NaNoWriMo – Writing on a Deadline and The Snowflake Method

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) occurs every November, for the entire month. I’ve signed up for it, which doesn’t mean much really. No one is watching how much I produce, but the idea is to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

It’s all about quantity not quality. Mostly, experts agree that it is good to first get the story down on paper without paying attention to editing or making sure it’s “pretty”. That comes later.

50,000 words is a novella length, most books are over 100,000 words in length. My two books were upwards of that, 138,000 for Whatever Happened To Lily? and 150,000 for Second Stories. These books would both be considered too long by industry standards. An agent wouldn’t even look at a manuscript over 110,000 words. That would be for a non-classic: a romance novel, a cozy mystery, chick lit, contemporary fiction. But, of course, if you’re Jonathan Franzen, or some other extremely successful author, there is no limitation on the number of words you are allowed.

My next book will be more than 110,000 words so I’m hoping to write even more than the 50,000 words recommended by NaNoWriMo. To help me do that, I’ve been using the Snowflake Method, and if I can get all my outlining done, and notes written by the end of October, I’m going to try to write 2,000 words (average) per day.

Taking out one day when I have to babysit for my six-year-old grandson, and Thanksgiving, when I will be cooking and/or eating, it leaves 28 days of writing. That’s 60,000 words in 28 days, or over 2,100 words per writing day. I’ve had days when I’ve written over 4,000 words, so I think it is doable.

The Snowflake method has worked out well. I haven’t blogged about it as I said I would, each step at a time, but thought I’d talk a bit about it and how it works. Randy Ingermanson, who developed the system is both a java programmer and an author so that works for me. It’s a thirteen tab application, Welcome, General Info, Author Info, Steps 1 through 9 and Proposal.

The first three tabs are general information about the book and the author, there are nine steps for creation of the outline of the novel, going from general to most detailed, and then a book proposal is generated based on the information entered.

Step 1 is the short summary or the “elevator pitch”. The premise is, if you were in an elevator with an agent or publisher and were asked, so, what’s your book about? You should be able to give him/her the spiel, before s/he (or you) reach the desired floor, such that the whole novel is summed up in one sentence. It should be less than 25 words, so you can memorize it.

Step 2 is the long summary which expands on the short summary, and is one paragraph in length, five sentences. This would be good for the description on Amazon, or for including in a website.

  • What the book is about
  • The first act, up to the first disaster
  • The first half of the second act, up to the second disaster
  • The second half of the second act, up to the third disaster
  • The third act, the resolution, and perhaps The Happy Ending

The word “disaster” can mean a lot of things depending on the genre of the book. In the case of women’s or contemporary fiction, it will be the major events, the crises, the realizations, the epiphanies. I constructed my novel in this fashion.

The third step is creating a list of characters and specifying how they interact, how they are related, why they are in the novel, and what their personal goals might be. Some are there to be a supporting character, some are the main characters, and some are there merely for comic effect. I identified thirteen characters, family and friends.

The fourth step goes back to story development, and the long description is written here. For each of the five sentences of the long summary, a paragraph is written. I found Steps 1, 2 and 4 to be very thought-provoking. Once these steps are completed, an author has a pretty good idea of how the story will be structured. This was all done in my head for my previous two novels, and I’m sure some good thoughts got lost in the brain chaos.

Back to characters, Step 5 is a synopsis of each of the characters defined in Step 3. What makes these characters act the way they do? What has happened to them, in their early lives, and later on? It’s a way of getting to know each of them. This is very important because each character needs to be consistent and well thought out, and not do or say anything that seems contradictory. This step is for the author, it doesn’t go anywhere, it’s an exercise to get you thinking about each person and what role he or she will play.

Step 6 is the long synopsis of the story, expanded from the long description. We started at one sentence, then to one paragraph, to one page, to now several pages of story description. Four steps in ever increasing detail. There are more specifics in the long synopsis, we can now see where the chapters, and then scenes might evolve from this.

Step 7 goes back to characters, and this is also for the author’s benefit, to more fully understand each one. There is a set of pre-defined questions to answer: physical descriptions, character descriptions, favorite things (color, music, books, etc.), and how each character will change, what are his or her epiphanies, values, goals. More “getting to know you”.

Step 8 takes the long synopsis and formats each sentence into a scene. These can be added to or deleted as necessary. A one-line description of every single scene in the novel. Great!

The final Step 9, expands on Step 8, and creates an empty space to fill in notes about each scene. These notes can then be used as the starting point for the actual writing, which will happen next. I’m in Step 9 now, and that’s what I want to finish up in the month of October. I’m always about goals, small and large, what I will accomplish by noon, what I will accomplish by 5:00, what I will accomplish by October 31. It doesn’t always work out but it helps to have them.

Here’s to NaNoWriMo and the Snowflake Method!

The Snowflake Method – Step 3 (Names of Characters)

Step 1 of Step 3 of the Snowflake Methodology. This part defines the characters, and asks for particulars about each one. You can define as many characters as you  like, even the minor ones. I have defined my three main characters so far: Luke, Kate and Abby.

Each defined character has the following criteria: Name, ambition, story goal, conflict, epiphany, one sentence summary and one paragraph summary.

Let’s start with names, and how we pick them. Here are some of the don’t do’s:

  • Don’t name a character some really common name (e.g. Tom Jones) unless there is a good reason to do it.
  • Don’t name any of the characters the same first name because that’s confusing, unless there is a good reason to do it.
  • Don’t name characters names that sound alike or start with the same letter, like Jen and Joan and John, unless there is a good reason to do it.
  • Don’t name characters something really fake-sounding. Have you ever been reading a novel and thought, that is a such dumb sounding name, no one has a name like that. Example: Amber Summerfield. Too nice, too beautiful, too cutesy. But again, unless there is a good reason to do it. And my apologies to anyone named Amber Summerfield out there. Your name is pretty, but probably not going to show up in my novel.

