Thursday, September 2, 2010

Work Them Bones!

Every creation begins with bones of some sort. In this way, writing is a lot like drawing.

You’ve heard the saying “Line upon line”. That’s exactly how you build a work of art – one little line at a time, stacked up against each other. You start with a framework, ‘bones’, and keep adding to it, stopping to correct errors, going on to add detail.

Sometimes you get excited about a particular area of your drawing and skip ahead, adding loads of detail, spending hours. It’s a moment of horror when you realize that, due to some grievous error in another part of the drawing, you have to erase all your hard work, and start over.

The same is true of writing. I don’t know anyone who gets it all right in the first draft.

However, if I’ve learned anything with art, it’s that there are tools and techniques that eliminate 90% of the problems.

This year, I discovered a tool that will do the same thing for writing and I’m very excited about it.

Now be ye warned, I’m going to blatantly advertize a product. I wouldn’t do this unless I was 999% sold on it. I am. (Why not 1000%? Because I don’t believe in exaggerating.)

So what is it? It’s called “The Snowflake Method”. You can check it out at: It’s a program that helps you create the bones of your story.

If you are a seat-of-the-pants writer, or an OCD outliner, this is right in the middle. But, you know all those niggly details you have to go back and search your manuscript for, such as eye-color, date of birth, names? This program has great places to store and easily retrieve them (step 9, scene notes, or step 7, characteristics).

IT ALSO WRITES THE BONES FOR YOUR QUERY LETTER!!!! This is actually what sold me in the first place. I had a finished product and was eager to start my next idea.

Knowing I needed to do that wicked query letter was giving me hives. I’ve done query letters before and I wish I’d done what Rebecca recommended in her post on August 18th (How to Write a Query Letter), and wrote it along with my WIP. Sadly, here I was, slowly dying of query-induced-stress-syndrome, or QISS. Yeah, I know. It was the QISS of death . . . almost.

Then I heard about the many functions of the Snowflake Method, and that was one of them.

It’s great for finished manuscripts, as well as planning out your next project.

I can hear you screaming, “So how’s it work???!” All right, ye lubbers!

Basically, you start with a one sentence statement about your story (step 1). You take that sentence and expand it into a paragraph, with each sentence having a particular assignment (step 2):

• The first sentence tells the backdrop and story setup.
• The second sentence explains the beginning up to the first disaster.
• The third sentence describes the first half of the middle, up to the second disaster.
• The fourth sentence describes the second half of the middle, up to the third disaster.
• The fifth sentence explains the ending.

Step 3 is: Defining your character, with rough descriptions about their ambitions, goals, conflicts and epiphanies.

Step 4 is: Taking your one paragraph summary from step 2 and expanding each sentence into a paragraph. This makes your one page summary.

Step 5 is: Character synopsis (adding onto step 3).

Step 6 is: Taking your one page summary from step 4, and turning it into a full synopsis.

Step 7 is: Character charts (adding onto steps 3 and 5).

Step 8 is: Listing the scenes (this also gives you an approximate word count for your entire manuscript).

Step 9: Notes and ideas for your scenes.

Step 10: There is no step 10. But there is this wonderful, amazing and hive-eradicating last step called (drum-roll please . . . . . .) PROPOSAL! This step takes what you’ve plugged in before and creates a LONG SYNOPSIS, which is easy to pare down into a SHORT SYNOPSIS, which is even easier to pare down into a QUERY.

Now, it only took me 2 days to plug in details from my finished manuscript. It took me another day to tighten the proposal down into a query. Mind you, it wasn’t perfect, but by going through the Snowflake steps, I came up with some killer lines. Okay, most were lame, but all I needed was one – a hook! I got it! I even did a jig most pirates could admire. My query came along magnificently.

Then, I took my next book idea (without waiting for the paint to dry on my previous Snowflaked manuscript) and hurried to try the process on it. Two days later, I had beautiful bones! (Not to be misconstrued with “The Lovely Bones”.)

So, there you have it. You can take it or leave it, but if you choose to check it out, here’s some details. The program costs $100, BUT, if you buy his book, “Writing Fiction for Dummies” (great book by the way), which is about $10-$12 online, you can get the program for $50.00.

And the program creator, Randy Ingermansen, is a really, really nice guy. I like supporting nice people.

So, whether the Snowflake is what you want or not, Work Them Bones! It’s great exercise.


  1. I like the Snowflake method too, but I haven't tried the software. Thanks for the recommend!

  2. You're welcome. I'd love to know what you think if you do try it.

  3. Sounds like a really solid process! I'm working my bones right now (not exactly the snowflake method per se, but it's got all the parts)! :)

  4. I have the Snowflake software, too. Jonene's done much more with hers than mine, but I did find it helpful. I love the bones analogy.

  5. I've often thought of the ways writing and painting are related. My outline is the rough sketch, and then in my first draft I start blocking out the colors. Then I step back, take a a look, and see where I need to add details.

    Amber, is this the method you were using when we were at jane's dinner party and you walked me through pitching Corridor in the Closet? I couldn't believe how I went from utterly stymied to thinking--wow, that sounded pretty good! I've got to write that down!

  6. I'm pretty sure I was thinking snowflake when we talked, but I went a little heavy on the lemonade that night so don't hold me to it. But glad it was helpful. Sometimes others can help us see the obvious in our work, hey.


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