Solid writing book even if you don’t use the Snowflake technique
Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method has been around for over a decade. It first appeared on his website: advanced fiction writing and the book was released in 2014. This method is billed as a compromise between detailed outlining and pantsing. In truth, it’s another method for creating an outline.
Where this method differs from traditional outlining is its top down approach. In education this is called whole-to-part. Rather than building a story as a linear chain of events, Ingermanson suggests beginning with a short summary of the entire story and continually breaking it down into smaller and smaller components until you have a complete scene list.
He alternates between plotting rounds and characters building rounds, allowing one to build from the other. As a plotting method, it has its advantages, and I would encourage any writer who is looking for help creating an outline to try it. This review is not on the Snowflake Method, but on the book, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method
A Story that Instructs
The book is written as a parable. Goldilocks, a frustrated author, attends a writing conference where she learns the Snowflake method and solves a murder. While the story is campy, (I honestly skimmed much of the murder storyline) it does present the material in an approachable form. It also helps illustrate the process of brainstorming an idea and breaking it down into its component parts. We learn along with Goldilocks, which keeps the material from becoming dry.
The second function of the storyline is to serve as the example for the components of the plotting method. By using the parable as the example, Ingermanson avoids the problem of pulling examples from media the reader may not be familiar with. Since this is a common problem in writing books, this makes the book more accessible.
The only disadvantage to the parable method is potentially diluting the material in favor of clarity in the story. Ingermanson avoids this pitfall by including a more traditional textbook summary after the parable. To further illustrate the methodology, he includes all the written material for each of his Snowflake steps used to create the parable. Having the material on hand makes comparisons between the Snowflake steps and the final product simple.
Focuses of technique, not philosophy
As an instruction manual, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method is one of the better ones I’ve seen. Too many writing books are scattered and unfocused, relying on connecting with the abstract feelings of writing and the whims of the author. How to Write…is written with specific learning outcomes for the reader. Ingermanson knows what he wants he reads to learn from each section of the book. This clarity of intention allows him to structure the story so that the reader is never confused about the takeaway. He continues the educational focus by showing the reader step-by-step how to accomplish these goals.
More writing books need to be written with clear educational goals in mind. This is my number one complaint in nearly every writing book I review. Where most writing books are happy to advise you to “show, don’t tell,” for example, few adequately explain how to accomplish it. This would be the equivalent of a math book telling a student they need to add, but never giving any instructions on how. Ingermanson explains every technique mentioned in the book, making it a far more effective manual.
Ingermanson also spends two chapters on Dwight Swain’s scene and sequel (He calls them Proactive and Reactive) technique. (from Techniques of the Selling Writer). This technique is the key to turning a simple list of scenes into a plot. This is the element missing from many writing books. An outline isn’t just a list of scenes, it needs an organizational technique to create story structure.
- Writing manual written with instructional, not philosophical, intent
- All examples are self-contained in the book, does not reference outside sources
- Clean, easy to follow writing style
- storyline is campy
Ingermanson’s How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method gets my highest recommendation. Authors who are struggling with the outlining process, or who prefer whole-to-part organizational structure will appreciate this technique. All writers will appreciate the clarity of instruction in this book. Even if you are happy with your current process, you will learn something from this book. Integrating any part of The Snowflake Method can help writers in the brainstorming process all the way down to plotting individual scenes. If you are looking for a solid manual for outlining a novel, pick up How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method today.
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