Writing a Novel Using the Snowflake Method

There are several blog posts about using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for developing novels. I thought about doing yet another post on it, but maybe in a little more detail than some of the other bloggers, as I develop my storyline and characters for The Perigee Moon. Step by step. This will be the first, and Step 1.

You can tell by the diagram that it starts out very general and is refined over time, until the whole novel is conceptualized and the writing of that first draft becomes easier, and it is more unlikely that there will be unwanted gaps or errors or inconsistencies with characters or storyline.

This is the first time I’ve used this methodology. I bought the Fiction Writing for Dummies book (also by Randy Ingermanson). An aside here, who came up with the phrase “for Dummies” anyway? I don’t think a person who wants to write a novel but doesn’t know how to go about it, is necessarily a “dummy”. I wonder if there is a book called “Rocket Science for Dummies” or “Brain Surgery for Dummies”. But from a marketing perspective, it sure works, I have a lot of these books, Quicken 2011 for Dummies, Unix for Dummies, Excel for Dummies, Photoshop for Dummies, to name a few. The characteristic yellow and black cover for every Dummy book makes it instantly recognizable and the common formatting of the interior is kind of soothing to me. I know what to expect, and the books are usually tinged with humor, or at least a valiant attempt at humor.

The Snowflake Method is used in Mr. Ingermanson’s software called Snowflake Pro, and I’m using it and it is easy to understand. By that I mean the software is easy to understand, what you need to do to design your novel isn’t necessarily.

In the beginning, I witnessed the full moon in February of this year while on Clearwater Beach. The full moon, over the water, with a few clouds that would temporarily obstruct the moon, or part of it, or where you could see part or all of it shining through, was breathtaking. I took pictures of it and a story idea started.

Sometimes that stuff happens to me, I looked at that moon and just let my mind take me wherever it wanted to go and a novel idea (pun intended) was birthed.

The Perigee Moon was in March, so back in Ohio, I took pictures of that, with the moon through the trees on the exact night of the full moon. I think I have the cover designed already and the title is set, although I also like February Moon. Even though the actual Perigee moon happened in March, I doubt anyone will care about that detail, to point out that the month is off by one.

I started using the software and have completed Step 1.

Step 1: Summarize your storyline in one sentence. This isn’t easy to do, but is a valuable exercise. It should be no more than 25 words, closer to 15 is better. I got mine down to 19. In the beginning, I thought it would be the story of a guy who is in a bad marriage, and how he finds a new relationship and the problems he encounters along the way. And it is still about that, but upon dissecting the character, Luke, I discovered a lot more about him. That it’s not just the marriage, but his whole lifestyle that he wants to alter. The corporate job, the commercialization, the fact that you can drive for twenty minutes and not see anything that isn’t ugly.

Remember Bonnie in Second Stories, who laments what America has turned into by describing gas stations and fast food restaurants? It’s like that, only a whole book about it, more or less, and his marriage and his job, how nothing in his life seems right. Classical mid-life crisis stuff, only on a grander scale, as he contemplates turning into a minimalist. And I expanded it even further to include the notion that he wants to be more spiritual, he wants to grow things, understand what he’s only touched on before. He desires serenity, he wants to contemplate, explore ideas, read, learn, experiment. And he wants to give up his day job to do it.

This sounds heavy, and parts of it will be, but I hope to make this book funny, with hints of sarcastic humor which I do pretty well I think (shameless non-humility). I know a bit about big corporations, and dead end jobs, and the desire to do something else. Along the way, there will be the breakup of a long-standing relationship, and the start of a new one, and family issues to take care of, and a bit of suspense, as some psychotic behavior is observed from the woman who no longer wants Luke, but doesn’t want anyone else to have him.

Here’s the final summary sentence:

One man’s struggle to cast the urban corporate lifestyle behind him and pursue a life of serenity through spirituality.

Editing and re-editing

Is everyone on vacation? It’s been a rough week, as far as blog readers go. I can see how many readers there are! I’m watching you and I’m not feeling the joy right now. It’s times like these I think, why bother? My post is late this week too, due to a family emergency.

And furthermore, and as an aside, I travelled to Rochester, New York Monday (the afore-mentioned emergency) and had lunch in a Cracker Barrel (don’t ask, it’s because this particular restaurant chain is the only one where you can get “greens” yet greens are never ordered by the person who insists we must stop at Cracker Barrel). There we were at the Cracker Barrel and I discovered that they had Halloween decorations out, complete with eerily laughing brooms which skimmed magically across the floor. Just what everyone needs, right? Brooms that travel by themselves?

