Structure Saturday: Snowflake Method Week 1

Here we are! The very first week of Structure Saturdays! If you read my post last Saturday, you will know that I promised to try out the first 3 steps of Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. And so, I did. I’m excited and nervous to share my progress with you.

For reference, I am currently planning a sequel to a Regency Romance I wrote a couple years ago. Is the first book published? No. Have I even revised the first book yet? No. Is it a good idea to work on a sequel when you haven’t even revised the first book, yet? Generally, no. But this is Milwordy! And NaNoWriMo! I need those words! Plus, this is only a sequel in the loosest sense of the word. It takes a side character from one book and gives them their own story. Same world, slight overlap, but totally different plot. So, it doesn’t really matter that the first story isn’t polished yet. This book could be its own thing completely separate from the first and literally no one would notice.

And just a quick primer here, if you’re unfamiliar with Regency Romance, its historical romance set in the Regency era in England in the early 1800s. Think Jane Austen.

Anyway, let’s get to outlining!

Step 1: Write a 1 sentence description (15 words or less)

As I told you last week, I’ve tried a little bit of this method before and when I first read the 15 words or less requirement, I was dubious to say the least. What was the point of that? If I need 20 words, then I need 20 words. But wow, was I wrong.

I’m not saying that a longer sentence is never warranted, but having this limit really forced me to challenge myself. It showed me how to be more succinct. It showed me how powerful it can be to simply rearrange words in a sentence. And it taught me that the first arrangement of words that comes flying out from my fingers is not usually the best. If I get nothing else from the Snowflake Method, I think this lesson is worth it.

So, here’s what I’ve got:

An unlikely romance forms between an awkward debutante and a surly widower.

You don’t even want to know how many times I shuffled those words (or other similar words) around just to get those 12.

44 times! It was 44 times!

Did you know that you could say the very same, very simple thing 44 different ways and never use another language besides English? Now you do!

Why did it take so long to hit this sentence?

Well, first I played around with descriptions for my protagonist. I tried shy, young woman and timid girl, but they made her seem way too young—she’s actually quite late in her coming out due to family stuff, blah, blah blah. Then I also tried out husband-hunter and husband-seeker, but those made her seem too mercenary. I landed on awkward debutante because it gets across her place in society and her personality in just two words.

I also toyed around with what to call the love interest. Grumpy widower sounded too old. I actually had the problem of making him sound too old A LOT. Grumpy, grouchy, crotchety—not good descriptors in this case. And moody made him seem like the kind of guy who likes to run around slamming doors and dramatically flinging his coattails, when really, he’s just a bit sarcastic and pessimistic. I also tried out calling him a married man because I was thinking of having it be a secret that his wife is dead. I may still do that, but…I don’t know…saying that there’s a romance forming between a debutante and a married man seems like false advertising. It’s too salacious for what I’m actually going to be writing here. Surly widower gets across some of his personality and baggage. I also think it is a nice contrast to “awkward debutante.”

And, of course, I swapped around the actions. Do they fall in love? (Yes, but do I want to give that away in this sentence?) Do they form an unlikely friendship? Also, yes, but I kept getting the image of a very young woman sitting around with an ancient widower talking about cards and who she should marry (certainly not him), so big nope on that.

Anyway, you can see why this step took me over an hour. I probably could have done one blog post just on this. I’m on the fence about how much this really helps develop the story because it’s a lot of time spent for a single sentence. On the other hand, it does provide me with a lot of clarity on what my story is actually about. I don’t regret this step, I’m just not sure how helpful it is in terms of outlining.

Okay, so for better or worse, that’s the sentence I’m going with. It may not be perfect, and it may even change once I’ve worked on the plot a little more, but for now that’s it. This can be the sentence I use when someone says, “Hey, what’s your book about?” Instead of stumbling over the words “Regency” and “Romance” twenty times until they back slowly away, I can just recite this. Yay!

Let’s keep this productivity train chugging along.

Step 2: Expand the sentence into a paragraph

Going by the description on the Snowflake Method website, this should be a 5-sentence paragraph:

  1. Introduction
  2. 1st Disaster
  3. 2nd Disaster
  4. 3rd Disaster
  5. Conclusion

The disasters match up to the 3-act structure (should we have started with a basic 3-act structure? Too late now!) like so:

  1. End of Act 1
  2. Midpoint
  3. End of Act 2

I like Randy Ingermanson’s suggestion that the last 2 disasters (at least) should be caused by the protagonist. Excellent advice to keep the protagonist from being passive.

Here’s what I ended up with:

An awkward, late-blooming debutante goes to London for her very first Season. When her mother informs her that this will be her only chance to marry before being banished to the country forever, she is determined to find herself a husband. The surly widower with whom she has formed a friendship and is falling in love with informs her that he never intends to marry again. Her attempts to secure a match with a handsome young rake leave her in a compromising position that could ruin her prospects forever. In the end, she and the man she loves live happily ever after.

