Review: How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

  Are you a fiction writer who’s absolutely terrified of limp plots and drooping character arcs? Do you have a great first line in mind, a story concept, maybe, but no idea where to begin?

That was me, and in the depths of my confusion I ran across Randy Ingermason’s Snowflake Method online. It seemed easy enough. I’m a person who likes steps. The Snowflake Method has about 10 major steps. 

I’m also a person who, when I feel like tools and accessories can help me do something scary, I go all-in and buy stuff. So I bought Randy Ingermason’s How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method. Here’s how it worked for me.

What It Is

At its core, Snowflake is in the genre of business parable, right alongside literary giants like Who Moved My Cheese? and similar. However, for the intimidated fiction writer, author Randy’s method of telling a story to show writers how to tell their own story actually feels like a better way to go than just a series of instructional chapters. 

We get to watch the main character, Goldilocks (seriously) write a story. She decides now’s the time to write her epic wartime thriller novel, finds a writing conference, and comes under the tutelage of Baby Bear (again, seriously), who patiently shows her how to use the Snowflake Method to build out her tale. Along the way, the Big Bad Wolf and Little Pig (sigh) get into a scuffle, and in addition to writing her novel, Goldilocks must help clear an innocent literary agent’s name in order to secure representation – her authorial dream.

Yes, I’m serious.

The premise is goofy. However, at the end, the lofty goal of storytelling in novel form does feel a little bit more attainable. The book almost begs the question: If a fictional character – and not a particularly smart one at that – can do this, why am I so afraid to do it, too?

How the Snowflake Method Worked for Me

I am new to fiction, and as a result, tend to be high-maintenance, which is typical of overeducated and under-tested writers in my stratum. With that in mind, here’s what the Snowflake Method DID help me do:

  1. It helped me take the embryo of an idea and grow it into a solid theme sentence, then a pitch paragraph, and then a one-page summary. And it was a totally painless process – I simply followed Goldilocks’ example, applied it to my own story idea (decidedly NOT a wartime thriller), and went from there. 
  2. The Snowflake Method outlined in the book puts the character’s motivations, backstory and values ahead of where most method books tend to introduce it. Usually, the writer is told to get to know their characters from the outside in, not the inside out. (You don’t get to decide whether your lead has blue eyes or brown til much later in the process.)
  3. The Method interwove character development with plot development, never letting too much of one take the lead early on. I discovered that my fear of violating my readers’ suspension of disbelief makes me very, very plot-heavy. (The clanging editor voice in my head always says, “Is this real? Is it beliveable? Is it authentic?”) I forget that my characters should be driving my story, not the other way around. 

How the Snowflake Method DIDN’T Work for Me

My old orchestra conductor (Hi, Robert!) had a saying about Beethoven’s major symphonic works: “You can wind him up and watch him go.” 

Beethoven’s pieces had a kind of inevitability and didn’t change meter very much, and if you, in the orchestra, didn’t feel like looking up at the conductor, you could pretty much keep your head down while sawing away, and not really have to think all that much.

The Snowflake Method is the same way: After heavy and helpful guidance in the beginning – how to create a one-paragraph summary, how to do character sketches – the instruction and insight in the second half of the Snowflake outlining process felt light and overly rushed. As a result:

  1. I felt my outline running out of gas midway through Act II. It’s not that I was out of ideas, it’s that I’d never written a novel before, and wasn’t totally sure how to execute the long, inexorable slide toward disaster and final confrontation that I needed between my protagonist and the threat. Feelings of muddiness and confusion, dispelled like humidity after a summer storm in the first half of the Method, gradually returned. 
  2. Beginners need much, much more help in general in the “mushy middle” and in engineering the Act II denouement than many, many writing method books cover. 
  3. It could be argued that Randy was teaching through showing with the confrontation between Goldilocks and the criminal inside the writing conference, but the scene felt so lightly sketched and story-specific that I was unable to glean much in the way of actual guidance from it.

So that’s the Snowflake Method! I would recommend it if you’re floundering in the Forest of Ideas and trying to hack your way to the Perfectly Designed Plot Pastures. However, if you’re already midway through developing your ideas, there are different books that you could turn to for that specific kind of tune-up.

Rating: 7/10, would buy again.

  • http://bringouthewords.wordpress.com/ Marina Stavropoulou

    I read it in preparation for this year’s NaNoWriMo as I was determined to plot this time around. In this regard it has helped me have a bit of planning in the works before starting to write – which is a first for me. But, it has no advice for actually writing the damn thing.
    I am glad I read it but now I think I will go read something more advanced. Also, I would like to point out that the ‘Goldilocks’ narrative had me wanting to bang my head many times. I found it overly simplistic and unimaginative. I wish I had the advice without the rest.

  • Mark Sandel

    A good method!

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