Pros and Cons of Outlining a Novel using the Snowflake Method

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Hello everyone!

How are you all doing? As some of you know, I’ve been plotting my novel using the Snowflake Method (about 95% done). Since Camp Nano is coming up in July, I thought that it would be a good opportunity to share my experience with this method!

A few disclaimers before we start:

  1. You’ll find that I have more pros than cons, because I really love the Snowflake Method so far. I swear I haven’t been paid to say any of this! I am just a fan!
  2. The Snowflake Method is just one method for plotting a book. I am not too familiar with the other well-loved methods out there, such as The Hero’s Journey or The Three-Act Structure, so I can’t speak for any of these.

What is it?

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The Snowflake Method is a method for plotting a book created by Randy Ingermanson. The idea is that you start off with a one sentence summary, expand it into 5 sentence summary, then a 1 page summary, etc, until you have a description of every scene of the book. There is also the opportunity to develop your characters by figuring out their values, and motivations.

For a full guide to each of the steps, take a look at the original article by Randy Ingermanson (available for free.) There is also a book titled How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by the same author. This book was helpful for me because it provides examples of how to use the Snowflake Method. However I feel that the online article is sufficient and you don’t have to have the book to be able to use it to draft a novel.

What did I like about the Snowflake Method?

1. Makes novel-planning less overwhelming.

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I love that the Snowflake divides the huge task of plotting a novel into smaller, more manageable chunks. Outlining a novel is hard, but this method provides a step-by-step approach to doing it right. It is great for beginners to novel plotting and outlining (or more experienced writers who want to try a new approach.)

2. It’s efficient.

Don’t get me wrong: The Snowflake Method takes a long time. Even though the first 3 steps take around 1 hour to complete, the later steps can take days or weeks. However I find that I am plotting with a goal and a purpose with each step, so that it is faster than my previous novel-plotting attempts.

3. Helps you get organized.

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Don’t know about you, but whenever I tried to plot and outline a novel before, I end up with a mess of character sheets and summaries and world-building tidbits (and the plot is lost somewhere in between). I love that this method offers a structured approach and that my summaries, character sheets and outline are focused and to-the-point.

4. Helps you structure your novel.

Confession: I gave very little thought to novel structure before. I never really understood how it all works. In the end I just wrote what I wanted to write. The Snowflake Method forced me to give my new WIP a structure, which is a godsend.

5. Makes you think about the characters (even your minor ones).

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I have a habit of knowing my main characters very well, but neglecting my secondary characters. However secondary characters are important: We’ve all read excellent books where each of the characters are multi-dimensional, even the main character’s best friend’s mom. The Snowflake makes you to create a character bible for each character, even the secondary and minor character. This means knowing everyone’s hair colour, eye colour, family situation and what motivates them.

6. You get to figure out your whole story beforehand, not just the interesting parts.

I don’t know about you but I love to spend loads of time on the interesting parts that I know well when I am plotting a story. The downside is that I end up neglecting parts that are boring. I also tend to have a super detailed outline of the first half of the story, then a vague idea of the second half. The Snowflake Method forces you to examine each and every part of your novel, so that you have a clear idea of the plot before you start writing, and speaking of which…

7. You get to fix your plot holes.

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Because I had to plan out each scene in the story,  I found parts of the plot that didn’t make sense and needed more work. However frustrating this can be, I like that I am doing this now as I am still plotting, rather than after the first draft is completed.

8. There is some leeway for pantsing.

If you love your outlines, there is the optional final step to write a summary of each scene that can be as short or as long as you’d like. (This is what I am working on now.)  If you prefer not to have super detailed outlines, you can choose to finish the Snowflake early with a simple list of scenes before beginning to write.

9. The promise of a good first draft!?

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My first drafts are terrible and my second draft always been a complete rewrite. That is because I haven’t figured out my characters, my plot, and my story structure beforehand and I make these things up as I go along. Don’t get me wrong: First drafts will always be pretty bad. But the idea of the Snowflake is that you get all this out of the way and address any inconsistencies in the plotting process, so that the first draft will be a better one.

Will the Snowflake method live up to this promise? To be honest I don’t know! I’ll give you guys an update after I finish the first draft.

What did I not like about the Snowflake Method?

1. It is strict.

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There are 9 steps to the Snowflake (10 if you count the last step which is writing the first draft.) You have to finish a step before starting the next one. Have no idea how your novel will end? Well, you have to figure this out before you move on to step 3. It is a rigid process which is not for everyone.

2. It requires a lot of patience.

As mentioned above, you need to figure out the interesting parts AND the less interesting parts. You need to write character sheets for your MCs and friend #3.