I like names that are semi-common but not “John Smith” common.

Certain names conjure up personality types for me. It may be because of people I’ve met in my life who have certain traits. So I might use the name because that’s the way whats-his-face was and that’s the way I want my character to be. Or the fact that I don’t know anyone with that particular name works too because then it isn’t tarnished by anything that I might associate with the name and I can make him have whichever traits and characteristics I want.

Luke Koslov. Luke makes me think of the strong, silent type. Of a sensual, yet subtle male. Probably tallish, probably not dark, probably not handsome in the traditional way. I chose this name because I think a man named Luke could be capable of what I intend to put him through. I chose Koslov because I intend to go a little bit into the fact that his father’s family was originally from Russia. I perceive Russian men as strong, silent, a bit on the chauvinist side, but I could be entirely wrong about that. Luke’s father is though.

Kathleen Willoughby Koslov. I think of Kate as the strong, take-charge type. Someone who wants things her way and does what it takes to get there. A self-starter, an A-type. And Kate will be all this, and more, and probably not a likeable character. Which brings up an interesting topic, of characters and their likeability. I’ve had the criticism that my female characters are “mean”. I never meant that they should be that, just that they might want things other than what has been pre-programmed for them, and that they do what needs to be done, in order to get off the hamster wheel. Kate is going to be, well, a little nasty actually.

Abigail Pentergast Dorchester. The Pentergast part will become clear. And she couldn’t help the Dorchester part, when she married John Dorchester, widower, with two insufferable daughters. She took his name, maybe to get rid of Pentergast. I don’t think I know anyone named Abby, but I like the name, so she can be whatever I want her to be. I think she must be a convincingly nice person, forgiving, and loving, and deep, and somewhat spiritual. Not so much in an organized religious way, but grateful for life, and nature, and dedicated to preserving it, life and nature, that is. An organic woman, a gardener, a recycler, pure but not simple, used to being “second best” and longing to be someone’s first choice for once.

Ambition. Coming soon.

The Snowflake Method – Step 2

Update: Treadmill 101. I’ve continued treadmilling, thanks to the excellent playlist I’ve assembled. I couldn’t have done it without that playlist. And another reason I’ve succeeded at my (approximately) fiftieth attempt at an exercise program: I have more discretionary time, now that I no longer have a day job. Setting the alarm early in order to slog through it before getting ready for work is an exercise in procrastination and a means to formulate spectacularly creative excuses in one’s own mind as to WHY it would be insane/unwise/dangerous to hit that treadmill.

A friend sent me a Pandora station created from the twelve songs I listed and I learned two things from it:

  1. Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones is great, and would be an excellent addition to my workout playlist, and, in fact, what better way to begin the whole 40 minutes than with this song? It lends itself well to the warm up portion because it is not too fast, yet very uplifting. And who doesn’t love Mick Jagger anyway? (Picture his rugged, craggy, unbotoxed and unsurgically altered face now.)
  2. The quality of songs one gets from Pandora when you put in “She’s Not There” by the Zombies is abysmal. I never heard so much awful, tuneless, lyricless, clueless music by goofy English groups in my life. Talk about caterwaul. Garage bands who should have stayed there, or been demoted to the basement. There was a lot of really bad stuff written and performed in those days, just listen to the Oldies TV Music Channel if you don’t believe it.

Start Me Up is now the #1 song on the playlist, and Proud Mary, by CCR, moves to #11, replacing Making Some Noise by Tom Petty, which is out. Sorry Tom, but I said it was the weakest link and it is. And I love Proud Mary and it lends itself to a cool down, the same way it did for the warm up.

Onto the real blog stuff which is, Step 2 of the Snowflake Method.

Snowflake Step 2: Expands the one sentence summary into a one paragraph summary, with five sentences, and follows the Three Act structure.

Act 1 is the first quarter of the book, Act 2 is the middle half of the book, and Act 3 is the final quarter. The “three disaster” formula is suggested, with one disaster at the end of Act 1, another in the middle of Act 2 and the final at the end of Act 2. Act 3 is the wrap-up, the conclusion.

I thought the idea of “disasters” was odd, and I believed it too formulaic. But when I went back through Whatever Happened to Lily? I noticed something interesting.

At a little past one quarter of the book, Lily stops writing to Jay. Disaster 1.

At the halfway mark, Jay learns of Nan’s pregnancy and nearly blows it, by his callous remarks to her when she informs him. I thought that was a disaster because if Nan hadn’t been willing to forgive him, the story could have had a much different outcome. Disaster 2.

At the three-quarter mark, Lily comes back into his life. Disaster 3.

Unconsciously, I must have been following this pattern.

  • Act 1 is Jay’s early life, the good days with Lily.
  • Act 2 is his life without her, his quest to find her, his acceptance that she doesn’t want to be found, and his new life with Nan and their daughter.
  • Act 3 is the renewed relationship with Lily and the resolution.

The five sentences of the paragraph should summarize:

  • The backdrop, the setup of the story.
  • Through Act 1 to the first disaster.
  • Halfway through Act 2 to the second disaster.
  • Through Act 2 to the third disaster.
  • Wrap-up. The end of the story

I wrote my summary paragraph. But I can’t decide if I should post it here because if I do everyone will know what the book is about, and then they won’t have to read it. It will be like the Reader’s Digest Condensed version only more so, since it’s only one paragraph. The Twitter version of a novel.

I like this methodology so far. I believe it’s going to work for me.

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.