When I started over, I didn't want to waste any more time figuring out how to write. The first major draft gave me great perspective on who my characters were and what was important, but it still lacked structure and focus. I needed a method if I was going to rewrite everything from the ground up. I needed order.
For personal reasons, I wasn't comfortable asking the Real Cal for guidance this time, so I turned to the Internet for help. I found a lot of "resources" for new writers. It seems that anyone who has written anything finds themselves qualified to tell other people how to do it, and the irony of writing about that on my own blog about writing is not lost on me.
Creativity is the result of three core elements and variable constraints that affect the implementation of them. I like limitations, nothing is more intimidating than a blank canvas. So I kept my search for a method brief and jumped at the opportunity to try something new.
The method I discovered was developed by Randy Ingermanson, and he calls it the Snowflake Method.
Let me clear, everything I'm about to say was taken directly from Ingermanson's website, www.advancedfictionwriting.org, and I claim no ownership over these ideas. That being said, I disagree with the presentation of the method as a get-writing-quick tactic and a marketing tool for a piece of software, so I'm presenting them here in my own words.
Think about your story, and distill it to one brief sentence. No cheating, when I say brief, I mean literally fifteen words or less. It needs to tell the essence more than it needs to describe the plot. If you could sum up the whole story in fifteen words, what would you say?
Here's my advice: use a pen and a piece of paper. Write down the first thing that comes to mind when you think think about a one-sentence summary, then start a new line and write it down again. Maybe you'll think of a different way to say it. Count the words for each of the sentences you have, and you may find (as I did) that you went way over the fifteen-word limit.
That is okay, and to be expected. Circle the words that you kept in common between the first sentence and the second sentence, then write a new one that incorporates them, but try to shoot for fifteen words.
It took me four pages of my notebook, four pages of counting and circling, to find my fifteen words. Here's my one sentence for The Total Manageability of Everything:
"Two friends contemplate life and death in the face of mortality and scattering ashes."
With that first sentence in your toolkit, write a paragraph that describes the setting, the main plot elements, and the ending of the novel. The good news is, you don't have to write it in order. Let's break the paragraph down into its five (fifteen words or less) constituent sentences.
With the first sentence, set the scene. This is your who/where/when sentence that introduces the main character(s), the location, and the time period. Be concise. Fifteen words.
The next three sentences are the main movements of your story, the three main acts. Since this whole method is designed to help you learn what to write and how to start, focus on how each act ends, the climactic points that you'll build the story around, rather than introductions and details. You'll have plenty of time for that when you're doing the real writing.
Finally, the last sentence describes the ending. If you don't know how it ends yet, that's okay. You can come back to this step when you do.
I hope you know who your main characters are, because Step Three is all about getting to know them. Each main character gets a full sheet.
If you learn something while writing characters that changes the story, go back to Step One or Step Two and fix it! None of this is set in stone yet, no one else is reading it, don't worry about having everything all figured out. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy! Any revision you do now will save you dozens, if not hundreds of pages later.
Remember how you took that one sentence from Step One and expanded it into a five-paragraph summary for Step Two? There's a theme going on here. Expand each sentence to be its own paragraph. Now you have five sentences to introduce the story and your characters, five sentences for each act, and five more sentences to finish the plot.
This is iterative story design, we're just adding more detail and cohesion with a strong focus on the overarching themes of the novel. It feels a little mechanical, but think of it like growing an orchard. We're taking care to plant the seeds such that later they will grow neat rows of trees ripe for the harvest.
Grab your sheets from Step Three. Write one page for each main character (that's five paragraphs of five sentences, none of which exceed fifteen words,) telling the story from their perspective. Write a half-page description for the other important characters.
Character-driven stories are the best stories, because no matter what happens, we're invested in the people those things happen to, and the only way to write a character-driven story is to have a clear idea of how the people and events are relevant to each of your characters.
Here's an example from my own snowflake:
Hunter McReynolds grew up in Los Angeles, California, with hobbies including video games and origami. He is the catalyst for Jason and Cal's meeting at the Welcome Party, providing weed. He becomes a quadriplegic after an unfortunate body surfing accident. After a year, he returns to the College to resume his education and lifestyle. Hunter is considered the one person most grounded in reality by Jason and Cal.
By this point in the process, I was on rails, flying across paper with my pen. I suppose you could also set up your writing app of choice to set targets and give you fields, but I found that no digital tool could keep up. This is pure writing down the bones, plain and simple.
In Step Six, take the one-page synopsis you made in Step Four and expand each of the plot paragraphs into their own pages. You can keep your introductory and concluding paragraphs, so in the end you'll have about four pages.
This step is crucial to figuring out how your scenes will come together to create the larger story. Each page you write will have five paragraphs, expanded from the sentences in Step Four, describing in further detail how you get your characters from one part of the story to the next. Don't worry about the actual dialogue right now, but if your characters have conversations, this is the time to mention them. You're building the framework for your entire novel.
Now, using your character sheets from Step Three and Step Five as references, write down everything there is to know about your main characters. I was pretty tired of rewriting the same material, so I kept my Five and Three sheets in front of me and wrote entirely new bio sheets, based on a character cheat sheet I found at No White Space.
Once again, if you learn something about your characters during this process that has a bearing on any of the story elements in the preceding steps, go back and change them now. Or rewrite them to incorporate the changes. Nothing we're writing here is static, these are all living documents that we have the freedom to edit whenever something better could be written. You're in control here, and you don't have to answer to anyone yet.
Now that you have your insanely detailed character sheets and four-page plot synopsis, it's time for the only really grueling step. You need to write down a list of every scene in your novel from start to finish. The good news? You can cheat.
Instead of writing something entirely new, I just turned each sentence of my synopsis from Step Six into a scene. For the most part, they stayed unchanged, and in some cases the only thing I had to add was another scene to get my characters from point A to point B.
I wrote my outline with headers for the Introduction, Act I, Act II, Act III, and Ending sections of the novel, each one containing five chapters with about five scenes each. That's a hundred scenes, give or take however many you had to add or cut.
You should feel accomplished at this point. The bulk of the hard part is over, and you're in the final stretch.
Feel free to skip this step if you're ready to get down to the writing. But if you're like me, and you want to be as prepared as possible because you've already spent four years writing something that really doesn't need to waste any more time getting finished, then write a narrative description of what happens in your story.
Put the outline in front of you, and describe in a continuous story how your characters get from point to point. This will serve as a reference point while you do the raw writing in Step Ten, and it will help you stay on target with your vision of the story. It's easy to get lost when you slip into the flow, and it helps to have a guide.
Pick a scene from your scene list and write it. Repeat until there are no scenes left, then uncork the champagne because you just finished your first draft!
Remember, the Snowflake Method and related ideas are the brainchild of Randy Ingermanson at www.advancedfictionwriting.com. I claim no ownership over them, I just found them to be very helpful tools for structuring my novel.