The Snowflake Method | How to Get Your Plot Rolling

The Snowflake Method

A few years ago, a friend used “the snowflake method” to plot out her first novel. Her book was admirably tight and her characters had a depth and complexity that is rare in a first novel.

Since then I’ve sent many writers to this site:

And many have been inspired by it. I don’t know if they’re systematically following the program, but they’re getting something useful out of it.

I take on a lot of debut fiction. By the time it lands on my desktop, every chapter and page of these books has been long worked on to build a compelling tale with full-featured characters. If all goes right, the book gets sold and the publisher and readers want more…soon. So then comes the contract for the second novel. Or for the fifth. And the author must start anew. Maybe the writer has an idea, has settled on a few characters and so he starts to work. I can see trouble ahead. And that would be the vast middle of the story, the Sahara Desert called plot.

Eventually the writer will figure out how to make it all work — even without my help. But there will be so many drafts, so many restarts…and inevitably it turns out that a new character needs to be introduced. Or that the stakes aren’t high enough. And this is where the snowflake method shows its stuff.

It’s kind of the opposite of the Marie Kondo plan. In other words, the author isn’t confronting a messy house that needs to be cleaned out. The problem instead is the inherent scantiness of beginnings. And the author’s fear that her idea spigot has been turned off elicits panic, not inspiration. It’s always scary: Is there any guarantee that the urgent twists and turns and engaging characters will return?

The snowflake method is methodical; it ploddingly explains that building a potent story is not about inspiration. It’s about asking one question, listening to the answer and then offering up another idea. It alleviates many authors’ anxiety to think of plotting as a skill like any other. The craft has rules, it can be learned, and it’s not about brilliance. It’s about thinking characters and a story through and giving yourself enough time that an unexpected twist or turn can emerge.