Disclaimer. I am not using ChatGPT to plot, create or write my novels. This is a thought exercise to help me find a better way of employing Snowflake Method.
I have long been inspried by Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I’ve used it for well over a decade to help me outline my novels. But I’ve also been confused by it. I’ve had a hard time figuring out what the outcome of each step should look like. I’ve also had a hard time figuring out how to use the outcome of each step to move on to the next step. Still, I made it work for me. I even bought Randy’s books on the Snowflake Method and read them cover to cover. But I still struggled. It’s not his method’s fault, or the fault of his books. A poor craftsman blames his tools. I am a poor craftsman. But rather than blame Randy and Snowflake, I needed a better way to understand and use the method.
This morning, I “phoned a friend.” Specifically, I asked Chat GPT-4 to help me decode Snowflake. I first used ChatGPT to create prompts for each of the steps that I could use with it. Then I used ChatGPT to create a summary of each step. I started with asking Chat to create a series of novel suggestions from the Step 1 prompt below.
Snowflake Method Steps
What I like about Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method is how it balances plot definition with building the story. Each step builds on the previous, and one has the ability to jump back and forth between steps as needed. The method is a great way to build a novel from the ground up, and it’s a great way to fix a novel that’s broken. I’ve used it for both.
I think it is a balance between plotting and pantsing. Do you have to go through all steps to plot a novel? No. Just stop where you feel ready to dive into the first narrative draft. With most of my novels, I stopped at the Treatment. But as I wrote the novel, I would build the Narrative Description.
|Step 1: Tagline
|Step 2: Synopsis
|Step 3: Character Design
|Step 4: Summary
|Step 5: Character Synopsis
|Step 6: Treatment
|Step 7: Character Charts
|Step 8: Scene List Creation
|Step 9: Narrative Description
Step 1: Tagline - Prompt for Creating a Two-Sentence Summary of My Novel
I use a different approach on the first step, inspired by Netflix’ tagline for movies and TV shows.
Create a two-sentence summary for a novel idea, focusing on a unique and compelling concept without using specific character names. Aim for clarity and intrigue in fewer than 15 words per sentence. The first sentence speaks to the plot and problem. The second sentence asks a thematic or story question to be answered.
2. Synopsis (Paragraph Summary) Prompt
Expand the one-sentence summary into a paragraph. Include the story setup, three major disasters, and the ending, structuring it around the ‘three disasters plus an ending’ framework.
3. Character Design Prompt
For each major character, write a one-page summary including the character’s name, a one-sentence storyline summary, motivation, goal, conflict, epiphany, and a paragraph summary of their storyline.
Integrating Susan May Warren’s Story Equation:
4. Summary (Story Expansion) Prompt
Take the paragraph summary of the novel and expand each sentence into a full paragraph, detailing the story from setup to conclusion. Ensure each disaster leads up to the ending.
5. Character Synopsis Prompt
Write a one-page description for each major character and a half-page description for other important characters, focusing on their perspectives and contribution to the story.
6. Treatment (Detailed Synopsis) Prompt
Expand the one-page plot synopsis into a detailed four-page version, elaborating on the storyline, character arcs, and key events.
7. Character Charts Prompt
Develop comprehensive character charts for each character, detailing their background, motivation, development arc, and how they change by the end of the novel.
8. Scene List Creation Prompt
Create a spreadsheet listing all scenes derived from the four-page synopsis. Include columns for the POV character, a brief description of what happens, and anticipated scene length.
9. Narrative Description Prompt (Optional)
Convert the spreadsheet into a narrative scene description, detailing each scene’s conflict, key dialogues, and essential elements. Use this as a foundation for the first draft.
I used the following prompt instead of the one above as it mirrors what I do at this stage.
Create a list of scenes for your novel using the ‘But & Therefore’ storytelling method to ensure each scene drives the plot forward through cause and effect, tension, and rising action. Avoid the monotony of ‘And Then’ sequences by focusing on conflict and resolution in your scene list. Remember, the goal is to create a dynamic and engaging story where each scene is a crucial link in the chain of the narrative, propelled by the characters’ decisions, challenges, and the unforeseen consequences of their actions. Here’s how to structure your prompt:
- Enumerate each scene to keep track of the sequence, focusing on how each scene’s outcome affects the next, thereby maintaining tension and interest throughout the narrative.
- Include an anticipated scene length, and a running total of the novel’s word count (scene-count/novel-count words).
- Briefly describe the initial situation or event of your novel.
- For each subsequent scene, begin with ‘But’ to introduce a conflict or complication that disrupts the status quo.
- Follow with ‘Therefore’ to show how characters respond to the conflict, leading to the next scene.
- Continue this pattern, ensuring each scene is linked to the next through a logical and compelling progression of action, consequence, and response.
- (Narrative Description) Include key dialogues, character decisions, and essential elements to maintain tension and drive the plot forward.
Integrating Susan May Warren’s Story Equation (SEQ) with Snowflake Method
Snowflake + SEQ Step 3: One-Page Character Summary
Prompt: “Using the Snowflake Method combined with SEQ, create a one-page summary for each major character. Include the character’s name and a one-sentence storyline summary that reflects their Backstory Wound and the Lie They Believe (SEQ). Detail their motivation and goal, distinguishing between Want (external goal) and Need (internal goal) as per SEQ. Describe the main conflict, their Flaw (SEQ), and the Epiphany (The Truth, SEQ) they will experience. Conclude with a paragraph summary of their storyline, focusing on their transformation (SEQ).”
