Craft & Culture Essays & Opinion

The Snowflake Method

Rachael Cooper explains how to easily outline your novel using the 'Snowflake Method'

So you’ve got the idea for a great novel.

Or maybe you’ve already started.

Either way, you’re fired up. It’s such an awesome idea, you just know it’s got ‘bestseller’ written all over it.

But then the initial excitement fades as you realise you actually have to start the process of writing your great novel.

And that means planning.

Sure, there are a few authors who really are ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants’ writers, the kind that don’t plan anything in their books. Stuff just sort of happens.

And a few people who end up writing a book by accident.

But the majority of authors, especially new authors, need some method to take that awesome idea in their head and transform it into the basis of the great novel it can be.

Traditional methods of Planning

Basically, there are two traditional methods to plan your novel. The first uses a ‘synopsis’ and the second an in-depth outline.

A synopsis is simply a general overview of your novel, usually around 500-800 words. It includes all the plot points and main characters. An in-depth outline can run to thousands of words and often includes a plan for each chapter.

They both have their strengths and weaknesses. A synopsis gives you enough detail to start writing, but not enough to develop the plot or characters in any depth. A rigid outline on the other hand gives you sufficient detail but doesn’t allow room for flexibility as the novel progresses.

So what’s the alternative?

The Snowflake Method

This is halfway between a synopsis and an in-depth outline, but much more intuitive. Called the ‘Snowflake Method’ because it starts with a single sentence or ‘snowflake’ and adds more detail ‘snowflake’ by ‘snowflake’.

There are many advantages to the Snowflake Method.

  • All you need to start is a single sentence.
  • It takes a non-linear approach, so the mind is allowed more freedom to come up with ideas organically.
  • By the time you start writing, you know your plot and characters well enough to feel confident in your writing.
  • You work on the plot and characters separately and in stages so you can be more focused.

There are a few potential disadvantages to the Snowflake Method.

  • Youcan get caught up in planning for planning’s sake. This can be avoided by setting a deadline for when you will stop planning and start writing.
  • For those authors who prefer minimal planning, it may feel like too much detail at the beginning. However, it is up to you exactly how much detail you include.

How to plan your novel using the Snowflake Method

One of the great advantages of the Snowflake Method is its simplicity. This helps prevent the dreaded writer’s block from the outset. Here’s the step by step process to creating your novel using the Snowflake Method.

First, what’s your ‘big idea’? Write it down in a single sentence. For instance, if you were writing Moby Dick you might put ‘an old sailor is obsessed with gaining revenge on a white whale’.

Now think of three major events leading from that idea. Expand your single sentence to a paragraph or two for each event. For instance, one event might be the whale taking Ahab’s leg in a previous encounter.

Finally, work out where these events take the story? In Moby Dick, for instance, it would be to the final confrontation between Ahab and the whale.

Now switch and work out who are the main characters you see involved with your ‘big idea’? Write a couple of lines on each. Obviously, in Moby Dick, it would include Ismael, the narrator and Ahab, the old sailor – and maybe the whale itself!

Return to your ‘big idea’ and expand on those major events and that ending. You should now have several pages of the plot worked out. Now go back to your characters and flesh them, and their storylines, out. You’ll probably have a page on each major character, and a paragraph or two for lesser ones. Keep cycling around until you have enough detail to start your first draft.


  • Remember to set a deadline to start writing.
  • Only include as much detail as you need.
  • If you find your creativity flagging, switch to a different event or character.

There’s no perfect method for planning a novel.

Some writers love an in-depth outline, some no outline at all, a simple synopsis does them just fine.

And a lot of writers love the organic approach of the Snowflake Method.

Whichever method you choose, the important thing is to keep your enthusiasm and focus so you can take that awesome idea and transform it into the equally awesome novel it deserves to be.

About the author of this article

Rachael Cooper is the SEO & Publishing Manager for Jericho Writers, a writers services company based in the UK and US. Rachael has a Masters in eighteenth-century literature, and specialises in female sociability. In her free time she writes articles on her favourite eighteenth-century authors and, if all else fails, you can generally find her reading and drinking tea!

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