Tag Archives: carol j garvin

A ten-step snowflake versus a five-step star: Organizing a manuscript my way

This entry is part 9 of 24 in the series The plot thickens (Mwahahaha)

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by Carol J. Garvin

If you were to ask, my family would tell you I have a thing for snowflakes. Childhood efforts to catch and melt them on my tongue evolved into a slightly out-of-control adult passion to amass the ultimate collection including jewelry, embroidered fabrics, candles and other home accessories. Every December we dangle giant snowflakes in our windows instead of wreaths and display a tree decorated entirely with a variety of snowflakes set aglow by tiny white twinkle lights.

It isn’t surprising, therefore, that the idea of a “snowflake” method of writing would appeal to me. Of course, if you’ve read any of my whining about outlines and plotting you might guess that I’d grasp at anything likely to improve my odds of producing a more organized manuscript.

I’ve never liked being tied to an outline so when Randy Ingermanson’s recommended Ten Steps of Design appeared to offer a less rigid approach I gave it a try.

KochFlakeThe first step in the Snowflake approach required getting the essence of my story condensed into one sentence—always a challenge but something I was going to have to do sooner or later to answer the always-dreaded, โ€œWhat’s your novel about?โ€ question. The second step was to expand that one sentence into a short paragraph—once again a useful exercise that could later form the basis of a synopsis. I shirked somewhat on the third step that called for a full-page summary sheet for each of my characters and instead created summary paragraphs.

At this point my good intentions balked. The remaining steps had me spending too much time repeatedly going over the same ground in an effort to record information that I hadn’t yet created. I wasn’t developing a snowflake design so much as creating a daisy pattern, each step causing me to return to the centre fulcrum and trace ever-increasing loops.

All this building on the basics was meant to leave me with the story virtually complete and thus simplify the writing process. The theory is sound but for me it had the effect of capping the fountain of creativity and dragging me to a standstill.

I didn’t cease writing permanently, of course. I examined what had been working and analyzed why it no longer was. Just as Jordan suggested in her post on story architecture. I learned that what I need is to have a basic plan in place but with reassurance that I’m not locked into following its every detail. I need more flexibility than the true Snowflake Method allows. As a result, I adapted the steps for an abbreviated approach that helps create my initial building blocks and then keeps track of scenes and chapter content as I write.

If I have to backtrack occasionally to accommodate a new character or scene, that’s okay but usually I write straight through to the conclusion of a bare bones first draft. As I review and revise I add a succession of new layers of description and detail to flesh out the story, setting and characters.

Since I skip half the steps, what I’m doing doesn’t represent the true Snowflake Method but only a vague version of it. It has just five points (kind of like a star rather than a snowflake):

  1. Create a one-sentence summary of the story.
  2. Expand the one sentence into a paragraph that outlines the story basics.
  3. Expand the paragraph into a page or two that introduces the main characters, the conflict, complications, and resolution. Include how the MC will change throughout the story (i.e., intended character arc).
  4. Create a spreadsheet into which highlights of each chapter’s action will be inserted as the first draft is written.
  5. Revise draft, adding details and description to enrich the writing.

I could be criticized for taking shortcuts and not giving the Snowflake Method a fair try but I’ve already admitted I need flexibility. My commitment to begin with that method didn’t extend to any kind of promise that I would stay with it. I truly believe each novelist must approach story building via whatever method works, however unique it might be. There is no one right way that will suit everyone. The only way to guarantee the successful completion of a novel is to keep writing and the smart novelist utilizes whatever tools it takes to reach that goal.

About the author
Carol J. Garvin, blogging at Careann’s Musings, is a freelance writer with articles in various Canadian magazines and publications. She lives in southwestern British Columbia and is a member of the Federation of BC Writers and the Langley Writers’ Guild. She has written a family memoir that is not meant for publication, and began writing novels ten years ago. She is on her third but so far none are ready to send out into the world quite yet . . . but soon. Besides writing, her other passions are her church and family, gardening, reading, music, painting and purebred dogs.

Your blog’s niche: careann.wordpress.com

Another website review for you today! Carol/Careann of Careann.wordpress.com is another one of those bloggers I feel like I’ve seen just everywhere. We’ll look at how she can find and apply a niche to help grow her blog.


