In my last blog How to write and edit your book part one. I discussed The 8 step narrative arc and the 3 act story as useful tools that writers can use to help them write and edit their books. The writer can’t SEE their own prose as they are too close. Instead of drifting around your story and not recognising it, the writer can put the story on to a spread sheet or story board so that your prose doesn’t blind you to the narrative arc.
There are a couple of other tools that can be useful if you are struggling with writing and editing your own book and don’t know how to create your own story board. They are the Snowflake Method and Scrivener applications. Both come as packages that can be uploaded on to your computer. Scrivener applications offers a storyboard style app, which helps the author can find it easier to keep track of their work as they write. Many PHD students now use it so they don’t get lost in their own theses. Best of all it has a window open at the side of your manuscript where you can jump around and check on previous chapters or characters without losing your place
The “Snowflake Method” of writing a book, devised by Randy Ingermanson, does divide opinion. He sells his package on line if you are interested. Some say following it has helped them get published, others say it destroys creativity. But understanding it has its uses when trying to develop the skills of a professional writer or editor and spotting your own weak spots. I found it particularly useful for writing synopsis, but see a later blog for that.
A brief list of the snowflakes ten steps follows
- Write a one sentence summary of your novel. It should take an hour (this is very useful for the first stage of writing a synopsis)
- Then expand the sentence in to a paragraph of about 6-8 lines. Make sure the setup, disasters and ending are clear
For those of you who read my part one blog on how to write and edit, this should now be familiar territory. Randy is referring to the 3 act structure, and wants the writer to think about elements of the narrative arc. He suggests an hour
- Write a page summary of your main characters and half a page on the minor character. Who are they and what are their motivations and conflicts etc.
- Expand your summary paragraph (step 2) so that each sentence has a paragraph in its own right. You should end up with 3-4 pages.
Randy says it should take several hours. The point here is to see what story lines work and what ones don’t. Your narrative arc should be slowly becoming clear as you go through this stage. If your story doesn’t work, now is the time to admit it. It took me a day of thinking, but I had already written my book and found identifying the important chapters took time, then I had to think why they were important in terms of the reader’s journey. I took out some chapters and merged others as a result.
- Over a few days write a one page synopsis on each character. (The story from the point of view of each separate character. You might need to alter stage 3. A synopsis of each character is more fun than a synopsis of the book)
In Randy’s view you should know your characters before you write. I get to know them as I write.
- Take your summary synopsis of your story (stage 4 left you with a paragraph for each sentence completed at stage 2) and make each paragraph a page long. This should take a week of thinking how your story moves along. You should be able to think about the narrative arc, and identify the scenes where the story moves along.
- Take another week and expand the character pages in to full charts detailing everything. His snowflake app gives you a pre format for this.
- Take the summary pages for your story and place each scene into a spread sheet list (this is what Randy sells to you along with his advice, preformatted charts where the scenes can be written in order, that provide flexibility to jump around)
- Take each line of the spread sheet and expand it in to a full description of the scene, which can be 2-3 paragraphs long.
- Start writing your novel.
Randy says is that there is no point writing a meandering first draft just because you have no idea what is coming next. Write a tight designed format for your story, be clear for each character about their motivations, their goals and conflict, and understand what your stories beginning middle and end will be. Then writing will be easy. He says he follows the 3 act structure which for him goes “beginning ,then 3 disasters plus and end”. I bet you he could identify the 8 step arc in there too if he wanted.
I found parts of the Snowflake Method have been useful in thinking but it is very prescriptive. My characters don’t fit in my first attempts to understand them. They have lives of their own and do the unexpected. That is the fun of writing, getting to know your characters and understanding the journeys they must make as a process. Rather than designing a journey with a tight itinerary and scheduled stops, I like to explore more. It is the very writing process that draws out the story. But in any journey that is not a waste of time, be clear as to your destination and why you are travelling. Otherwise no one will follow you. The choice is yours as to how you write but make sure you can identify your narrative arc. If you can’t, the reader can’t either.