The Snowflake Method for Outlining a Novel

It’s no secret that when it comes to tackling large writing projects, I’m a planner. I work from outlines for nearly everything I write (even this blog post). I’ve tried several outlining strategies over the years. And ultimately I’ve taken bits and pieces of each strategy to customize my own process.

Last year, I came across someone on the NaNoWriMo forums talking about The Snowflake Method. And even though I’m happy with my current process, I want to give it a try. That’s what I’m doing this month as I prepare to tackle a new story for NaNoWriMo again.

Because I’ve mentioned The Snowflake Method a couple of times already, I wanted to take some time to introduce you to it.

What is the Snowflake Method?

The Snowflake Method is a strategy for planning or outlining a novel (though I suspect it would work with fiction of any length). It was developed by Randy Ingermanson of

The idea behind The Snowflake Method is to break down the novel writing process into ten steps, helping you “design” your story before writing a full draft.

How The Snowflake Method Works

The Snowflake Method makes a lot of sense. You start with something small (a one-sentence summary of your story). And in each step you expand upon what you’ve done previously. For example, that one-sentence summary is expanded to a one-paragraph summary. Then you’ll take each sentence in that one-paragraph summary and turn it into a paragraph of its own as you write your one-page synopsis.

You do something similar with your character sketches. And when all is said and done, you have a full scene list to refer to as you write your first draft.

I’m not sure how it’ll work out for me, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

You can view all of the steps in The Snowflake Method in Ingermanson’s article, The Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel. He also has a book on the topic and has released his Snowflake Pro software if you want to take it a step farther.

Are you a planner when it comes to your novels? If so, do you have a preferred outlining method? Which one?

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4 thoughts on “The Snowflake Method for Outlining a Novel”

  1. Thanks for this, Jenn.

    I don’t outline much at all (none), but this method I can get into. My problem has always been I get too wound up in the outline and don’t move forward. NaNo sure cured that — no time to think!

    I’ll give this a try. Thanks for introducing it!

    • “NaNo sure cured that — no time to think!”

      Isn’t that the truth?

      This method has been going well for me so far. Of course I haven’t gotten into the more detailed steps yet. This week I’m fleshing out the character charts and moving to the 4-page synopsis. Next week I’ll work on the final scene-by-scene version. If that goes according to plan, I should have a week off from the project before NaNo begins. 🙂

  2. I see this article is a bit older but – so am I – what are your overall thoughts on the SFM and do you still it use it? I am looking at trying that for the 2016 NaNo (along with Scrivener – see other comment waiting for approval)

    • Hi Mick,

      I’ve adapted it a bit by combining the build-up element with some other outlining systems to create one that works for me. I like the overall setup of the snowflake method in that it’s about building blocks — kind of how I flesh out writing I do for clients too. So I’m using a modified version for NaNo myself this year. I highly recommend giving it a try. 🙂


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