But the point is, on July 18th we are subjected to Halloween crap? If I’m not mistaken, it’s over three months until we will need any of it, if “need” is the operational word here.

When we were at the front counter paying the bill, the Cracker Barrel lady tried to push candy on us.

“Three for the price of two!” she promised.

“Well, I see you have your Halloween stuff out already,” I said, ignoring the candy offer.

“Oh, yes,” she said, as if this were a good thing.

And I, being in a not-good frame of mind, said, “You know that is exactly what I hate about your place here. I can’t stand it that you have this stuff out so early.”

Ignoring my obvious disdain, she said, “Our Thanksgiving display is out too, over there.” She pointed to an area on the other side of the store. The “store” by the way, could be the subject of a whole other blog, but a talking broom that skims the floor is a clue as to the quality of the merchandise sold there.

I said, “You know, it’s July and I’m pretty sure I’m not ready to think about Thanksgiving. When does the Christmas stuff come out, anyway?” (I may have said something a little worse than “stuff”, I’m not sure, but remember, I was in a crappy mood.)

“The last week in July,” she announced, and I think she was kind of proud about that, as if, we can SO compete with the big time – the box stores and Macy’s and even J.C. Penney and Sears!

Whatever.

Here’s the real blog content now:

A few months back a friend of mine commented that when she searched for my books on Amazon, they don’t both come up under Lynn Schneider, but Whatever Happened to Lily? the print version, comes up only under Lynette. So searching for books under the author name of Lynn Schneider does not bring up everything, which is two print versions and two kindle versions, but one print and two kindle versions. Not good.

Way back when, without properly thinking it through, I listed the author name as “Lynette” then decided I wanted to change it to Lynn. But too late, the author name is listed as Lynette. I asked CreateSpace about this and they informed me that that I’d have to rerelease the book because the author name can’t be changed.

The kindle versions are not an issue. These are easily changed.

I’m going to rerelease both the print and kindle versions of the novel, but first I thought I’d edit it again, to see if it could still stand up to my newly acquired writing standards. This is what I found.

I found a lot of overused, duplicate, unnecessary words. I tend to use words like “that”, “so”, and “just” way too much. These words are “throwaway words”. Many times they can be eliminated. For instance, take this sentence:

I had known what it would likely say, that my wife looked nice, that my daughter was beautiful and that I looked wonderful. And she did say all that and more, that she had cried when she saw it, that it had likely been a mistake to ask to see it, because it had upset her more than she would have thought possible.

I count way too many “thats”, in fact there are six of them. Some of these are superfluous. Here is the correction:

I had known what it would likely say, that my wife looked nice, my daughter was beautiful and I looked wonderful. And she did say all that and more. She had cried when she saw it, and it had likely been a mistake to ask to see it, because it had upset her more than she would have thought possible.

Take this sentence: He thought that he might go back inside. The “that” is not needed. He thought he might go back inside.

Sometimes “that” is needed, but 75% of the time it’s not. So I always have to edit for “that”.

Other words I overuse (especially in dialogue) are “just” and “so”. I’m not sure why, but I tend to use these words ad nauseum and must edit them out.

For example:

“So, I was just walking by your house and saw that the light was on in your room, so I figured that it would be okay for me to ring your doorbell.”

This can (and should) be edited, unless for some reason, all those extraneous words seem necessary in order to make the point, that the character is kind of clueless.

“I was walking by your house and saw the light was on in your room, and figured it would be okay for me to ring your doorbell.”

The corrected sentence gets rid of a couple of occurrences of “so” and “that” and a “just”.

Another thing I noticed and which I wanted to fix, is inappropriate punctuation after sentences that contain dialogue.

“That has nothing to do with me,” she shut the refrigerator with a thump.

Incorrect!

If dialog is followed by an attribution (she said, for example), it can be thus:

“That has nothing to do with me,” she said and she shut the refrigerator with a thump.

Or:

“That has nothing to do with me.” She shut the refrigerator with a thump.

But really, I wanted to edit the character, Jay. The more I thought about it, the more I believed he was a crude jerk, when he goes for a run in order to “decide” whether he should continue his cyber-relationship with Lily or not. What a weasel. He runs and thinks about how his marriage sucks and how it’s not really his fault, that it’s Nan’s fault – blah, blah. Meh. He needs to own it. He is the one who wanted it, he decided to do it, he needs to be responsible for his decisions without blaming others. Here is the new passage:

As I ran, I thought about my marriage to Nan. It had been on a gradual decline and I couldn’t say when it had first begun, but I wondered if now that Grace was gone, there really wasn’t a reason for us to be together any longer, as she had suggested. She was tired of the whole situation, of me, and my feelings for Lily.

