Snowflake Writing Method: How to Build Up Your Story

Snowflake Writing Method: How to Build Up Your Story

Snowflake writing method is explained as a step-by-step process of building a story from the beginning till the end. / Photo by: Volodymyr Nikulin via 123rf


Having a proper story structure can greatly help anyone with their writing. There are many ways one can outline their story. One such process is the Snowflake Writing Method, a step-by-step strategy to building a story from the beginning up to the end.

Randy Ingermanson, an author and former software architect, designed this method as he sees writing as similar to drawing a digital snowflake. The Writing Cooperative reports Ingermanson was fascinated by the way people can produce a snowflake shape using a computer. The shape is not drawn as is; software architects layer simple shapes one on top of the other until they form a snowflake.

The author argues that writing, specifically in novels, can also be done in a similar method -- starting from the most simple elements then slowly building up and putting in more complexity (expanding to include plot and character details) until the novel is complete. "You start small, then build stuff up until it looks like a story,” Ingermanson says.

Exploring the Snowflake Writing Method

As mentioned, this method of writing would mean building the story from the ground up. Each step is an essential foundation for what will be an intricate and well-written composition. Ingermanson described this strategy in three phases: the beginning, the middle, and the end. However, the following steps are listed by Medium to further explain how the snowflake writing method works.

Phase 1: Begin with a one-sentence summary

This summary will be the pitch of the entire composition. It should be interesting enough that readers will be hooked on it. It should also hint the genre of the work. Everything starts with a single sentence that summarizes the whole narrative—a seed that would sprout the whole story.

Phase 2: Expand the sentence

When the one-sentence summary is established, the next step is to expand it to a full paragraph. This paragraph should describe the  story's setup, major events, and the conclusion. There should be three major events that will help in transitioning from one act to the next using the three-act structure.

Phase 3: Describe the characters

When writing fiction, describing the characters is important to have a better understanding of the story. It should include the character's name, motivation, goal, and their personal conflicts. Taking inspiration from famous people or people that one already knows could help. For non-fiction, one could explain in detail the elements they want to include in their writing that can support their conclusion.

Phase 4: Expand the plot

A one-page plot synopsis should be broken down into finer details — expanding it into a four-page synopsis. Each paragraph should act as a guide from one event to another.

Phase 5: Make a list of scenes from the four-page synopsis and expand them

This could be done by making a spreadsheet with one line per scene, according to Ingermanson. Writing them on note cards or post-it notes and arranging them could also work. The key is to have a clear view and list of all the scenes.

Once the scenes are all written down, one can begin to describe the scenes in more detail. What happens next? Who are the people involved? How does it transition from one event to another?

Phase 6: Begin the first draft

Since everything has been outlined, one will be able to write more quickly. Each scene is already determined, the major conflicts have been identified, and there is already an ending. Ingermanson calls this the "design documents"—which can be changed and adjusted to better suit the story.


It will be more easier to write the draft because of the outline. / Photo by: Volodymyr Nikulin via 123rf


Benefits of Using the Snowflake Writing Method

Many people find this method an effective way of writing since it is structured and easy to understand. Aside from practical steps for outlining, the method also provides ideas on how long each phase should take. For instance, one should spend about an hour when coming up with their one-sentence summary and a few hours when describing the characters.

According to, the snowflake writing method can also recognize and remedy a common cause of Abandoned First Draft Syndrome: plot holes. It is fairly common to have written a lot before one can notice major flaws that they have to fix. Working with a list and synopses for each character can help one better identify plot holes prior to writing the first chapter.

Moreover, this writing strategy helps a person focus on the foundation of their work, then helps them build from there. It saves more time and makes the writing process a lot less intimidating. Some of the steps in the snowflake writing method break down the huge project into more reasonable and simpler steps.

Even with these easy-to-follow steps, this method is not always beneficial for everyone. This is particularly true for those who already have established their own writing strategy. There are people who rarely use outlines—building their stories as they go on without a definite plan or direction.

Everyone has their own process of writing and the snowflake method is advisable for those who are still looking for a way to approach their work or who have struggled with other methods