THE CRAFT OF WRITING – PART 4
The Craft of Writing – Part 4
The ANDY BOOKS or
How I worked my way up to THE SNOWFLAKE METHOD
by Kay DiBianca
When our son was a pre-schooler, he and I would make weekly visits to the local library where he would pick out a bunch of books to take home. Many of my fondest memories of those years were of the two of us reading together before his naptime.
I suggested one day that our son write a book of his own even though he was only three years old. His job was to make up the story and my job was to write it down and illustrate it. This led to a short series of “books” written on packing paper, illustrated with crayons, and taped together with scotch tape about a main character named Andy.
Over the years, and several major moves later, most of those books have gone missing, but I recently found a couple of them stashed away in a chest of drawers. Although I didn’t find the first Andy book, this is my best recollection of that story:
Page 1 — “Andy went outside to play.”
Page 2 — “He fell in a puddle.”
Page 3 — “Then he went home and took a nap.”
Brilliant! A perfect three-act plot. Part One introduces the main character and shows him in action. Part two suggests tension and conflict. Part three is the resolution with a peaceful ending. If only I could write like that!
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to produce a novel with such an elegant structure. But I have learned a lot about the methodology of novel-writing from an entertaining and informative book entitled How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson.
Randy has come up with a way to produce a novel in ten steps. It’s a logical progression from a one-sentence description of the story to a full-blown novel. This process keeps the author focused on the next step to add detail to the plot and create believable characters.
Combining the Snowflake Method with what we’ve learned about plot and structure will give us an advantage in constructing interesting stories that can be delivered in a reasonable time frame.
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method is a book you’ll want to consider.
I am delighted to welcome Randy Ingermanson as our guest for this article on the craft of writing. Randy earned a PhD in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley, but left that field after a few years to follow his dream of writing. Along with his books of instruction on writing fiction, he is himself the author of award-winning novels including the City of God series, Oxygen, The Fifth Man, and Double Vision.
Welcome, Randy, and thank you for joining us!
Thanks for having me on your blog!
What made you want to become an author of fiction?
I’ve been a voracious reader since I was four years old. At some point along the way, I fell into the delusion that writing a novel must be easy, since it’s so easy to read one. So I decided I was going to write a novel someday. About the same time, I got interested in the world of first-century Jerusalem and did a lot of research to learn what that world was like. I decided that I wanted to write novels set in first-century Jerusalem. After I actually started writing fiction, I realized it wasn’t so easy, but that just made it a challenge. And I like to tackle tough challenges.
Does your background in physics help you in your fiction writing?
It certainly helps me write novels about physicists. But it’s not all that helpful in any other aspect of fiction writing.
How and when did you come up with the idea for the Snowflake Method?
I got the core of the idea in seventh grade when our English teacher taught us how to write “one good paragraph.” The key idea is what problem-solvers everywhere call “divide and conquer.” You break the problem down into smaller pieces and then solve each piece separately.
When it came time to write my PhD thesis, I used this idea to write my thesis very quickly. I wrote out the key idea of the thesis, expanded that to a few parts, expanded each of those to a few chapters, expanded each of those to a few paragraphs, and then used that skeleton to write the thesis.
At the time, it seemed like the obvious way to get the job done. Years later when I had learned all the skills to write fiction, I used a similar process to design my novel before I wrote it. And that process is just the Snowflake Method.
To my utter astonishment, the Snowflake Method has become wildly popular all around the world. Tens of thousands of novelists have used it to design their novels. I hear from writers all the time whose brains are wired to love the Snowflake. Of course, it’s not for everybody. But I am thrilled that it works so well for so many people.
I understand you still have a regular job. How do you find time to work and write?
I make time to work because I have to eat. Then I make time to write because I want to create. Then with whatever time is left over, I deal with everything else in my life, and of course there’s never enough time to do it all. Every writer who ever published a book has had to solve this problem, and they all solve it in pretty much the same way. It usually means that something else in your life doesn’t get done. I know there are plenty of things in my life that don’t get done, but I don’t see a simple solution.
Of all your fiction books, which is your favorite?
Tough question. That’s like asking which of my kids I love best. I love them all.
Every time I finish a book, it’s the best work I’m capable of doing at that time. Looking back on my books, I can see things I would do differently if I were publishing them today. But I did the best I could at the time, and the book I’m working on right now is the best I can do today.
What one piece of advice would you give to new authors?
Create a habit of writing every day. You can analyze author success mathematically, and there are four crucial factors. One of the factors of a successful career is production. A habit of writing every day drives production. One of the other factors is quality. A habit of writing every day builds quality.
So write every day. Every single day.
Do you have any books coming out soon?
Yes, I’m planning to release a novel soon on the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve been working on this book for a long time and it’s the best I can do. My perfectionist nature keeps whispering in my ear that the book would be even better if I wait another year, but I think it’s time to launch this book and move on to the next.
Other than your own books, what book on the craft of writing would you recommend to our readers?
I learned how to write fiction from Dwight Swain’s classic book Techniques of the Selling Writer. Chapters 3 and 4 were especially crucial for me in learning how to make fiction work.
What do you do when you want to get away from writing?
I go out in the yard and work. I’m not particularly good at yard work, but my wife tells me what needs doing, and I do it. We have about 2.5 acres of land in the Pacific Northwest, where it rains a lot and things grow like crazy. So I spend a lot of time every summer fighting a hopeless battle against weeds and entropy. It keeps me somewhat fit, and it puts my mind in a completely different gear, and I come back to the house ready to create.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
If you’re interested in learning how to write fiction, I have a website dedicated to teaching that at https://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.
If you’re interested in the novels I’ve written, I have a website that tells all about them at https://www.ingermanson.com.
Thank you, Randy, for sharing your expertise with us!