3 minute read

I love writing scenes and flash pieces from writing prompts. In fact, I’ve written hundreds of them. Pantsing out 750 words at a time is downright exhilarating and many have become my favourite pieces. I always end up with great premises and compelling characters.

But not necessarily a story.

For too many of these scenes, the question I often get from fellow reviewers is… “What happens next?”

My dirty little secret? I have no idea. They’re just random brain-droppings, flashes of something-or-other.

I’ve counted and have tallied 27 separate novel starts with no real plan to move a single damn one forward. A few of these I’ve been able to pants-out, 500-1000 words at a time, into longer stories and a few of these are not too shabby.

But the truth of things is that for anything longer than a short story, my seat-of-the-pants approach is not working. Note, if pantsing is working for you, just yell a ‘Booyeah’ and write on! It ain’t for me. I have two novel projects partially finished as crappy rough drafts that need a lot of work.

If you haven’t noticed, my recent posts here have all been thematically related to planning and plotting. I’ve recognized that I need help. I finished reading Chuck Wendig’s ‘Kick Ass Writer’ and Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and really enjoyed the advice and motivation on the craft therein. Not very helpful for story planning though.

I’m a systems guy and have to see how things work together. Know the game Mousetrap or are familiar with Rube Goldberg contraptions? Yeah, I’m that guy. At my day job, it’s all whiteboards, spreadsheets and project management. I’m a systemic planner. If I can’t see The Whole Machine, I can’t get off the start line. It’s how I’m wired.

No wonder pantsing isn’t working for me.

Recently, I came across Randy Ingermanson’s ‘Snowflake Method’ for character, plot and story planning and something clicked. It’s a system. I’m in for a lookey-loo.

Essentially, it’s a 10 step planning model for moving from story idea to a reasonable long work. The steps improve the story plan in successive iterations, refining the details at each level.

  1. Take an hour to write a one-sentence summary of your novel.
  2. Take another hour to expand that sentence into a summary of the novel; the setup, disasters, and ending.
  3. Take an hour to write a one-page summary of each of your major characters.
  4. Take several hours to expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a paragraph of its own.
  5. Take a day or two to write a one-page synopsis of each of your major characters, and a half-page synopsis of the other important characters.
  6. Take a week to expand each paragraph of your story summary into a full page.
  7. Take another week to expand the character synopses into full-fledged character charts detailing everything there is to know about each character.
  8. Take your four-page story synopsis and place each scene involved into a spreadsheet list.
  9. Take each line of the spreadsheet and expand it to a multi-paragraph description of the scene.
  10. Begin writing your first draft.

Randy explains it in far more detail here: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method

He also has a short (and cheap) book here that explains it parable-style: http://www.amazon.com/Snowflake-Method-Advanced-Fiction-Writing-ebook/dp/B00LWBZ696

A quick Google around the Interwebs will find a bunch of peeps for and against this method. The plotters love it and the pantsers hate it. Duh!

Well, okay, it’s not quite that simple. Critics complain that it’s too rigid and that it forces a three-act story structure that you’d come up with if you followed it to the letter. However, I think it could be adapted to other plot structures like the Hero’s Journey. Remember, it’s a framework, not a recipe. Adapt as you see fit.

Personally, I think the biggest challenge of doing this would be in avoiding analysis paralysis (probably generally true of plotters). If you get in this trap, just listen to these guys:

Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential. ~ Winston Churchill

Plans are nothing; planning is everything. ~ Dwight Eisenhower

The perfect is the enemy of the good. ~ Voltaire

Git ‘er done. ~ Larry the Cable Guy

For me, the idea of systemic planning in a framework such as this just might be the ticket to turning some of these story starts into story finishes.