Thursday, August 4, 2011

A woman’s murder upends the lives of her daughter and best friend...

Last summer, as I was getting started with my book, I skimmed a lot of "How to " articles. "How to write a novel." "How to create believable characters." "How to plot." And for the most part, the articles told me nothing I didn't already know either from school or experience. Most spoke in general terms about the elements that work together to create a dynamic novel. More than the "How to" articles, I got more help from writers on the web talking about their own experience. How did they deal with problems? How did they stay motivated?

The one exception for me was Randy Ingermanson's article about the "Snowflake Method". He provides a framework for developing a novel but encourages writers to figure out what works best for them. Start small, he says.

First, take an hour to come up with a tag for your novel: a one-sentence, fifteen-word description. It's the main idea for your book. The crux. You're thinking about the whole picture, without worrying about the thousands of details that will fill it in. He recommends looking at the New York Times Bestseller list for examples, such as Jennifer Weiner's "Then Came You": This timely tale delves into women's lives, with themes of class and entitlement, surrogacy and donorship. I think only established writers like Weiner can use the word "themes" in their tag. For "Before I Go to Sleep," by S. J. Watson: A woman's life is complicated by the fact that her memories disappear every time she falls asleep.

(The title of this post is my initial attempt at a short hook. Suggestions for improvement are welcome. I just like the word "upends" :)

Next, take an hour to write a paragraph-long summary of your novel. Obviously, details are going to be left out, but it forces you to think about the most important part(s) of your story.

The third step is to write for each of your main characters their name, storyline (one sentence), motivation, conflict, and epiphany. Then, for each of those characters, develop your one-sentence storyline into a paragraph.

Step four, turn your one-paragraph summary into a whole page. This requires you to think more about the different acts of your story and fill in the most important details.

Ingermanson's process goes on to describe steps five through eight. He suggests writing page-long description of each character. But until I got a sense of their voices and personality on paper, I didn't want to over think them. He also suggests creating an Excel spreadsheet of the scenes. However, that was too structured for me. I knew once I had the basic framework, and could imagine the piece as something that told a complete story over 300 pages, I was ready to begin.

Looking back at my notes from last summer, I see that I haven't strayed much from my initial outline. But the lines between those dots I'm connecting have gone in very unexpected directions.

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