Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Adventures with the Snowflake Method

I began this venture expecting to hate the Snowflake Method. For several years now I have detested it with every fibre of my being, all but screamed when it came up in conversation, and only opened the website while wearing my hazmat suit. Why? Well, first, to explain the method itself. For those of you that haven’t heard of it, visit it here. Or if you can’t be bothered, it basically works like this picture:
except where you see triangles, image the plot of your novel. You start with a single sentence about your plot. And then you expand it into a paragraph. And then you expand it into a page. And then you expand each paragraph in that page into a page. And then you make a scene list. And then you write a ‘multi-paragraph’ description of each scene. There are similar steps for character creation. Theoretically, at the end of ten such steps, you have a novel. Or you have stuck red-hot pins in your eyes from the sheer tedium of the exercise. Either one.

By the time I’ve written my novel out in some six ever-growing formats, I surely will be well and truly sick of it. At a guess, I will get bored and abandon the novel long before the end. But right now I’m only on step three, so who knows.

STEP ONE: Summarise your novel in a single sentence. This is surprisingly effective at turning what is a vague kind of blob in your mind into something that sounds exciting on paper. All you need is a setting, a few words to describe you main character, and an explanation of the conflict. Here’s one I prepared earlier from the work of my amazing sister:
In a university town, a student of magical theory questions the line between good and evil when she comes up against a sorcerer determined to bring back funding for his major by any means.
So far, so good. And now, you are hopefully feeling excited about your potential novel. Look how shiny it sounds!
STEP TWO: Write your novel in a paragraph. I seriously struggled with this step. Ingermason, master of the Snowflake, suggests a five-sentence paragraph, which I found was both too long to just write down a really cool-sounding sentence, and too short to explain my plot in a useful any kind of helpful detail. While this step appears to have the potential to tie vague plot ideas together neatly into a cohesive whole, I really don’t think a paragraph is enough to achieve that goal. I would suggest a bulleted list. Everyone loves a bulleted list, and you won’t tie yourself in knots trying to explain everything in one convoluted sentence. This paragraph, rather than explaining my plot to me neatly, more ended up with a series of events between which I don’t really see a connection, because I wasn’t able to fit it into my five sentences.

STEP THREE: Write a page on each major character. Confusingly, this is also step five. I’m really not sure why. Anyhow, Ingermason gives a nice list of this to address in your page, the main ones of which are goal, motivation, and story-line from your character’s point of view. It obviously doesn’t hurt to think about any of this – on the contrary, there is nothing worse than getting to the end of a draft, looking at that plot-defining action, and going – but why? Nonetheless, this step gets very tedious, very quickly, although I suppose this would depend on the novel you are planning. In my case, most of my main characters spend their time together and endeavour to achieve the same goal. Which means I was writing out the same paragraph for story line and goal five times. By the end, I was seriously struggling to find new ways to word it and pretend it was a different paragraph. I see how this could be useful, but whether step three is necessary is really very story-specific. And I still don't understand what I am supposed to do when I get to step five.

A final thought: Ingermason very much writes to be published. From the very start he is talking about book proposals and editors and other such things. While I do enjoy spending my spare time imagine the future where I shall receive fanmail, and there will be fanfiction of my works, and I will write witty messages in the starts of my novels thanking my friends and family, when I sit down to write a novel, I’m not thinking about selling it. I’m thinking about how amazing my next brilliant idea is, and imagining my unrealistically attractive and talented characters. I don’t think that thinking about selling at that stage is good for the creative process. Write the story you want to read, not the story an imaginary agent does.

So in conclusion – do step one. It is exciting, and shiny, and motivating. After that, I personally think it would be just as effective to write a bulleted list of my plot points, organise them, and then start writing as it is to follow Ingermason’s steps. But it worked for him, so who knows.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Welcome to the Salon

The air was thick with cigar smoke and the deep, rich tones of the cello. In one corner, an emaciated poet leaned his elbow against the piano, declaiming his latest work to a rapt audience. In another, a small group talked of the coming revolution, eager to speak their minds in such an enlightened atmosphere, without fear of the ever-listening ears.

Our intrepid author lounged on a couch, pen in hand as she worked through the second draft of her latest novel. “If only I could get published,” she lamented to her sister, whose eyes were fixed upon the cellist. “I would so love to share my experiences of writing with the literary world, after the fashion of my most admired illustrious authors, but I fear no-one would want to read the musings of an amateur writer such as myself.”

“ Nonsense,” her sister responded. “For have you not penned many an unread novel? And are there not scores of unpublished writers out there looking for like-minded souls? After all, it can be a little… demoralising, to only read of authors who have already achieved your goals.”

“Too true!” Alice declared, knocking back another shot of absinthe. 

“But what would you write about?” a fellow author asked.

“Why, anything and everything!” Alice answered. “All the things we discuss in this salon, but committed to print for a wider audience! I simply don’t know where to begin! I could reveal what I’ve learnt through years of trial and error, and review different methods of plotting and characterisation. I might review some books as well, and perhaps write about how my current novelling efforts are going.” She looked down at little sadly at her forever-unfinished second draft.

“I would read it,” Alice’s sister said, although her eyes never left the cellist.

“So would I,” said their fellow author.

“Well then,” said Alice, “I shall begin.”