fiction

Reflection on NaNoWriMo: Snowflake vs Backwards Script Writing

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Colten Hendricks, on his recent NaNoWriMo month-long writing experience.

Beginning writers often flounder when presented with the time old advice of “just write.” What we end up writing are half-baked ideas, loose plot threads, and meandering messes all over our pages. We haven’t grasped the significance of our stories to even tell them yet so we “just write” only to end up with an unsatisfying book.

The solution is also deceptively simple: write an outline. Focus on writing the actual novel confident in what we are doing and where we are going by providing two simple and highly effective outlining models known as the Snowflake Method and Backwards Script Writing.

Novelist Randy Ingermanson is the creator of the Snowflake Method, constructing it with the belief that effective outlining looks much like a the structure of a snowflake snowflake; we start with a core idea and, from there, add details. Then we simultaneously take those details and expand them into further details allowing us to also always keep the parent ideas in mind and ensure continuity between cause and effect in our stories.

The process itself is broken into 10 easy to follow steps which follow closely to a traditional three act structure:

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.
  2. Expand the sentence into a full paragraph covering the setup, primary obstacles, and end.
  3. Write a one-page summary of your main characters which should include the character’s name, motivation, and a paragraph summary to their role in the story.
  4. Take each sentence in your novel summary paragraph and turn those into a paragraph each.
  5. Write a one-page synopsis of each major character and a half-page synopsis for each supporting character, preferably from their point of view.
  6. Expand each paragraph in the novel summary into a page.
  7. Fill in the details to your character profiles, from personal histories and family members to beliefs, flaws, and expected epiphanies.
  8. Take your book summary and make a list of scenes you will need, a line on what happens in them, and the POV character. Ingermanson recommends using a spreadsheet to do this step.
  9. As an optional step, return to your book outline and expand each scene into a paragraph. Most importantly, use this step to ask yourself if the scene is necessary and dramatic enough to justify its existence.
  10. Now write your book.

By step 10, we have everything we need to comfortably write with purpose. From then on, we need only go back and forth between our first draft and outline, scrapping out old ideas that we have decided will not work anymore, and adding new ideas when they arise.

Yoko Taro, a video game director known for his 2017 Nier: Automata, spoke at the 2014 Game Developers Conference on his process of Backwards Script Writing which diverges from the Snowflake Method in that instead of viewing the outlining tool as branching from a single, general idea, we instead focus on the end and the story’s emotional peak-the feelings and ideas the story is meant to invoke into your audience. Plot points provide the context for the emotional peak and are necessary in creating a reason for us to care for scenes which emotionally stir its audience. By starting with the emotional peak, we also need to ask ourselves whether a plot point contributes to that quintessential moment and, if not, should be discarded to save time for both ourselves and our readers.

Using Yoko’s example, if our emotional climax is that a girl dies and it is sad, then we need to ensure that our narrative also provide adequate reason for us to be sad when she dies. Perhaps it was her wedding day, she’s kind to everyone she meets, or the main character is in love with her. Additional emotional peaks may be added as well when needed, such as with the main character in love example since we would likely need to like our main character to empathize with him as well as sell the romance that they share.

Yoko’s Backwards Script Writing extends into worldbuilding. A lack of engagement from the audience in our worlds, whether they are fictional or not, is often due to meaningless details. Using our previous example of a girl dying and it being sad, an additional reason for us to care about the event is that the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which the earth is dying and all people have long since discarded values of love and cooperation. The girl becomes a beacon of hope, treasured, giving us a reason to care. When we care about the characters, we tend to care about the world in which they exist. The Snowflake Method ensures that the writing development process remains unbroken. Backwards Script Writing makes every detail matter, enriching the storytelling.

These methods help writers migrate from amateurs to professionals as they use the combination of Snowflake and Backwards Script Writing methodologies. Begin with an outline, make the details matter, and find yourself writing better, more powerful stories.

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Tips for Writing Crime and Mystery Fiction

My father fell in love with the Cat Who books by Lillian Jackson Braun with little incentive. A long time cat lover, mystery novels involving a cat that seemed to solve the crimes, as well as about cat lovers (for the most part), was right up his reading alley. Like many, he gobbled them up as soon as each one was released.

Writing mysteries and crimes is a long-held tradition in storytelling and publishing. We have some members of Writers in the Grove who are steadfast fans of the genre.

Here are some tips on writing crime and mystery fiction to tickle your fancy and keep you up at night – reading.

5 Killer Tips For Writing Deadly Crime Fiction – Molly Greene: Writer: Molly Greene is the author of the popular Gen Delacourt Mysteries series. In this great summary of tips, she offers legendary advice:

Open with a bang or a body.

Think James Bond. Or Agatha Christie. James Patterson. Or Garry Rodgers. AK-47s. Or dismembered hookers. Biological bombs. Or a corpse hanging from a meat-hook. A sharp hook… which is the oldest storytelling device and still the best.

You’ve got about ten seconds to hook your reader and keep their face in the page. So start off fast and slowly add backstory. Build it up, then end with a bang. Maybe another body, too.

