Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Snowflake Method - Step 1

In my last post, I provided you with an overview of what the snowflake method is - basically a 10-step process to get you from concept to written novel.  This is also a process that, while having been out for a while, just hasn't gotten the following that I thought that it might.  I mean, sure a little work needs to go into each step, but the basic layout is there to get you to the finished product.  Please notice that I didn't say a polished product.  Anyway, that's okay with me, as I feel like I'm part of a more exclusive club!

So, here you are at step 1, which is to summarize your story idea in one sentence.  Wow, talk about hard!  How can you distill down all of the action involved with chasing that terrorist, or the emotional connection your lovers share, or the sweat-inducing pressure your bomb diffuser professional is feeling? Well, you're going to have to do it, because that will be your starting point.  This is where you will start to grow your story, from this little seed of a sentence.

I can already hear some howls from the group (wait, is there a full moon?).  But I have all of these great ideas, and now I'm just supposed to forget them?  Heck no!  Keep a list of whatever ideas you have for your novel, because you'll be able to incorporate them later on.  And as you come up with more things, such as great lines, scene details, etc., keep those written down as well.  They will only serve to help you out as you go along in the process.

Okay, there are a few restrictions with this first step as well.  And you may need to work through multiple iterations of the sentence to get things whittled down to a concise, short sentence.  This sentence should ideally be shorter rather than longer, 15 words or less if at all possible.  Also, no character names at this point.  Sure, you've got what you consider is a main character at this point, but what about later, when you realize that the antagonist that you thought was more of a minor character suddenly becomes a focal point in the story line?  This step should take around of hour of crafting, but could take longer or shorter.

I think that I worked on my single sentence for at least a solid 30 minutes, probably longer.  It worked at the time, but as I'm going further in the snowflake method, I believe that I'll have to revise this to reflect the changes that have happened to my story along the way.  This is a good thing, and means that your story is getting deeper, better.

So what are you waiting for?  Start working on your single sentence for your story.  Take time to enjoy the process, and remember to write down the other ideas that come up while you are crafting this short story synopsis.  Step 2 of the snowflake method will be building on what you do here.

Oh, and I'm sure you're curious what MY step one sentence is.  Well, here it is:

Two best friends, geocaching in the Wisconsin woods, become entangled in a voyeur's murderous game.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Lions, Tigers and Writing Methods, Oh My!

I think that we've all tried it at some point in our lives.  Many of us tried it when we were kids, and a fair number of us got through to the end.  It might not have been very long, but we were proud of our accomplishment:  we wrote our first story.  And we probably did it with an idea that had struck us as worthy of the effort.  So we had an idea, and then the ending, and it was the middle part that we worked on to get from point A to point B.  Not much of a problem to make the journey when you can do it in a few paragraphs.  But what about 200 pages?  Yeah, me too.

So many would-be authors, myself included, maintained this seat-of-your-pants attitude, and still do to this day.  When I first got serious about wanting to invest some time into writing, something that I've wanted to do for a really long time, that's how I wrote.  And the beginnings of my stories were pretty good, most of the time.  But that's all the further they went.  I realized fairly early on (with the help of some other fellow writers - yes, you know who you are!) that this just wouldn't do, because those people that read the beginnings were always talking about "what happens next".  How the hell should I know?!  Geez, what do you want, a friggin' complete story or something?

So, I started searching around the Internet for ways to get my stories to be, well, complete.  Maybe there was an easy way to put in some ideas into a mixer, hit 'blend' and out would come a story that you only needed to fill in a few gaps.  Nope, that didn't exist.  What about how others approached their writings?  Maybe they had ideas on how to get to the end without strangling people (unless that was part of your story).  And I should pause here for a moment to say that more than once I heard people talk about and advocate the need to outline your story, to do character profiles, yadda, yadda, yadda.  I was hoping for a short cut.  Alas, twas not to be.  Instead, when I started looking for ways to flesh out a story, I was provide with a number of "sort of" approaches, but nothing that was refined and appeared, dare I say, bullet proof.  While I don't think there will ever be a bullet proof method, I think I came across one a couple of years ago that nearly fits the bill.