[Seems like he is telling himself what he wants to hear in the above paragraph.]

If I were honest with myself I would have to admit that I loved her, but not like I’d loved Lily. She seemed unapproachable to me now. No matter what I said or did, I couldn’t get past the wall she had built up between us. She didn’t want me now. I had a role in it too, of course, with what was happening between Lily and me. I tried to tell myself it was Nan who was solely responsible, but I knew it wasn’t so.

[He’s being honest with himself, aren’t we lucky? She’d (Nan) had built up a wall. With good reason, and he’s starting to feel like he might have done some things to affect their situation. Wow. How very perceptive.]

My chest hurt, and I had to stop. I felt bad, shaking and nauseous. I wondered if I had overdone it, was I having some sort of attack? A heart attack maybe? I had never entertained the possibility that such a thing could happen. I was healthy, a runner. Look at my father, still vital in his eighties. But something felt twisted, and I sank down onto the sand.

[My male characters all tend to have physical issues, chest pains and the like, when they get upset.]

My breathing slowed and I felt better and realized it must have been some kind of panic attack, that the combination of the run and my delusions about myself had thrown me into.

[An aha moment, he’s realized he has delusions about himself.]

Because it had nothing to do with Nan. It wasn’t my perceived notion that my marriage was going sour that would make it okay to establish some sort of relationship with Lily. It was me. I was solely responsible for it, I wanted it. I didn’t have the strength to not want it. I wanted to know Lily again. I wanted to have something with her. I couldn’t stop it. I was a weak, horrible person. I knew that. But I couldn’t stop it.

[Finally. He acknowledges what the reader already knows. The author wanted him to come across as a very sympathetic character, but blaming others for his actions doesn’t work. He will still be a nice guy in the readers’ eyes, I think, but with imperfections and real-life temptations and decisions to make.]

By the time I reached home, I’d made my decision what to do about Lily and I needed to tell Nan what had happened.

My male characters aren’t alpha males, like in romance novels. One of my good friends told me she thought I did women characters better and my male characters were a little “wussy”. I’d like to think Jay isn’t wussy, but he’s no alpha male.

I don’t believe in alpha males. I don’t think there are any, but if there is a sliding scale between alpha and wussy, Jay falls somewhere in between.

The above are some of the things I needed to do to my novel to (I hope) improve it. I hadn’t read it in a long time, more than a year, and I found I still liked it, but there were a few things I wanted to change about it to make it even better.

Blog Anniversary – Six Months Already

About a month ago, I went to Molly Woo’s Chinese American Bistro. I love it when they are called “bistros”. I know there will be lovely atmosphere, good wine, and servers who are young, good-looking, and condescending.

It was a hot day, and the gentleman (barely 21 most likely) behind the podium asked if we wished to be seated inside or outside.

“Inside, I think,” I said.

“Fantastic!” he said.

Really? Was that because it’s a pain in the ass for them to seat you outside, the servers having to come in and out through the heavy door? Was it because he was concerned about our comfort, on such a hot day? I was curious why he thought my decision to be inside was “fantastic” and pondered it all through the meal.

My fortune cookie said “A thrilling time is in store for you.

Great! That means my blog is about to take off? I’m going to get a call from Ellen? Oprah?

So far, nothing thrilling has happened, but then it’s only been a month.

Today is July 9, 2011 and the six-month anniversary of my blog. My first post was on January 9, 2011. I thought it appropriate to recognize this less than impressive anniversary.

The blog started out pretty well, I think a lot of my Facebook friends checked it out, and then probably found it boring. In February it tanked pretty well, but as you can see by the chart, it has steadily improved since then. June saw the same numbers as January. So far July isn’t too impressive though, so the trend may not continue.

I think a lot of the same people read it every time, and for that I thank them profusely. But I haven’t been able to attract many new readers / fans to my blog. It is disheartening sometimes, and when I check the stats and see a big goose egg (Sorry, no readers today!) I get mad and discouraged and vow to quit altogether. But then I don’t.

It’s what I have chosen to try and promote myself and my books so if I quit doing that, what next? I find myself getting lost in a circle of uncertainty, what’s the best way? What can I try next, without doing something that my introversive personality could never support?

Sometimes I spend a good portion of a day on one blog post. This past blog, about the bluegrass music, and WWII, for example, was time consuming, since I edited the chapter several times. When I got done, I still thought the story was pretty boring. No wonder the editor said to cut it out.