3. There is less improvising room for the first draft.

This might feel stifling for the pantsers out there. Though I am enjoying the plotting process so far using the Snowflake Method, I wonder what it will be like when I am actually writing the first draft. One of my favourite parts about writing is when my characters surprise me and the story takes an unexpected turn. Will I miss this part of writing now that everything is planned out? Or will I find it easier to write the first draft because I don’t have to figure out what happens next?

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Are you a pantser, planter or somewhere in between? Do you rely on a method to plot your novels? How much in-depth do you go with your outline before you begin your first draft? Will you be giving the Snowflake Method a try?

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47 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Outlining a Novel using the Snowflake Method

  1. Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

    I have been waiting for this post ever since you said you were planning a novel using the snowflake method and it did not disappoint! 😀 It certainly seems like there are more pros than cons to this, and honestly it sounds like an interesting method (before you mentioned it I hadn’t ever heard of it before). There’s a lot of work, but from the sounds of it it’s helped you plan literally every aspect of your novel down to the tiniest detail. 🙂
    I dunno I’m not sure this would work for me, mainly because I feel like I’m more of a pantser than a planner. My WIPs always take me to different places so I’d have done all the work for the snowflake method then before I’d written the first chapter it’d all be down the drain.
    I hope this means you can create an epic first draft (I’m sure it will though) and I can’t wait to hear more about your Shapeshifter WIP/snowflake method adventure! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sophie Li says:

      Hello Beth 🙂 Glad that liked this post!
      We all have different ways of approaching a novel, so it’s understandable that you’d think this method isn’t right for you. I get what you mean in that I loved going with the flow and seeing where the words take me. I am not 100% sure being a planter is right for me, and if it will take away the inspiration from writing, but we’ll see how it goes 🙂 I’d say if you have a writing process that you enjoy and are comfortable with, definitely keep at it!
      Hope editing is going well, and I’m looking forward to updates as always 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

        Yeah I think I just have to work out which way is the best for me. I don’t think I’d be able to do anything other than go with the flow because I have so many ideas as I’m writing planning never goes the way I think it will.
        Thanks Sophie. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. MichaelK says:

    I love your analysis of the method Sophie! As we have discussed before I am mostly a pantser and I don’t use any formal method of outlining my stories. However I can recognise some elements of the snowflake method in work that I have done.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sophie Li says:

      Hello Michael! If pantsing works for you, then keep on doing it 🙂 That’s interesting that you are seeing elements of this method in your work even though you haven’t formally used this process. I guess parts of it are intuitive and universal. Hope your RPGs are going well!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Marie says:

    This is SUCH a great post, Sophie, I am so happy you wrote and shared this. I didn’t know this method at all, but I find it so interesting and I’m wondering if it could work for my re-plotting and editing of my WIP, actually, haha. I’m glad you are enjoying this method so far and I hope that the writing will go smoothly after all of that in July! ❤ ❤ Thank you so much for sharing! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sophie Li says:

      Glad that you find this to be helpful Marie 🙂 I think the snowflake method could definitely be used to edit a novel. Let me know if you end up using this!! 🙂
      Thank you for the encouragement ❤ I was a bit stuck last week when outlining the ending, but I think I figured it out.
      Wishing you all the best with the editing process! Keep me updated about how it goes!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hufflepuff27 says:

    I’ve been planning to write a novel for a few years. But recently I’ve been writing “book of the film” styled books for Fantastic Beasts. This method looks really cool, good luck on the novel btw. xxx

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sieran Lane says:

    Hey Sophie! My eyes have not been feeling good lately, so I’m trying not to spend much time reading things on my phone and laptop these past few days, including today. But I will later reply to your comments and write a proper comment on this post too. ^_^

    Liked by 2 people

      • Sieran Lane says:

        Thanks!! I’m writing up my list of things learned from fiction writing post, lol. I use paper or cardboard to cover up the laptop screen when I type. And I put my doc on my Kindle screen when I make edits. So I should post it soon, though I may take longer to write comments!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sophie Li says:

        Very cool! These sound like good ways to prevent strain on the eyes, though I haven’t heard anything like it before. Take care! Looking forward to your upcoming next posts 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sieran Lane says:

        Hey Sophie, I liked that you wrote about the cons of the Snowflake Method as well as the pros. It sounds pretty interesting, and I’m sure it’s helpful for some folks, but from reading the process of snowflake building, wow, it’s clearly not for me! I am too much of a pantser to do this. As you said, you need to know the ending (I don’t and I don’t want to know), and you don’t get to enjoy any surprises. But surprises are one of the best parts of writing!! Maybe I’ll write a rant one day on the stereotype that pantsers end up with super messy, unwieldy first drafts. This isn’t always the case. Some of us can write pretty organized and structured drafts too, even if we pants the entire thing. A writer friend of mine wrote about this topic (she’s a pantser too), and said that it’s about whether you understand story structure, not about whether you pants or you plot. I’ll send you a link later to her blog post.