Again, I need to break to say here and now that I'm not the originator of this idea, but that I need to give my profound thanks to one Randy Ingermanson, or as he's know on his blog, The Snowflake Guy.  He had put together a method to writing that he dubbed the Snowflake Method, based on his physics background where when one starts making a snowflake based on fractals, you can see progressive changes to what will become a fully formed, beautiful snowflake.  From this he drew the inspiration that if its good enough for fractals, maybe its good enough for writing novels.  Thus his idea was born, and he's done proof-of-concept of the method with his published novels over the years.

I poked this method a little when I came across it, thinking that it just couldn't be quite as easy as he was laying out.  I mentioned it to a few people, saying that it sounds like a neat way to write a novel, but then it just dropped away for a while as a forgotten Word document on my thumb drive.  Fast forward about 18 months, and a number of things shot up in my face to make me want to revisit my novel fantasy for real, such that I was going to publish a novel by the end of 2011.  I'm nothing if not ambitious, eh?  So, I rededicated myself to fully going through all 10 steps of the Snowflake Method and writing (and finishing) my first novel.

And that brings us to today.  I'm presently finishing up Step 6 of the Snowflake Method for my first novel, of which you can read a brief synopsis on my Geocache Murder page.  In my struggle to try to implement this method of writing, I've searched the Internet for examples that people have done using this method that have lead to a completed novel, and hopefully even better one that was published.  Alas, I have come across none (save for Randy's), and so I've decided that I want to share my experiences of using the Snowflake Method with others.  Over time I'm intending to go over all 10 steps in the Snowflake Method and to show what I did as I worked through them.  I'm having a blast using the Snowflake Method, because I can see both the start and finish of my novel, and I'm working through the big problems to make sure the story works.  Here are the 10 steps to the Snowflake Method:

1) - Write a 1-sentence summary of your novel
2) - Expand this 1-sentence summary into a 1-paragraph summary
3) - Write a 1-page summary for each main character
4) - Expand your summary from Step 2 into a 1-page summary
5) - Write a 1-page storyline for each main character from their point of view (1/2 page for minor characters)
6) - Expand your summary from Step 4 into a 4-5 page summary
7) - Expand your character descriptions from Step 3 into full-fledged character charts
8) - Create a spreadsheet with all of your scenes of the novel (this could number over 100)
9) - Using the scenes from Step 8, expand each into a multi-paragraph description of the scene
10) - Using everything you've accumulated, now write out the first draft of your novel

If you want to learn more about the Snowflake Method, you can follow the link to Randy's blog site that I check out from time to time.  And feel free to share this with others who might be stuck or otherwise unable to complete their novel.  Many a person has utilized parts of this to help with character development, scene development, plot continuity, and more.  Check back as I show you how I'm working through my novel using this method, and hopefully before the year is up I'll have a published novel to show for it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Self-Publishing Due Diligence

So I've been madly scouring the various groups that I belong to on (by the way, you can find and connect with me there at and there appears to be a recurring theme that I've encountered time and time again.  It seems that there has always been a stigma attached to self-publishing, but recently with the introduction and mass acceptance of multiple ereaders (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Sony, etc.) and with the ease of being able to self-publish nearly anything now, this stigma is coming to a head in many circles.

I think that those who are complaining and pointing out how many of these types of books that they have read that were subpar when it comes to editing, grammar, cover, etc. are correct.  There are plenty of these to go around.  However, it should be pointed out that there are also plenty of books that were published by traditional publishing houses, even the Big 6, that have editing errors, grammar incorrect, sometimes and awful cover, etc.  My point being is that this is not just a problem unique to self-published works, but is a common problem faced by all books, both fiction and non-fiction alike.

As I noted earlier, I'm getting the impression that with the increase in self-published books being available in ebook format on the Kindle, Nook, and others that there is the increase in this stigma that they are "all subpar" or somehow not up to our standards.  I don't think that this necessarily has anything to do with the fact that there are more self-published authors, I just think that their works are now more easily found and looked at/scrutinized, though I'm sure a few more are coming out to dip their toes in the water, but I don't expect it to last.  So, what is a self-published (or soon to be in my case) author to do?  How can you make a difference and change people's minds?

The answer is to treat your writing like a business and make sure that you cover all aspects of it like a traditional publishing house would.  You as the author now have to wear multiple hats instead of one.  You need to find someone to do your editing, and not just grammar.  You may need to find multiple people to rely on for grammar editing, story editing, general proof reading, etc.  If you don't know anyone like this, start asking around.  Go to your local university or tech school, as you may be able to find an English or Literature major who would jump at the chance to put their knowledge to good use for a much smaller fee than an established editor.  Along with an editor, you will also need to find a graphic designer.  This person will need to create a book cover image for just a front cover if you are simply ebook publishing, or else they will need to design the front and back covers and spine if you intend to also have a print version.  Along with the book cover, you may also want them to do interior design work.

