Snowflake Method

How to plan your novel in 10 steps with the snowflake method

Randy Ingermanson is a software developer. This job gave him a brilliant idea for planning novels. As a writer himself, he uses it successfully. The Snowflake Method. What is behind it and how can it be used to plan plot structure and characters piece by piece?

What is the snowflake method?

When planning a novel, proceed piece by piece - that's the idea behind software developer and writer Randy Ingermanson. He "designs" the book like a puzzle made up of many small pieces. Hence the term snowflake method: like a snowflake, you put individual elements together until you end up with a complex yet impressive structure. "Designing" the novel, that is, planning the plot structure, is an important part of an author's job, Ingermanson says. While this method isn't for every writer, debut authors in particular make the mistake of just "writing away" without planning plot and characters in detail beforehand. This can lead to them getting caught up in many separate story lines and losing the common thread. The snowflake method can save you from this.

The individual steps

The following ten steps of the snowflake method, based on the article "The Snowflake Method For Designing A Novel"by Randy Ingermanson, include a recommendation from the developer on how much time you should devote to each task. This serves as an orientation to work structured in time.

Step 1: Your own novel in one sentence

Ingermanson recommends that you take an hour book idea in one sentence. The shorter, the better. Think of that sentence as the ultimate selling point to publishers, booksellers, or readers. In other words, the sentence has to be on point! You can dispense with details and character names. A summary might read something like, "A woman unexpectedly inherits a house in Normandy and comes across clues to a long-ago crime." The sentence, Ingermanson advises, should connect the general level with the personal level of the novel.

Step 2: Your novel in five sentences

You can invest another hour for this step. Here, expand the sentence you wrote in step 1 into a paragraph of about five sentences. This should describe the broad outline of the novel, the major moments of suspense, or "catastrophes" as Ingermanson calls them, and the ending. He works with about three moments of suspense, each taking up about a quarter of the book.

This text is not to be confused with the so-called Blurbwhich will later be on the back cover of your book. This should not anticipate all the moments of suspense and certainly should not give away how the book ends.

Step 3: How to develop the main characters in the snowflake method?

With the first two steps, you have an overview of the rough plot of the novel. Now the Figures on it. Ingermanson plans these in a similar way. A good story depends on its protagonists. The better you plan it, the easier it is to write.

Ingermanson recommends that you take about an hour per character and write a one-page summary for each. Articulate the protagonist's story and explain what drives the character, what her goal is, and what obstacles she faces. What does she learn over the course of the novel? How does she continue to develop?

Ingermanson points out that these summaries are often changed and varied later as you get deeper into the novel during the planning process. This is a normal process. This is how the story matures.

Step 4: The plot on one side

This step requires several hours of time and follows on from step 2: Expand the paragraph to about one page. To do this, you should develop a separate paragraph from each sentence in step 2. The goal here is to expand and "shape" the individual ideas and moments of tension. Each paragraph of this detailed summary should end in a "catastrophe", the last paragraph describes the end of the novel.

The advantage of Ingermanson's method is that you will notice after the first four steps whether your novel has a stable framework, i.e. whether the plot is plausible and works. If not, it will be difficult for you to formulate a longer summary. Then it's a matter of: Develop new moments of suspense or approach the core theme from step 1 differently.

Such a realization may be frustrating. But it's better to pull the emergency brake now than at a much later date, when you've already got hundreds of pages of your novel down on paper.

Step 5: Introduce your characters in detail

What you created in step 4 for the novel plot, now follows for the characters. This will probably take a few days. Ingermanson recommends creating a half-page to one-page summary for each character - major and minor. This should tell the story of the novel from their point of view in each case. In this way, the characters mature and their individual traits and motivations become fleshed out.

Ingermanson even used these summaries from a character's point of view as an application to Publishers based on the experience that editors are enthusiastic about novels that thrive on strong characters. It's a clever idea, to go with his... manuscript to attract attention in publishing houses.

With the first five steps, the basic framework of your novel is now in place. The other steps build on this, go into more detail, and thus require a little more time. Ingermanson's timelines, however, are for guidance only. If you need more or less time, don't worry: every author has an individual working speed.

Step 6: Describe the action in more detail

Ingermanson sets aside about a week to expand the one-page summary of the novel created in Step 4 to about four pages. As a relief, the method already used helps to formulate the individual paragraphs into one page. By doing this, you automatically go deeper into the story, develop plot sequences and logic in detail, and make strategic decisions. It doesn't matter if you have to adjust aspects and ideas from the previous steps. That's normal, because you'll gain more insight into the novel and probably have new and different ideas. By the way Narrative perspective you should start thinking about. It determines how much the reader knows and learns about the plot.

Step 7: Bring the figures to life

You can now also go into detail with the characters: Based on the short summaries from step 3, you can create comprehensive descriptions. Now it's all about what makes the character tick. From date of birth and life history to desires, motivations and goals. Most importantly, according to Ingermanson: detail how the character develops and changes over the course of the story. In this step, you literally bring your characters to life.

Step 7 may take you several weeks, but it will pay off in the end. This way, you avoid writing a novel whose characters are immature and unimpressive to the reader.

Step 8: How do I get an overview in the snowflake method?

If you like working with tables and overviews, you will love this step. Now it's time to create a list in table form based on the multi-page summary from step 6. In it, you describe all the scenes that make the story a novel.

This sounds more complicated than it is: Ingermanson recommends a table with one line per scene. In three columns, you formulate a headline for each scene, explain what happens and from whose point of view it is written. Optionally, you can mention in additional columns how many pages the scene should cover and where it takes place.

Using the table, you can see the entire plot of the novel at a glance and move scenes around within the plot if necessary.

Step 9: A detailed description for each scene

Ingermanson now omits this step in his own writing, as he finds writing a novel easy from this point on. However, it can help debut authors to use the table from step 8 as a basis for formulating a description of each scene that is several paragraphs long. In it, you outline the conflict of the scene. Feel free to jot down ideas and approaches for dialogue. The advantage: If you can't think of a conflict for individual scenes, you can see here whether they are really necessary. In this way, a first prototype of your novel draft is created.

Step 10: Write your novel

Let's go! Now you can start writing your novel. Because the logical detail work is done thanks to the snowflake method, you can now focus on the creative fleshing out of the story. According to Ingermanson, this speeds up the writing process tremendously. Maybe you know the feeling of how stressful it is not to make progress in writing, possibly even to have a Writer's block to have. You have now solved this problem with the snowflake method.


Every good novel thrives on a strong plot and authentic characters. With Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method, you can easily develop a novel from an idea, step by step. The Snowflake Method is an excellent way to expand, plan, think through, and embellish a basic idea.

But the fact is, as Ingermanson himself writes, "There isn't just one way to write a novel, there are many. Use the method you're most comfortable with." Try out different methods for structuring your story to find what suits you best. The snowflake method can be a suggestion, but it should not be taken as a rigid model or an indispensable factor for success in your writing career. The rule is: try it out! Each approach will help you improve your own writing and find your individual path.


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