The time spent on writing a blog that has a small readership could better be spent on writing, but once another book is completed, if no one knows about me, they’ll never know it exists. Bah!

Vicious, vicious circles.

Surprisingly, the one post that has the most traffic is the one about Designing Your Own Book Cover. I could see that it was reached by a variety of Google searches and a lot of people read it. No one commented on it, of course, so maybe it wasn’t all that helpful to anyone. I find it difficult to get comments out of readers.

I need just one post to go viral and then people who read it may read some of the previous posts. It’s a long shot, but you never know when / if it will happen. I’m going to keep on blogging, but I don’t think I’ll be too disappointed if July doesn’t top June.

And here’s another ancient Chinese proverb: If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.

I take this to mean, it is better to concentrate on one thing than to go off in different directions. So I’ll continue blogging, at least for a while.

Stuff That Has to be Cut Out of a Novel – Part 3

I have a closeted penchant for bluegrass music. As such, I felt the need to devote a chapter to it, in my novel, Second Stories. Some turn up their noses at bluegrass and say “but it’s so whi-iii-ney!” That’s precisely why I like it. I like the whine, and the close harmony.

I am a fan of the Dixie Chicks, may they rest in peace (as a group) because there is speculation that they have broken up and the sisters, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, remain as the Dixie Chicks and Natalie Maines is out. Back when Ms. Maines was their lead singer, they released an album, Taking the Long Way, and there was a song on that CD that moved me called Silent House. It was written for Natalie’s grandmother who had Alzheimer’s and the message is, I will remember so you can forget.

I thought about that and decided to interview my father about some things I feared he’d forget and I’d never know what he knew unless I asked him while he could still remember. I sat him down, and typed as fast as I could while he talked, about his experiences in World War II.

The story of my Dad’s experience is immortalized in the final Alice chapter that was cut from the book. Clint is the veteran in the story, and his wife has died, and his kids decided he needed to be put into Assisted Living. He is unhappy there, and wants Alice to marry him. Not that it’s a great love affair, but Alice is a young woman at 81 (he’s 90, it’s all relative), and he believes it to be mutually beneficial, since Alice is a widow. None of this is relative to my father, it’s the specifics of the war experience that are his story.

Alice turns down the proposal, of course. Lydia, (wife of Geo, the depressed guy who makes up his own reality and believes it) learns of the marriage proposal and she and her sister-in-law decide that Alice is a “one man woman”. Lydia thinks about that, and it is one of the many reasons she makes the decision to stay with her undeserving husband of forty years.

I thought the story of Alice and Clint added something to the novel, but the editor said out with it. So out it went.


My father was drafted into the army, which was the norm. He was working in the oil fields, single, uneducated. He was drafted so he could be cannon fodder, basically. One of the guys who risks everything and there’s a 50/50 chance you will live through it. You either will or you won’t. 50/50.

The things he told me gave me the shivers, and especially so when I realized that but for his probably being just plain lucky, I might not be here. He was born lucky, I think. Many of the things he’s done in his life have turned out well, when it could have been very different.

He was in the Battle of the Bulge, and never knew, from day to day, if he’d be shot by the Germans. He slept in foxholes filled with water. He woke one morning to see a church maybe 100 yards away, completely destroyed, that had been standing when he fell into the exhausted sleep only a soldier can describe, the night before. It had been bombed while he slept, and it never woke him, he was that tired.

These stories never surfaced before, not when we were kids or afterwards. He didn’t talk about it, and if I hadn’t asked him about it a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t know about any of it. I asked him if he had nightmares, or flashbacks about it. I figured something that traumatic must have caused a lot of sleepless nights.

“No,” he said. “I put it behind me. I didn’t think about it.”

He didn’t think about it. Can people really do that? I think some can. He grew up poor, lived through the depression, and was “raised like a barn cat”. You survived. You did what you had to do. That’s exactly what he did. He did what he had to, and when it was over with, he didn’t think about it. He went on with his life, he got married, raised a family, started a business. He became someone, someone he’d always wanted to be. A business man. A family man. Someone the people in town all knew.

It’s hard for me to comprehend this. How can anyone forget? I think it’s possible for some, and maybe more men of that generation could do it than of ours, but the horrors of war are lost on us civilians, we can only imagine how terrible it is. I guess I’m glad he could forget about what happened back then, and the close calls he had, but I still wonder about it. And know he’ll soon forget forever. I’m glad I asked him about that part of his life. And now that I have done that, I have the memory so he doesn’t have to remember it. Like the Silent House song,

And I will try to connect
All the pieces you left
I will carry it on
And let you forget

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