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.


farmerdave said...

Sounds like a worthy undertaking!

Anonymous said...

Seems like temptation to write is/has been percolating w/in do you let others know you need time alone to "snowflake"?

Darren Kirby said...

"how do you let others know you need time to 'snowflake'?"

We're only talking about, at least initially, an hour or less. And it's okay to spread that time over multiple sessions. You only have 15 minutes? Great! At least get that first sentence down, and you can work on tweaking it on your next 15 minute slot. Just starting to do it is the main key.

As for letting others know - you dictate how you use your time. I may sound mean here, but that's not my intention. You need to set boundaries on your time, and you do this already without thinking about it: when you go to bed, when you have lunch, when you watch TV, etc. You need to set aside some time each day to do something with your writing, and then tell those close to you that this time is what you need, and that you need it to be solitary.

Eventually, they will get the hint if you stick to it. "Oh, Sally is in her writing slot right now. But at 4:30, she'll be free to take a walk with you, etc." The main point is to get started and write something down, and then stick to writing at least a little everyday. I'm not perfect, and I have days that I don't write or do anything involved with promotion of myself or my forthcoming novel. But I only have control over today, so hopefully I make wise decisions. Best of success!