Most writers agree that having an outline before beginning a story is an essential part of the writing process. While you can certainly write a story without an outline, it is not a practice we would recommend as it often leads to frustration on the author’s part at the very least and ruins the story at the worst.
The snowflake outline is a particular type of outline covering everything: character descriptions, plot, setting. It eventually paves the way to creating a whole story in an easy-to-follow process that many authors have had great success with. Every novelist can benefit from employing snowflakes to plan out and outline their stories. Still, they are beneficial for new writers who want to start their first breakout novel and need help steering and developing it.
This article will explain what a snowflake outline is and will walk you through the steps in creating one.
What is the Snowflake Outline?
Rather than the classic outline that most students are taught in grade school and high school, the snowflake method involves starting with one simple sentence and building upon it until you get a feel for what the entire story you want to write will encompass.
Think of what a snowflake looks like. It is a central structure in the center, and it branches out in several directions, making a whole creation. If any part of the snowflake is missing, the snowflake itself will become unrecognizable. The same applies to a story. All parts must be present; otherwise, you do not have a complete story.
The process is the same throughout, but remember that snowflakes in nature all look different, just like your snowflake outline may look different from that of another author. As long as you stick to the essential parts of your own story and follow the steps explained below, you will be fine.
Depending upon whom you ask, the snowflake method for outlining a story can be done in a five, seven, or ten-step process. The process is the same regardless of the number of steps. Some authors normally condense their process and minimize the number of steps they have to go through.
How to Use the Snowflake Method for Fiction Writing
Using the snowflake method to outline a story will help you plan, organize, and write a story. It is often a long and tedious process, but it can help new authors create a story from their central thought or idea. The following steps are essential parts of the snowflake method.
Step 1: Write a One-Sentence Summary
If you had to sum up your entire novel in a one sentence summary, could you do it? This is the first step in creating a snowflake outline. This one-sentence summary will become your central theme or idea.
Use some of the stories you know well and summarize them in one sentence to practice this step. For example, Peter Pan could probably be summarized as a boy who never grew up and made friends with three children from London who get homesick even when shown the wonders of a never-ending childhood in a magical land.
Notice that character names were not used in the above example, even the major character’s name. This was done on purpose. At this point, you are simply coming up with the main idea of your story. You will have a chance to work out character details in a later step.
Step 2: Write a One Paragraph Summary of the Story
In this step, write a paragraph that is set up as such:
- First sentence: Introduction
- Next three sentences: Major turning points or conflicts
- Last sentence: Summary or ending
Step 3: Write a One-Page Description of Major Characters
Major characters in your story should get one page to describe each and list other vital information such as the character’s goal, storyline, conflict, motivation, and epiphany or arc. The character synopses should include any of the characters who play a part in the central theme or influence the main character in any way.
Step 4: Expand What You Did in Step 2
In this step, go back to the one paragraph you wrote describing the story and expand each sentence into a full paragraph. This should leave you with a one-page plot synopsis to work with, and now you are fully into the swing of fiction writing.
Step 5: Write One Page for Each Character in Their Point of View
Go back to what you wrote about each character in Step 3, and expand on it. The first draft of the character synopsis gives information about each character. Now, you need to write a full page for each character that addresses how the plot affects them personally. This will provide you with more well-rounded characters when you start writing.
Step 6: Write a Four-Page Synopsis of the Plot
Go back to what you did in Step 4. Take each of those sentences, and expand them further. This will help your story fall into the three-act structure that serves as the baseline to your final novel. The last paragraph should describe how the story will end and tie up any loose ends before you even start writing your book.
Step 7: Bring Your Characters to Life
You will have fully developed characters before you even start your first draft. You started with a single sentence to get to that point, and now you will use the snowflake method to give life to the people featured in your first novel. Include important and personal information about your characters in this step, such as what they look like, how old they are, their relationship status, personalities, fears, persona goals, etc. The snowflake method transforms flat characters and makes them almost jump off the page as living beings.
Step 8: Using the Snowflake Method, Make a Scene List
You should have the necessary details to start your story by now. If you intend to write novels for a living, you have to put it all together to write more than just a story. You are writing life. Make a list of all of the scenes you will need to bring the novel to life: major disasters, love, conflict, betrayal, the protagonist meeting the antagonist. If you want to write a good story, you need to have all of the necessary scenes, and this list will help you do that. The only thing standing in your way at this point is you.
Many writers think that they can stop at this step and start writing because they have come this far and have spent several hours building this outline. However, this is often a big mistake. All the changes you need to make will become evident as you plot the scenes. Skipping this step and moving forward because you have a full paragraph about your characters or a summary paragraph of your story leaves room for plot holes and characters that are not fully developed yet. A single paragraph that is not well planned can throw your entire story off.
It may seem like you have written the same things a million times, but continuing with the snowflake method will give you more ideas and write a far more interesting novel.
Step 9: Describe Each Scene
A good writer understands that before putting words to paper, they have to create an outline that makes sense. This next step is tedious, especially since most novels have at least fifty scenes, but your writing may depend on it, so it is not recommended to skip it.
Go through each scene in your list, and expand it. If you have any ideas you want to add, do so. As you create these descriptions for each scene, try to figure out how you, as a writer, will put them down on paper and connect one to the next. This will take many pages, and it will be time-consuming, but hang in there. You are almost done.
Step 10: Write a First Draft from the Story You Created
You know how the book starts and progresses. You know how the book ends. You have spent a lot of time on this outline, and now it is time to use all of that description you were able to write and officially get your novel written.
The snowflake method is very involved, but it is an example of one of the most detailed and effective ways to start small and build up from a very modest beginning to a thoroughly planned story. Just like snowflakes, each outline looks different, but when you take your time and go through each step, they are shining examples of a well-planned and organized story.
Snowflake Outline: A Great Tool for New Writers
You may not hear of too many bestselling authors throughout the history of literature using snowflakes to develop their outlines, but do not let it deter you. If you are writing your first novel, the snowflakes method is the most concise way to create an outline. Writing is a practice that some authors will tell you can never really be perfected, so it makes perfect sense to use every advantage available to you.
A snowflake outline is a lifesaver when you have an excellent idea for a story. Although you do not have ideas for conflicts, plot points, protagonist or antagonist, or other details yet, the snowflake method will allow you to expand your ideas throughout the process. You can start your outline with just one sentence, and through an expansion of creativity, you may end up with a finished and fairly polished novel.