This post was inspired by one of the questions I stumbled across in one of the writing groups I’m a member of on Facebook. The post by Ally Kelly in the Fantasy Writers Support Group is as follows. “There are different methods for outlining a single novel, such as the three act structure or a variety of other ways. But what about outlining something you know will be a multi-book trilogy/series- what are your methods for that? Do you just come up with an overarching plot for the whole series and then follow the three act structure for each individual book and lay them out, or whatever structure you choose to use for a singular book, or is there another method you follow that works for multiple books? Do you have or know of any templates that are specifically for outlining multiple books that are part of the same series?”
My answer to this question comes in the form of the Snowflake Method.
What is The Snowflake Method?
The Snowflake Method is a type of outline created by Randy Ingermanson. The outline is built over the course of ten steps with each step building on the one before it.
It starts out small with step one quite simply being a one sentence storyline. This single sentence is supposed to encapsulate the whole of the story and serve as a sort of tag line or pitch for the story. It’s not supposed to be very detailed, and Randy even suggests that one should try to keep the sentence under fifteen words. This leaves just enough room for the author to maybe describe the main character and introduce the conflict the story is about. Randy also suggests that the sentence should be left as vague as possible. This is the most basic step and will serve as the basis for every step that follows.
In practice, for me anyway, I find it extremely difficult to stick to the suggested level of detail in my one sentence storylines. I tend to be wordy and have a bad habit of adding superfluous details. That’s a stylistic thing though, and doesn’t really effect the way the rest of the outline is constructed. However, this one sentence storyline becomes more difficult to keep vague when you’re trying to outline a series. “That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Let’s look at a fairly easy example: A young abused boy learns that he is a wizard and the chosen one in a prophecy that pits him against the most evil wizard of all time.” (28 words)
It’s quite a bit longer than the suggested length, but it gives a very clear idea of what happens throughout the course of the story. (It’s a one sentence storyline for Harry Potter if you couldn’t guess.) This is also an example of how wordy I tend to be. I can easily modify this sentence to give the same idea of the story without all the extra details: “A boy is the chosen one in a prophecy that pits him against the most evil wizard.” (17 words)
Still a bit longer than the suggested length, and I can still remove details while keeping the gist of what the series is about: “A boy is the chosen one and is pitted against an evil wizard.” (13 words)
Now, this sentence is right within the suggested amount of words with details about as vague as I can make them. Just between us, I hate this sentence. There might be enough information in it for this most basic step, but it doesn’t have nearly the detail I like in my one sentence storylines. My personal choice of the three sentences would be the second one. I feel like it has exactly the right amount of detail in the sentence. It adds weight to what is happening. In this storyline we know that the boy is the chosen one and that his coming has been prophesied, and that he is going to battle the most evil of all wizards. The third sentence doesn’t tell you that there’s a prophecy involved. While it does imply the existence of a prophecy by talking about the boy being the chosen one. In the third sentence it also doesn’t explain the importance behind the evil wizard. It just says that he’s an evil wizard, and while an evil wizard could certainly be a terrible thing for the world, it doesn’t feel like he could really be that much of a threat.
Now, the best way I know how to teach anything is via example. We’ve got the Harry Potter example above, and it’s simple to take that and extrapolate it until it represents the whole of the series. I think it would be best to take it from the top with a completely original outline for a new series.
Normally at this point I would go through a brainstorming session to try and determine what the basic premise of the new series is going to be, but since I don’t want this post to run on for another two or three pages I’m going to forego putting you through that process. If you do want to see that part of the process however, I will post it in a project journal on my blog at: ryanskinsgrove.wordpress.com. (I’ll create a hyper link to it once I get it posted.)
Brainstorming is complete, and what a headache it was. (It’s very hard for me to stay focused on one topic when I’m writing in a mostly stream of consciousness style.) But, I do have the one sentence storyline for my new series outline. The example outline I’m going to be writing is for a series titled The Dragon God’s Canticles, and the one sentence storyline follows: An unlikely team of heroes are gathered together to prevent the darkness of the demonic dragon god from spreading across the land. (22 words)
Yes, it is longer than the suggested length, but as discussed earlier I don’t care much for the suggested length. Besides, this isn’t the one sentence storyline for a single novel. It’s the storyline for an entire series. So, I’m going to say a little bit of extra is a-okay.
Anywho, that’s the first step of my Series Snowflake Method…series XD. Stay tuned for the next installment, which should be posted tomorrow.
Ryan S. Kinsgrove
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