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Slowflake: Structure vs Diving In


In recent posts like “A Novel in One Sentence” I’ve mentioned that I’m trying out the Snowflake method for writing my current novel. This is a much more deliberate and structured way to go about it than I’ve ever used before (although I have outlined large writing projects in the past), and in a way is an experiment in doing something in a structured way when I could have chosen just to dive in instead.

Is all this structure helping? So far, absolutely yes. In step 1 I got a clear picture of what my novel is really about, which is extremely useful. Step 2 forced me to figure out the major turns in the story and my ending. The ending especially was difficult to see, but now that I’ve gotten an idea of what it will be I find I have more confidence in the book, and I have an important bit of planning done in a way that will allow it to do a lot of good.

I’m currently on Step 3, and it’s taking me forever. Why? Because I have to have all of my characters fleshed out in some major respects here in Step 3. I’m used to my characters either appearing full-fledged in my mind or to getting to know them through writing them. They often surprise me and step in to become much more interesting than anything I could have planned out. (I’m not a fan of the “come up with all kinds of detailed information about your character” approach because I feel like this focuses things on trivia and not on the character’s personality and driving needs, but your mileage may vary.)

I have to admit, though, stopping and figuring out some basic questions about each character (as distinct from trivial details) forces me to have a whole set of characters with goals, needs, and perspectives from the beginning. Also, I have little details that would be annoying and distracting to come up with as I write taken care of: for instance, I’m spending the time up front figuring out names for each character, which are something that have to feel exactly right for me to write them well.

Despite all of these benefits, I still am itching to just start writing the book. It’s writing fiction, after all, not planning it, that is the delight and the meat of the task for me. I’m frankly not sure I’ll last through the rest of the snowflake steps, especially considering that step 7, for instance, is about cataloging all of those character details I don’t much care for. At what point does a useful structure become too confining and get in the way of going organically forward?

From the point of view of the quality of the book, I’m not sure how long I should ideally stick with the structure, though I am sure that at a certain point I want to be able to plunge into the story and live there: I don’t want to construct every shoe and blade of grass and drop of blood first and then fit everything together like a jigsaw. At some point I’ll want to have some forward motion.

Yet when that point comes, I suspect I’ll be very glad that I stuck to structuring as long as I did. I guess we’ll see.

Photo by Juliancolton2

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