Among the many tips offered by the following articles is advice that applies to all forms of writing: don’t be boring, edit well, don’t write likeable characters, have plenty of conflict, have a very compelling and damaged detective/investigator, and know exactly what your story is about while you are teasing the reader along the journey.

NaNoWriMo Tips: Your Writer’s Toolbox

Here on Writers on the Grove, we’ve been adding articles to help you add to your writer’s toolbox. A writer’s toolbox is a collection of reference material that helps the writer write.

Your writer’s toolbox could be digital, files stored in a folder on your computer. Or it could be in a file folder grouped by type of reference. Or in a notebook, the preferred method of many writers, with tabs segregating the various reference types.

Your writer’s toolbox isn’t limited to a single project, novel, or writing type. It is a reference guide to support your writing needs such as a list of common measurement conversions from metric to imperial, forms and templates for character and worldbuilding development, descriptions of genres and themes, cheat sheets, and whatever you need to keep you writing.

Whatever your method of storage, before, during, and after NaNoWriMo is the time to put that toolbox in order to help you write your stories.

What Goes Into Your Writer’s Toolbox

What goes into your writer’s toolbox? Anything that helps you write. Here are some examples:

  • Peter Halasz’s Writing Cheatsheet is a tightly packed collection of plot and character guides, specifics, and breakdowns.
  • Forms for character descriptions and personality traits.
  • Forms for place/location descriptions.
  • Forms for worldbuilding.
  • Plot and storyboarding guides and forms.
  • Notes from writing workshops and classes.
  • Pictures of places and characters.
  • Mind mapping forms.
  • Genre descriptions.
  • References that list reference material such as geometric shapes, how to describe and critic art, names and descriptions of shoe typing techniques, a reference guide for typical travel times for various forms of transportation, hair colors and hair style descriptions and names, measurement conversion charts, color names, whatever it is that you can flip to and glance at for the answer, and keep writing.

Some writers create a book for each project they are writing. Others keep one book as a reference guide and keep adding to it as they learn new writing techniques and find references.

It is your writer’s toolbox, and you get to choose whatever tools you need in your kit to keep you going through all your writing projects.

You can find more writing tips, NaNoWriMo prompts, and writing tips for NaNoWriMo on our Writers in the Grove site.

Novel Writing: Storyboarding and the W Plot Chart

Mary Carroll Moore is a popular published author offering educational information on writing and publishing your novel. The following video covers creating a storyboard for your novel using a 3-act structure, specifically the W Plot Chart, helping you find the 5 most important points in your novel.

The following are articles and resources covering more about the W Plot Chart and 3-act structure.

Glimmer Train Accepting Submissions for Fall

Glimmer Train Press is accepting original short stories through the rest of the year by August 31, 2016:

  • Very Short Fiction Contest (300-3,000 words)
  • Fiction Open Contest (3,000 – 6,000+ words)
  • Family Matters (stories about families from 1,000 – 5,000+ words)
  • Standard Category (open to all – Maximum word count 12,000)

The two sisters, Susan and Linda, have been producing Glimmer Train Press since 1991 are open to just about anything fiction. They pay out our $50,000 a year to writers through their various contests and publishing fees. The copyright is retained by the author, and they will accept previously published work, as long as fewer than 75 copies have been sold.

This year, they’ve announced that they’ve expanded the number of months submissions are open to only emerging writers, allowing more new writers to get an opportunity. They’ve also increased the first place prizes in every category.

Literary short fiction works are to be original, and comply with their content guidelines with accompanying reading and submission fees. Prizes range from $300 – $3,000.

Check their submission calendar for more information and deadlines.

Her First Camel

Due to a technical glitch, the final paragraphs were not published of “Her First Camel” by Susan Munger in “SEEDS OF…Volume II: Anthology of Pacific NW Writers (Volume 2)” by MaryJane Nordgren, an anthology representing many members of Writers in the Grove including Susan, we publish the full version of the story here. Our sincere apologies to Susan, and gratitude for this wonderful story.

Aysha stretched her thin, bony back for a moment, willing the long, hot day to be over, wishing the wind would stop whining through their stall, wondering if she would ever get enough to eat. As Aysha returned to bending the tiny wires in and around the small golden beads, her father Azam, seated next to her, continued to shape and solder the heavier frame of the next camel.

They sat cross-legged on a thread-bare carpet in a cramped and dim corner of the marketplace, doggedly working their trade from first light to dusk. Every now and then, Aysha would have to pause and hand the camel back to her father for further soldering. No words were exchanged; the rhythm of the work made talk unnecessary.

Aysha’s father worked over a tiny fire, using a soldering iron that had a block of copper pointed at the tip to provide just the right amount of heat, uniting the solder to the wire. He knew just how much to apply, having learned this skill from his father before him. Aysha’s older brother studied every move and practiced making a stylized camel frame on which the wire and beads would be attached. It was his destiny to someday take over this role while Azam sat home resting and smoking in their scrap of a tent. For his efforts, the son earned a small fee out of the day’s take. It wasn’t much, but it was more than Aysha got, which was nothing. Nothing, that is, but her meal. Even that was pitiful, but it kept her eight-year-old body sufficiently sustained for another day of work. And another. This had always been the way. (more…)