Heard of this one? I’ve been wandering around the internet procrastinating a bit, and I’ve seen a few folks who seem a little lost on how to get started. Ideas are easy. Fleshing them out into something that is the length of a novel is hard. The first time I did it (I am not even going to say how long ago that was … we’ll just way more years than you can count on two hands), it took me months and the result was not pretty.
A few years ago when I was met with a not fully formed idea for a novel (characters usually appear first for me, but characters need something to do in order to be interesting), I came across the Snowflake Method. And to this day, if I am stuck anywhere in the storyline/plotting process, I return to it to get back on track.
The idea itself is pretty simple. You start with a sentence. Not a long random sentence. A simple and descriptive sentence that could explain your novel on the most basic terms to a stranger. This sentence isn’t easy to write. Honestly, sometimes I think that it’s the hardest part because after the sentence, you get way more words to play with. That said, once you have the sentence, you are well on your way.
From your short sentence, you build a paragraph. Then you bring in your characters (as many as you have at the moment). And from there you just keep expanding. Each sentence in your paragraph becomes its own paragraph, each short character description becomes a full page, and on and on until you have a novel outline.
The great part about doing this, especially if you plan on taking on a challenge like NaNoWriMo, is that by the time you’ve finished, the story is so cemented in your mind, that sitting down to write the scenes is almost easy. It’s like taking dictation. It’s all already there.
Now, I’m not saying that you won’t hit rough patches or that the story won’t take random turns that make you look at your outline, and go “What the hell happened there?”. Stories do that. All the time. But you will have a good start, and a lot of the time, your story will come back around to where you recognize it again. For me, an outline is a little like having a map in the woods. You don’t have to follow the path all the time, but it is good to know where it is just the same.
Does that mean that I always write that way? Hell, no. In fact, I rarely have a full outline before I start. I think that this NaNo will be the second time in 12 years that I have stepped in with a fully developed plan up my sleeve. Even my current WIP had no plan at all when I started it beyond a simple ‘What if?’
I honestly can’t say which way is better, because every writer is different. And for me, every story is different. Some ideas arrive more or less fully formed. Others arrive in the form of a character who grabs your ear and whispers, “Wanna hear a story? I’ve got a good one.”
Good luck, Wrimos! Look for me on the NaNo website in October.