        Back to the snowflake, I know intellectually that different methods work for different authors, but I’m still amazed at how differently our minds can work, lol. As a pantser, I discover things and let everything unfold. In contrast, I recall a plotter who is good friends with Stephen King (who is a pantser), and said he couldn’t understand how you can write a story without planning! Yeah different people have different minds, even when it comes to the creative process. 🙂

        That said, it might be fun to do the one-sentence and one-paragraph summary of my story after I’m done. Also, reading about the snowflake method motivated me to analyze my own story structure in more detail—I wrote about an example of such analysis in my latest post.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sophie Li says:

        Hi Sieran! You bring up some good points here. I absolutely agree that we each have our own approach to writing. Some of us may be naturally plotters and others naturally pantsers.
        I’ve been kind of half-pantsing my way through previous drafts, and it hasn’t consistently worked well for me, which is why I am trying the plotting approach. The thing is I am kind of a planner when it comes to life. I like to plan things out in advance and I freak out when things don’t go according to plan or when I don’t have a plan haha. So maybe planning is the way to go for me 🙂
        Yes it might be interesting to use the snowflake method retroactively on your novel! I am definitely considering this when I plan to edit an older novel 🙂 Let me know if you ever give this a try. I am curious about your story structure so I will take a look at your post!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sophie Li says:

        Nice 🙂 I’ll have to take a look! Haha you are right. There are some great writers who are known to be pantsers (like Stephen King!) so there must be a method to it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. J.W. Martin says:

    Interesting. I’ve never tried this method. Truthfully, I’ve never tried any official “method” even though I’ve always been an outliner. I just write a bullet, then another, then another and another until I feel like I’m at the end of the story. Is that a method?? LOL

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Brooke Lorren says:

    I’ve never heard of this before.

    How I plan my stories depends on a lot of things. It’s not always the same for each project. Sometimes I have no clue what’s going to happen until a third of the way in. Other times I know what’s going to happen before I even start.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Alex Masegian says:

    I’ve heard of the Snowflake Method, but I’ve never seen someone break it down into pros and cons like this, which was super helpful! I have a lot of the same novel-planning problems that you mentioned in this post: I plan out interesting events rather than the whole novel, I often have no idea how the second half (or even the last three-quarters) of my novel is going to go, and I don’t spend enough time developing minor characters. Basically, even though I KNOW I can’t write a book well unless it’s planned, I never know just how much I need to plan and my projects always end up struggling in one way or another. This is why I label myself a plotter instead of a pantser — pantsing just never works out for me.

    That being said, I’ve been on the hunt for a good method of outlining for a while, and I’m so glad you wrote this post. I had no idea that the Snowflake was so comprehensive in terms of helping writers come up with every detail that they need to write their story — I thought it was mainly focused on plot, which is what made me iffy about trying it even though I’ve heard it mentioned in the past. I love the thought of “character bibles,” and I really love the fact that this method still leaves some room for pantsing at the end — even though I’m a huge planning advocate, I still feel that too much planning has the potential to make the writing process super boring. But the Snowflake seems to strike the perfect balance that I’ve been looking for! Thanks to you, I’m definitely going to be giving it a try for my latest project. 🙂 I’m looking forward for more updates on how your writing process goes!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sophie Li says:

      Hello Alex!
      If you know you are a plotter and are open to using a new method, then the Snowflake might be worth a try! The Snowflake steps alternate between being story-focused and character-focused. For example, you would develop the one-sentence and one-paragraph summary of the plot in steps one and two, then you switch into character mode and work on each character’s goals and motivations in step three. The character bible (step 7) is so helpful in the plotting and writing process because I can easily re-familiarize with a character’s personality, or just check what their eye-colour is! I also like that just making the character bible forces me to think about the minor characters.
      Glad to hear that you are giving this a try! Keep me updated about how it goes 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. haidanwrites says:

    Ok, so after I got the notification in my email “New post on Sophie’s Corner” I kept telling myself I would get back to it and read it but life kept getting in the way. So the email sat in my inbox until now, when finally I get to read this and I so enjoyed it XD

    I’m a mental plotter but I’ve been wanting to use the Snowflake Method for aaages (not actually sure why I never did, haha). Reading your thoughts on using it definitely strengthens my resolve to use it in my next story. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

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