Snowflake + SEQ Step 5: Character Descriptions
Prompt: “Integrate the Snowflake Method with SEQ to write a one-page description for each major character, and a half-page for other important characters. Focus on how their Backstory Wound, the Lie They Believe, and their Fear (all SEQ elements) shape their perspectives and drive their actions within the story. Clarify their Wants and Needs (SEQ), and how these contribute to the plot, underlining the character’s development arc and their ultimate transformation.”
Snowflake + SEQ Step 7: Comprehensive Character Charts
Prompt: “Merge the Snowflake Method’s detailed character chart creation with the comprehensive approach of SEQ. For each character, detail the Backstory Wound, the Lie They Believe, Fear, Want (external goal), Need (internal goal), Flaw, Epiphany (The Truth), and Transformation (all SEQ elements). This chart should encompass the character’s entire journey, from their motivations and backstory through to their development arc and how they evolve by the novel’s conclusion, ensuring a thorough character-driven narrative.”
Develop a comprehensive character charts, detailing their background, motivation, development arc, and how they change by the end of the novel by integrating Snowflake Method Step 7 with Susan May Warren’s SEQ. This chart will cover the entirety of the character’s journey, blending narrative structure with psychological depth. Please detail:
- Name and Role: Provide the character’s full name and their role within the story (e.g., protagonist, antagonist). Core Story Elements
- Identity (Occupation and Skills): Describe their current occupation, skills, and traits that are pertinent to their role in the story.
- Personal History/Dark Moment Story: Summarize key events from their past that have shaped their worldview and motivations, paying special attention to the Backstory Wound (Dark Moment Story) that defines their initial state. Provide a brief account of the specific event or series of events that led to the character’s Wound. It’s a specific event or series of events that have left the character with unresolved emotional trauma.
- Wound: Identify the deep emotional pain experienced by the character, stemming from a Dark Moment Story in their past. The Wound drives much of the character’s behavior, often subconsciously, influencing their decisions, relationships, and worldview.
- Greatest Fear (External Conflict): Detail the fear that arises from the lie, shaping the character’s choices and actions.
- Conflict (The Lie Believed, Internal Conflict): Identify the false belief that the character holds about themselves, others, or the world as a result of their backstory wound. (Incorporate Step 3)
- Flaw (Emotional expression of Greatest Fear and Wound): Identify the character’s main flaw or weakness that is a protective measure to prevent the greatest fear that hinders their progress or exacerbates their internal conflict.
- Competing Values: two powerful values, birthed from their DMS, which compete to push the character forward, especially during the Great Debate. In Act 2, these values will propel him forward in turns until the Black Moment Event when he usually must choose between one or the other to complete the story (and thus contribute to the Black Moment Effect).
- Happiest Moment Story: Summarize a key event from their past that represents a moment of happiness or fulfillment, providing a contrast to their Wound and Lie, and feeds their Motivation.
- Greatest Dream (Need / Internal Goal / Secret Desire / Motivation) (SEQ): Define the deeper, often unconscious need that will lead to true fulfillment and resolution of their internal conflict. (Incorporate Step 3)
- Goal (Want / External Goal ): Clarify the character’s external objective, what they consciously desire to achieve in the story, this is a SMART goal. (Incorporate Step 3)
- Epiphany (The Truth) (SEQ): Describe the moment of realization where the character sees through the lie, acknowledges their need, and decides to change. (Incorporate Step 3)
- Development Arc Summary: Provide a narrative summary that captures the evolution of the character from the start of the story through to the crisis point and ending with their transformation, highlighting how SEQ elements are woven into their journey. This should follow the four act structure (Act 1, 2, 3 & 4) aligning to “three disasters plus an ending.” Transformation Summary:
- Perspective: How the character’s view of the world or themselves has shifted.
- Values: The new principles or beliefs they adopt.
- Role within the Story: How their function or position in the narrative changes.
- Relationships: The evolution of their connections with other characters.
- Self-Perception: How they see themselves differently at the story’s conclusion.
This comprehensive character chart aims to encapsulate the character’s evolution from their initial state, influenced by their backstory wound, through the challenges they face, leading to their epiphany and culminating in their transformation. The focus is on creating a rich, multi-dimensional character whose journey is both compelling and psychologically authentic.
Streamlined Prompt for Simplified Scene Analysis
Prompt: “Analyze a scene by focusing on essential elements to produce a succinct narrative summary. Follow this streamlined structure to distill the scene into a concise paragraph:
Scene Setting: Start with a single sentence to establish the scene’s setting, indicating the location, atmosphere, and initial situation.
- Conflicts and Reactions: Use the ‘But & Therefore’ construction to detail the scene’s pivotal moments:
- First Success/Failure (But): Describe the first key event or conflict in one sentence using ‘But’ to indicate a complication or a pivotal moment.
- Reaction to Success/Failure (Therefore): Follow up with a ‘Therefore’ sentence, explaining the immediate consequence or reaction to the first event.
- If applicable, include a Second Success/Failure (But) and its subsequent Reaction (Therefore), following the same construction.
- Final Outcome: Conclude with a sentence that summarizes the outcome of the scene, highlighting the resolution or the resulting situation for the POV character and other key characters involved.
Example Summary: ‘In a bar on Kaihapio 2 Orbital, Pijemio and Silvano discuss smuggling complications under the Postal Service’s scrutiny. But when Pijemio offers to spy against the Postal Service, Therefore, Silvano laughs off the suggestion, doubting Pijemio’s capability. But Pijemio, undeterred and contemplating his own respect for Litovio’s luck, Therefore, commits to finding a way to sabotage the Postal Service from within. This decision sets Pijemio on a precarious path of intrigue, loyalty, and potential betrayal.’
This prompt is designed to capture the essence of a scene through a focused and streamlined summary, clearly outlining the setting, conflicts, reactions, and outcomes in a narrative that is both concise and comprehensive.”