Nope, you're not done yet.  Do you have a website or blog site yet?  If not, you'll need to establish one, and this again might be better done by someone with more expertise than you have.  It is becoming much easier to build a website, but creatively this might be better handed off to another person.  Okay, this is all done before you even have your book, but what about when it's done?  Do you have a marketing plan?  No, sorry, just because you print it, doesn't mean that they will come.  Here again you may want to find someone to help you lay out a plan to tell as many people as possible about your new book.  There are so many options here: interviews with radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, etc.; book blog tours; bookstore tours; press releases to newspapers, radio, TV, magazines, websites, etc.; book signings; author appearances; and on and on it goes.

Now, do you need to outsource all of these?  Definitely not!  But make sure that you know your own strengths and weaknesses, and where needed bring in talented help to polish your book and make it the best it can be.  Some of the above I'm doing myself, and some I'm connecting with talented people that I have made connections with to help me make it happen.  By taking the time to plan out your approach in these areas, you will ensure that you help to break the stereotype that self-published books are substandard and only done for vanity.  The more that we can take pride in our work, the more that we'll do well as a self-published author and have a following of readers that would make Jodi Picoult jealous!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Inaugural Post - Dreams

Greetings!  You've entered my wonderful world of useless pearls of wisdom, though sometimes they just might be helpful.  I'm embarking on a journey that I've been thinking and dreaming about now for many years, probably since I was in junior high.  I've been enthralled with the many different worlds that I have had the privilege to be a part of over the years, thanks to the unbelievable creative minds of authors both living and deceased.  I've loved reading from an early age, and I still love to seek out the different, the fantastic, the unusual, the interesting, and everything in between.  I've learned that it's not just the big boys and girls who put out great stories; there are thousands of lesser-known authors who toil just as hard, and they need to be found by people like you and me.

Since I was a teenager, I've always wondered what a writer is like, what makes them tick.  I had this sense that they had magical powers, or somehow had access to an exclusive place that most others did not.  They were like the shamans of ages past, people who were needed and feared at the same time.  They seem to have control of the universe, and could make things happen when and where they wanted.  And while I was in awe of them, I also wanted to be like them.  Ah, well, it was not to be, for they had the secret handshake, the special key, the forbidden password which allowed them to take hold of things and shape them in their own way, finally allowing the rest of us see their handiwork.  Oh, to be....a writer!

And then something happened along my cozy little path in life.  I had the opportunity to join a writers group!  I started with trepidation, with the fear that I wouldn't be good enough because those others in the group again had that special access to the secret place.  As time wore on, weeks and months passed by, and I discovered that I also had access to this special place.  I had things that actually were interesting to other people, people that I didn't have to pay, cajole, or otherwise force into reading, let alone liking what I had to offer.

I've come to learn that I put my own wall of separation up.  I was the one who was my own worst enemy, continually thinking that I wasn't good enough, and that I would be found out for the fraud that I was.  Instead, I was scared - scared that I would actually enjoy it, scared that I might actually have something to contribute, scared that I would be successful.  Now, over the years I've come to realize that everyone is their own worst enemy.  People really need to stop listening to their inner critic and to take the risk and learn from it.  You'll learn more about yourself and what you can do by doing so than you would ever learn by hearing about someone else's experiences.

So that's what I'm doing now.  I'm taking the risk, and I'm writing my novel.  In fact, I'm planning to write several novels, and I have the list of story ideas to prove it!  So, I'm hoping to provide some insights on my experiences, and along the way I hope that you too will decide to take the risk and do whatever it is you've been longing to do.  Maybe it's skydiving (who would purposefully jump out of a perfectly good airplane?!), maybe it's running the New York Marathon (if you buy my plane ticket, I'll come cheer you on), or maybe it's wanting to build furniture (I need a nice new chair for my living room).  Whatever it is, go out there and do it!  Now that I've decided to write and publish my novel, I'm having the time of my life.  And fortunately, I've found some companions who are going through this journey with me (the fools!), and we're our own support group, celebrating the joys and being there to comfort in the letdowns.

So, what's your dream?