snowflake image with the words

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Steps 8 & 9 of the Snowflake Method

The penultimate steps of the Snowflake Method can be summed up in a single word: outline.

It’s a task that many authors dread and more than a few novelists disregard altogether.

Anyone who has talked with me about this topic—or attended any of my “Pantsers vs. Plotters” presentations or read this blog post—knows I am a converted, die-hard plotter. I’ve personally found that having an outline, any outline, is better than none when it comes to both quality and efficiency of writing a first draft.

Not to mention future drafts…

Earlier phases of the Snowflake method chipped away at the iceberg-sized challenge that creating a novel outline can be, which put me in great shape for Steps 8 and 9: a scene by scene, chapter by chapter account of the story from beginning, through the middle, all the way to the end.

What Randy recommends

I took these notes from Mr. Ingermanson’s article about the Snowflake Method:

Step 8: Outline all scenes in a spreadsheet.

  • POV character
  • Plot (what happens)
  • Predicted number of pages
  • Total time: ???

Step 9: Draft narrative description of each scene in a text file.

  • Take each line of the spreadsheet and expand it into a multi-paragraph description of the scene.
  • Put in any cool lines of dialogue you think of and sketch out essential conflict of that scene.
  • Note: there should always be conflict in a scene!
  • One or two pages per scene
  • The result is, essentially, a full synopsis.
  • Total time: one week
  • (This step is optional.)

What David did

The exact opposite of the above.

Let me explain.

When I saw that Step 8 involved a spreadsheet, I was intrigued—and even a little excited. I  might be one of the few fiction writers on the planet who loves organizing anything and everything in Microsoft Excel. I was also relieved to see that my old method for creating outlines contained two of the three recommended components: point-of-view character and plot.

I never bothered planning out a page count per scene or chapter, but I was willing to give that a shot. And I did. Just not very effectively in Excel.

The spreadsheet simply didn’t work for me because as soon as I started charting my plot points, the cells and rows became incredibly unruly. And cutting and pasting sentences—when I needed to move something from one scene to another or remove it altogether—was a pain. I tried giving each plot point its own column, but that only made it messier.

I was relieved when it came time to revert back to my preferred method of outlining: stacking my scenes chronologically/vertically in a plain ol’ Word doc.

Which, according to the Snowflake Method, is Step 9—and optional.

In truth, my Step-8-and-9 hybrid was more like cherry picking what I already knew worked for me with a little tweak. Instead of predicting the number of pages each scene would encompass, I used wordcount instead. This essentially equated to chapters with one long scene (e.g. 1,500 words), one long scene and one short scene (e.g. 900 and 600 words), or two scenes of roughly the same length (e.g. 7,500 and 7,500 words).

While Mr. Ingermanson didn’t provide a time estimate for the spreadsheet, he noted that the more detailed outline took him about a week to complete. I knocked out Step 8 in 4.5 hours; Step 9 in 4.75 hours.

(Full disclosure: I also spent some time in between addressing some of the characters’ backstories and attended to additional worldbuilding “research.”)

Below is an excerpt of my outline:


CHAPTER 1 (Scene 1)

  • POV: Asher (as the GM)
  • Epigraph: LARP
  • Word count: 1,200

Sir Larpsalot, Elvish Presley, Brutus the Bullheaded, Master Prospero, and Tom Foolery are betrayed by their traveling companion, who reveals himself to be the dreaded Lord of the Rangs.

The villain’s first attack misses and he raises his hands in surrender. Sir Larpsalot stays his sword, but the magical boomerang returns, striking the paragon down.

An epic battle unfolds, but the scene is cut short when Brutus and Tom run into each other and the latter twists his ankle.

CHAPTER 1 (Scene 2)

  • POV: Asher
  • Epigraph: N/A
  • Word count: 300

The action stops suddenly, and the kids break character.

The FINAL step

Looking back, it took me four months total to get through the first 9 steps of the Snowflake Method (with a few other projects mixed in). Finally, it was time to write the first draft of The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot.

Come back next month to see how it went—and whether using the Snowflake Method for this book proved to be a benefit or a blunder.