I didn’t spend nearly as much time on the sentence structure this time because really this is all likely to change as I go. But this is the broad overview of what the novel will be about. We’ll expand on this next week, but this works for the present.

Step 3: Write a one-page summary for each major character

If you looked at the Snowflake Method website, you’ll know that the summary should include the following: Name, One Sentence Storyline, Motivation, Goal, Conflict, Epiphany, and One paragraph summary.

This is not generally how I like to build characters. I like to write vignettes about my characters’ backstories until they start to feel real. Then I can fill out a cheat sheet about them. Going at character charts before I’ve really figured out who the characters are has always left me (and my characters) a little cold. If it works for you, that’s awesome! But it’s not typically what I do.

I did say I was going to give the Snowflake Method a full try, though, so that’s what I did! If I need to work on the characters more later, I will.

Obviously, I’m not going to show you what I did for every character. That would be…a lot. But I think you can get the idea off of my protagonist’s chart.

Name: Jane Templeton

One sentence summary of character’s storyline: While seeking a husband in London, an awkward debutante falls in love with a surly widower.

Motivation (what does she want abstractly): To fit in. Also, to experience new things because she has been sheltered her whole life.

Goal (what does she want concretely?): To find a husband so that her mother won’t force her back to the same old country life she’s always known.

Conflict (what prevents her from reaching her goal?): She is socially awkward and so attracting a suitor is difficult. Also, she is slowly falling in love with a man that declares he will never marry again.

Epiphany (what will she learn? How will she change?): She will learn…

Ack! This is where I figured out that I hadn’t so much planned Jane’s change as I had planned her love interest’s change. But if he’s the one doing all the learning and growing, shouldn’t it be his story? And suddenly I have a dilemma on my hands. I haven’t figured this out yet, but that’s what outlining is for, after all. Either I need to create a good arc for her or I need to switch to him as my protagonist. Really, I like all my main characters to have some kind of arc, so I need to work on her regardless, but I need to figure out if whatever arc I give her is protagonist worthy. I’m hoping to figure this out over the next week as I continue the outline, but for now I’m going to have to leave this one blank.

One paragraph summary of character’s storyline:

Since—for the moment at least—this is Jane’s story, the summary paragraph for her character is exactly the same as the one for the story as a whole so I’m not going to repeat it here. For the other characters it’s a little different, but still follow a similar trajectory. As an example, here’ is my paragraph for the love interest:

A surly widower goes to London for the Season to escape the monotony of his life at home. When he meets an awkward debutante who is on the hunt for a husband, he befriends her against his better judgement. He suspects that she may be forming an attachment to him and that others are beginning to notice, so he informs her that he never intends to marry again. This causes her to look elsewhere for her marriage hopes, triggering both jealousy and concern when she finds a prospective suitor in a notorious rake. In the end, he changes his mind about marriage and they live happily ever after.

Since step 10 is actually writing the first draft, I only have 6 steps left to get through, but I only have 5 weeks before NaNoWriMo. That means I have to double up one more time. That’s what I’m trying to do in this next week, but the steps are getting more involved so we’ll see how it goes. If you want to get a full description of steps 4 and 5, go here. If you want a quick overview:

Step 4: Expand each sentence from your summary paragraph into its own paragraph. It should add up to a roughly 1-page synopsis of your novel.

Step 5: Write a 1-page description of each major character and a half-page description of each minor character.

So, there it is! The first 3 steps of the Snowflake Method Completed! Were you outlining along with me? Feel free to share your sentences in the comments, I’d love to read them or tell me what you think of the Snowflake Method so far. Are you too much of a pantser for all this outlining? Or do you have another outlining method you prefer? I’m always looking for new ways to improve my writing processes, so don’t be shy if you’ve got suggestions!

Let me know if you liked this or if you found it boring. Though I enjoy seeing this kind of thing from other writers, I’m not sure if this is interesting for other people. I don’t want to waste a lot of time on this if I’m boring people to tears lol.

That’s all for now! I’ll talk to you again next week!

-Robin

Published by Robin J

I’m an aspiring novelist who hasn’t quite figured out this whole writing thing. I’ve been scribbling down stories since I was a little kid, but only dared to dream that I could write something worth reading as I became an adult. At 33, I still feel like I have a lot of progress to make before I’m ready to try publishing, but I’m getting better every day. Typically I write Fantasy (of both the Adult and YA varieties), but I have dipped my toe in Romance and Sci-Fi. When coming up with a story to write, all I care about is that the plot grabs my attention and the characters tug at my heartstrings. The genre is an afterthought. I tend to set myself lofty goals. Mostly I fail, but occasionally I surprise myself and succeed. Either way, I enjoy being pushed beyond the limits of what I thought I could do. That’s what I’m hoping to accomplish with the Milwordy challenge. I may or may not reach the full million words, but I know I’m going to learn a lot along the way. I hope you will, too!

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