "Koch curve". It's a geometric figure that gets more and more segments, having its length infinite because it keeps increasing forever. Keep that in your head for now.
There's a guy called Randy Ingermanson who has a method that consists basically on this: you have a basic idea about your story and you develop it adding more and more details, like you're carving a block and transforms it in a statue, or like a drawing where you have a sketch and you give it definition. Or like a perimeter of a triangle that gets more and more triangles until it looks like a snowflake.

The Snowflake Method has 10 phases and it works like this:

1) In one hour, create a synopsis of one phrase of your story.
Usually, the term we use for this phrase is logline. Basically, we describe a protagonist and tell what happens to him. For example: "The young heir of a fortune see his parents getting killed and decide to fight criminals". This will be like a small version of your story that you will say to someone which kind of story you want to tell. But try to keep that in your head:
- Less words = better. Try using less than 15 words.
- Don't use any names yet. If nobody knows your character, it's better to use "the heir of a fortune" instead of "Bruce Wayne".
- Try to join internal and external conflicts, what this character have that he can loss and what does he want to achieve?

2) In one hour again, expand this phrase in a paragraph.
And in this paragraph, you will describe the project's assumption, the bigger disasters and its end. He uses the term "disaster" because, according to him, a story is composed by 3 disasters and 1 ending. If you take the structure of 3 acts, the first disaster will coincide with the end of the first act. Second disaster is the half of the second act (half of the entire story) and the third disaster is the end of the second act, that will force the third act to solve everything.

_____ ^_____________^____________^
__First Disaster__Second Disaster__Third Disaster

According to the author, "it's okay if the first disaster is caused by external circumstances, but the second and third disaster must be caused by the protagonist's attempts to fix everything". This paragraph, as he said, must have 5 phrases: 1) to introduce the world and the assumption, 2) to describe the first disaster, 3) to describe the second disaster, 4) to describe the third disaster, and 5) to tell the ending.

*Don't misunderstand this paragraph with the synopsis. The synopsis must introduce only the first act of your story. This paragraph is a developed version, telling the basics of everything that happens in your story.

3) Now do the same thing to the characters:
"Characters are the most important part of a story and the time you invest developing them previously will worth 10 times better when you start writting". For each important character of your story, use one hour to write one page about your character, having:

- Name of your character.
- Logline (a phrase that describes his arc in the story).
- The character's goal (what does he want?).
- The character's motivation (what motivates him to want to achieve his goal, what does he need?).
- The character's conflict (what is stopping him?).
- The character's epiphany (what does he learn with the journey, how does he change?).
- One paragraph telling the arc of this character in the story.

If you finish writting the info about your characters and feel that you need to come back a few steps to change what you've wrote, you're allowed to come back and rewrite it. The main goal of this is to prepare your story for when you're really going to write it. So this is the opportunity you have to develop, review, rethink and rewrite your story. None of this need to be perfect. And always remember you're making only the sketch of your story, you're still going to edit this soon, so just put the ideas you have in the paper in the way they're inside of your head now. Don't edit it, just write.
Now that you have an idea of the overall structure of your story, and if you think the story you imagine is pure trash, congratulations. This is why you're writting this way. To find out some of the mistakes now instead of after you write and design the whole story.

4) Take the 5 phrases you wrote in the step 2 and transform them in 5 paragraphs:

After this step, you will have a great base of your story. It's the same thing as the step 2, you will just develop the phrases you wrote into paragraphs, with the same content: 1) developing the world and the assumption, 2) developing the first disaster, 3) developing the second disaster, 4) developing the third disaster and 5) developing the ending.

5) Write a description of one page for each important character:

"Use one day or two to write a description for each important character and half page for each the less relevant ones. These descriptions must tell the story from the point of view of the character you're describing". For me, in here it seems that he tells us to do two different things: tell a long description about the character and tell the story from his point of view. Probably there is a half term between these two tasks, that it's what he wants you to do, but in doubt, do both of them. But do it. Develop what your characters wants, how they behave, who are they, what they like, dislike, what happens for them, how they react to problems, why they react like this, what did they learn, how did they change..... This is one of the most important parts of the story, more important even than the synopsis, because here you're going to create the whole fiction based on your characters. Here you're going to develop aspects that we already saw in other parts of the tutorials, such as empathy, characterization and real character.

6) Expand each paragraph created in step 4 into one page:

You're probably thinking now "If I keep increasing and increasing pages of my story, it might get redundant in the moment I keep writting more and more about the same". But let me tell you that is not. Ingermanson made me believe on this when he said this phrase: "this is pretty fun because you're developing the story's logic and making strategical decisions". This will define the most interesting concept to justify this method. If you try to think in all of your story at once, you will lose a few stuff of your sight and start using bigger stuff to justify smaller stuff. But if you look at the problems of development of your story piece by piece, you won't lose the focus of the story you want to tell, being able to remain concentrated in each part of the development of your story, without getting lost in the anxiety of how are you going to write it the way you want. The best way to avoid the mental block (when you run out of ideas of what to do next in your story) is to write the story piece by piece. This is why this method works. The 6th step will serve as a way to work these details that will be responsible for your story to make sense inside of the universe you created.

7) Use the time you want to do the same thing to your characters:

Expand the files of your characters. Write everything that is possible to know about them, how they will develop in the story.

8) Make a list of all the scenes of your story:

And the best way to do this is in a spreadsheet. Apparently, many writers fears spreadsheets, but it's the best way to deal with lists. In your spreadsheet, you will organize the information in the following way:

First column: List of all scenes (scene 1, 2, 3.....)
Second column: Describe the scene by the point of view of the protagonist of this scene (if it is the same character for all scenes, just use him for all of them)

If you want to be more professional, you can add more columns describing the conflict of your scenes, to remember where is an important object if you want to use a fore-shadowing, to describe the situation or point of view of other characters in this scene... Use the spreadsheet as it pleases you the most, and the more you use this technique, easier will be for you to find new and interesting ways to use the spreadsheets.

9) Expand every line of your spreadsheet in one paragraph:

This will be prototype of your scenes. Nothing else to say.

10) Write the story.

As you imagined. This is not a test, now it's serious. Sit down and write. He said something interesting about this: "there are a few logic problems to be solved here". The problems he mention are related to dialogues, looks, descriptions of characters at the scene, foreshadowing, etc. In other words, small stuff.

With this, we finish the steps of the Snowflake method. Basicaly, it works when you write the smaller version of your story and your characters and expands them alternately until you find out a lot of stuff about your story to be able to sit and write the closest possible to the real potential it has, eliminating inconsistences and continuity problems that you wouldn't preview if you write like a desperate. A desperate that would have to come back and rewrite a lot of stuff that he didn't see it was wrong. I really hope this method helps you, and even if you don't follow every single step of it, I think it's a really interesting method to work with.

Now get out of here and go start writting.


May 15 '19
Last Update
May 15 '19


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