How to Use the Snowflake Method to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

Posted by October 1st, 2014

DJ Lutz

NaNoWriMo is only one month away! October is the perfect time to start outlining your novel before the mad rush of writing begins in November. Book Country member D.J. Lutz shares how using the Snowflake Method can help you make NaNoWriMo a success!


Hi, my name is DJ, and I am a recovering pants’er.

What do I mean by pants’er? Well, in late October, 2008 I discovered NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and decided I could scribble out a 50,000 word first draft by the end of November. No prep, no editing, just flat out stream of consciousness clacking on the keyboard. Fueled by venti Americanos with extra shots of espresso, I would go on to write my first ever novel PECOS BILL AND THE CURSED GOLD by the seat of my pants.

I finished well over the requisite 50k word count. Of course, the novel had no discernable structure other than “ramble,” which I don’t think counts. It was, however, fun to write and the experience taught me about the time management and discipline professional writers need to be successful. But as a coherent novel it lacked. Everything. It was time to research the craft of writing.

Enter the Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson.

Randy is an anomaly. I am guessing but I don’t think there are many successful writers out there who have earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Cal Berkeley. Randy has said degree, and has put it to work on such topics as superstring theory. I am more of a silly string kind of guy myself, but I digress. Maybe Randy was tired of using a slide rule (for those old enough to remember those,) but for some reason he took up creative writing. And at first, he sucked.  Now this isn’t a case of libel – he admits it.

Using his analytical skill, Randy researched how novels were structured and came up with a logical progression of common tasks based on the mathematical creation of a snowflake. Not that I am plugging his products, but he has books out on the subject, as well as a software package. I will give you the gist of it here. You can decide how much you want to invest in the Method. Caveat: the Snowflake Method doesn’t work for everyone. But it works for me – and who knows, it might just work for you.

Here is the (very) abridged version of the Snowflake Method:

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Make it short. Here’s mine: When eating chocolate becomes deadly, a woman must find out why before she dies, too.
  2. Using that first sentence, write a summary paragraph describing the story background, the major events, and the ending.  In terms of the three-act structure, the major events are the “disasters” encountered or caused by the main character. The first event is caused by an antagonist and is found at the end of Act 1, the next two are caused by the protagonist in a valiant but unsuccessful effort to fix things. These encompass Act 2. All three events force Act 3 into existence, creating the story’s ending.
  3. Basic character summaries are next. For each, identify their name, basic storyline, concrete goals, abstract motivations, conflicts, and epiphany, if any. Here’s one of mine:
    1. Name: Winnie Kepler
    2. Storyline: She is the hero in this cozy mystery; the amateur sleuth.
    3. Goals: wants to help Officer Parker Williams solve the murders, and wants to help best friend Fran’s bed and breakfast avoid bankruptcy.
    4. Motivation: needs to prove to Parker’s parents she is worthy of being their son’s girlfriend and possible future wife.
    5. Conflict: Winnie has made assumptions regarding what parents want to see in a possible spouse for their child. She keeps striving to be something other than herself.
    6. Epiphany: Parker’s parents just want their son to be happy, and if Winnie fits the bill, then she is good enough for them. Plus, they like her chocolate chip cheesecake. Hey, this is a culinary-cozy, after all.
  4. Take each sentence of the summary paragraph and expand into its own paragraph. The last paragraph will tell the ending of the story. When you are finished, you should have a basic one to two page synopsis of your novel. Keep this around; it will be handy when you start to query!
  5. Using the character sketches, develop them into one to two page descriptions. Minor characters only need a half page or so. What you want to do here is tell the story from the point of view of each character. Get into the head of each character. It’s kind of like method acting for those who have read Boleslavsky. But that’s a subject for another day. In terms of writing, we are building character-based fiction instead of plot-based fiction.
  6. Going back to number four, expand those paragraphs into a page each. Here is where you start making decisions, create strategies, and formulate the overall logic of the story.
  7. Time to get into the weeds. Take each character sketch and fill in the details: birthdate, hair color, hobbies, education, anything that may or may not get used in the novel. Once you actually start writing your novel, you will be writing about your character’s actions. This information will help you understand why the character did those actions.
  8. Finally, take all of the above information and create a list of scenes. Here’s where Randy’s software might come in handy. I use a spreadsheet, but to each his or her own.

Now the prep work has been completed. Put away those pants and order that Americano, or pumpkin spiced whatever, and start typing!

Good luck, ‘Wrimos! See you at the finish line on November 30th!


About D.J. Lutz

D.J. Lutz is an executive assistant at a large financial management company, spending his early mornings before work writing culinary-themed fiction. D.J. is currently revising/shopping his first novel, THE APPLE PIE ALIBI, in hopes of finding representation, and is preparing to write the sequel, The Milk Chocolate Murderer. An avid blogger, D.J.’s writing blog can be found at If you are hungry, check out his food blog at And yes, there’s a story to the name. Follow D.J. on Facebook at AuthorDJLutz, and on Twitter @AuthorDJLutz. Connect with D.J. on Book Country.

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2 thoughts on “How to Use the Snowflake Method to Prepare for NaNoWriMo

  1. Carl E. Reed

    DJ: That strikes me as a very interesting, workable, atomistic approach to writing the novel. Focus is key: You begin with that one-sentence summary of the book (the nucleus, or snowflake core) and build outward in successive accretions of increasing detail. When you’ve completed these initial steps you have a complete road map in front of you to consult while writing: a handy reference to check against your narrative’s direction of travel.

    Thanks for sharing, DJ! A grounded, commonsensical approach.

    1. D.J. Lutz

      Focus was, and still is, the area I need to improve. Randy’s method is similar to how Scribner and other software is set up, but he explains it better than any tutorial video.


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