The “Pantser” and the Snowflake

With thanks to
With thanks to

See the picture of the wigged out, frustrated, teeth gnashing, hair pulling author? That was me almost two years ago. There I sat, sick to my stomach. What had I been thinking? Publishing books without the benefit of professional editing? Was I daft? Did I eat soup with a fork? The answer to my questions was a resounding–


I confess. I’m a “pantser,” one of those writers who has some basic story ideas, like the opening sequence, a couple of plot points, and the ending. I’m also a nail biter, wondering how the story will unfold after the first chapter that I spent one month laboring over. No outline of any kind. Just some scribbled notes that didn’t amount to much.

Somehow, I got through it, but afterward, it required numerous rewrites, and when I was satisfied with it, I clicked submit and off it went. I did it for 3 books (Heart of A Rose Series). Suddenly, readers were finding problems and my heart sank. At that moment, I realized I wasn’t an editor, and I would never be an editor, no matter how hard I tried. I went on a hunt for an editor and with her help, I made it through some major rewrites on the first 3 books. Jennifer Quinlan is her name and her editorial business is called, Historical Editorial. )She also does beautiful book covers.)

I defined a “pantser” for those who don’t know what one is, AND I’ve confessed to being one. A lot of authors are. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It works for those who use it. For me, I could see the limitations, and the problems it caused, but I wasn’t sure if this leopard could change her spots. I decided I wanted more than continual rewrites and fixing plot holes AFTER I’d written the book. I wanted to find those problems BEFORE I finished writing the book.

With thanks to Randy Ingermanson at Advanced Fiction Writing.
With thanks to Randy Ingermanson at Advanced Fiction Writing.

Enter the Snowflake Method. Developed by Randy Ingermanson at Advanced Fiction Writing, it teaches the writer how to take a basic plot idea (a triangle) and gradually turn it into a complete synopsis (a six-sided snowflake). I was intrigued, so I read everything I could on his website and subscribed to his e-zine. Now, he doesn’t know me from Adam, and he isn’t even aware that I’m writing a review. I just wanted to share what I learned by giving the Snowflake Method an honest try. So . . .

Here goes! I took a stab at the method (just the basics) and wrote my fourth book, Forsaken. My editor had somewhat less to deal with and noted that the story seemed better put together. When it came time to write Pictures for Maddie, I went a little more into the story and characterizations, but didn’t go as far as I should have. When it came time to begin my, so far unnamed, Book 2 of the Majesta Landing series, I knew I wanted to keep it near 80,000 words. I knew I couldn’t wander around aimlessly. The story had to be concise.

So, I bought Randy’s book, How to Write a Novel using the Snowflake Method. It teaches while telling a story of its own. It’s filled with excellent tips and how to’s at the end of each chapter. So, I began, but I still felt like I was floundering around. It didn’t take me long to realize the book wasn’t going to be enough to satisfy my demands, which were a lot. Short of paying Randy Ingermanson for personal tutoring lessons, I did the only thing I could do.

I purchased the Snowflake Pro, Randy Ingermanson’s software package ($100). It was easy to download and install. My husband is the computer guru in the family (he works in the industry), but I wanted to do it myself. And I did. I didn’t know what to expect, but once I completed the installation process, I got to take my first look at it.

Snowflake Pro Software
Snowflake Pro Software

There are screen shots on the website, but now I filled in the boxes with my information and the story I wanted to write. It began with a welcome, where the Snowflake Method is explained. Then I entered my personal info which could be used at the end to write a query/proposal (the scariest part if you want to go with a traditional publisher). But that’s way down the road.

Next, I defined my project by filling in the info being requested. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, although I had to be prepared to go the distance and not just stop because I had an “urge” to write. Truth be told, I already had about 15,000 words, but I had to stop before I messed it up so bad that I’d have to start over. There was no choice.

I stopped.

Of course, the process begins with that pesky one liner that every author has to think about. On and on it goes, using the step tabs at the top, until I had a fully developed story, character synopses with charts and a section to plan your chapters, scene by scene. There’s also a nifty section for making notes on each chapter which I discovered comes in handy when needing to go back to fix something.

And that brings me to the reason for this blog post. Randy Ingermanson is quick to point out that one of the boons to taking the time to do all of this work beforehand is that you’ll likely find problems quicker and save weeks or months of heavy-duty rewriting later on. How do I know this? Because it’s already happened to me.

It all looked good, each snowflake page filled with info about the story and characters, but then, I realized I had a problem. I knew something was wrong but for a while, I couldn’t figure it out. I kept looking at all the work I did with the Snowflake Pro and I finally saw exactly where the problem was and how to address it. It was a sequencing/pacing issue. Best of all, I fixed the problem before I moved on. And more importantly, I won’t have to make changes in later chapters due to this issue because those pages haven’t been written yet. I believe it should help tighten the story, too, which (I hope) will make a better reading experience for anyone who’s kind enough to buy a copy.

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

So, I owe Randy Ingermanson and Advanced Fiction Writing a HUGE thank you for showing this “pantser” how to plan and plot a book differently. (Thanks, Randy!) There will always be a certain amount of “pantser-izing” for me, but I’m happier knowing where the story is going long before I get there. Plus, as ideas for new books come to mind, I can create a new file and dump info there. I didn’t agonize over the process which was new for me. It took about a month to work through it. Of course, that doesn’t mean that surprising things don’t happen—they do. I just had something pop up in the heroine’s past that made me go, “Whoa! I didn’t see that coming!” So I went with it. It didn’t change the plotting. It merely added another layer to the character.

The bottom line is, that for me, it works. Now I’m a happy woman, like the one in the picture above. If you’re looking for a new way to plot and plan–who knows, it might work for you, too. I only know that I won’t be writing any more books without the Snowflake Method.

I would love to know if anyone has tried the Snowflake Method. What are YOUR thoughts? Just add your comment below.

2 thoughts on “The “Pantser” and the Snowflake

  1. I’m a pantser too and, like you, I’ve found a way to adapt. I like to have balance in my work and borrow some of the techniques used by the architects among us. I still don’t do a great deal of outlining and enjoy to go with the flow (I perversely enjoy the rewrites!), but I do have more discipline and that’s a good thing 😉 Thanks for sharing.


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