Kathleen’s comments

Hello Careann!

Yours is another blog that I’m honestly not sure what to talk about! Your title and picture accurately represent the content, and it’s laid out in an easy-to-follow and eye-pleasing way!

I’m going to ask you the same question I’ve asked a few others. What is the goal of your blog? If it’s self-expression and telling people who you are, then I really don’t see anything to change! I don’t think it’s to promote the articles you’ve written, as they’re already published in magazines, and you won’t get paid more if they go find an old issue. (Or will you?)

Are you wanting to interest people in your unpublished novels? I don’t think so, since you don’t mention them that often . . . which is fine. Some of us like to do that, while others wait to be published. Neither approach is wrong. Once you DO have novels to promote, you’ll want to change the whole focus of your blog and site . . . but that’s not right now.

The final possibility is that you’re like last Friday’s blogger . . . you’re just looking for community online, and your blog is a part of that. If that’s the case, then I’ll copy something I shared with her in the comments.

In order for something to succeed in today’s world—where the whole world is essentially connected and available to everyone—it has to fit a niche . . . a smaller target or focus. We all can’t “afford” to be interested in everything and involved in everything on the entire Internet, so we “weed out” what is slightly less important. We look for that thing that interests us 101%.

Your website/blog will be more likely to succeed if you find SOMETHING to center it around . . . something a little more specific than just “writing.” If you don’t want to center it around a genre, then you can center it around your location and try to find writers near you, or who are interested in your location. [This might be what you want to do, Careann. All you’d have to do is highlight your location.] Or you could target writers in your age group. Or you could center it around writers-who-live-in-the-country. You could even pick yellow paintsomething quirky, like writers who love yellow or writers who love to go barefoot. Of course you’d welcome writers (and readers) who love pink a little more than yellow, or writers who really don’t go barefoot all that often . . . but just the fact that it’s got this “grabby” idea will make your visitors more interested, and also make your blog stick in their minds a little more.

Have some fun with ideas!

Kathleen MacIver, KatieDid Design

Jordan’s comments

Whoa! My next WIP was going to be set in the Fraser Valley Regional District (in a fictional city between Abbotsford and Chilliwack—I was going to call it Lackaway, but I wasn’t sure if that’d sound too rhymey to be believable as a neighbor to Chilliwack. Um . . . anyway. . . .). Awesome—if I ever go back to it, I’ll know who to call!


Your about page is good&madsh;personable, friendly and informative. It has links to connect with you and your email address. But if I didn’t already know it was there, I might not think to look on the About page before giving up (and, of course, I might). This is why it’s also good to have a dedicated contact page—it doesn’t have to be long or even say anything interesting. You can use a form or list your email address (but do keep it on the about page, too).

I like that your writing page has your writing credits with links to the articles where possible. That’s great! But, like Kathleen said, I’d like to see more about your fiction WIPs (if you’re comfortable with that). It doesn’t have to be an excerpt; even a pitch paragraph or log line description would be good.

I also like that you highlight your Flickr stream on your blog. You link to your Facebook profile on your About page as well; you could add a badge to your sidebar if you’re comfortable with that.

Search engine presence

You’ve got some competition for your name (without your middle initial)—apparently another Carol Garvin is a painter. Yahoo has your blog at #4 for [Carol Garvin], and Google has your about page as #10. Bing . . . well, let’s just move on.

With your middle initial, your blog is #1 on Yahoo and Google (well, #1 and #2 on Google), and #2 and #3 on Bing. Your IMDb page (that’s right, folks, she’s in the Internet Movie Database) outranks your site on Bing.

For [Careann], Yahoo has your blog at #1 and #2, Google has your Flickr stream at #1 and your blog at #2 and I’m about ready to slap Bing in the face.

As always, the standard advice to improve your rankings is to get more links. In addition to the usual sources (guest posts, etc.), you might ask the magazines with your articles online to include a link back to your blog, either in the byline or if they have a short author bio, using your name as the link anchor text.

missing puzzle pieceFinally, I just want to reiterate what Kathleen said about using a niche approach to blogging. Working to appeal to a specific, if narrow, audience can help to grow your blog more than trying to appeal to everyone. This is just like fiction—we don’t expect that everyone will love everything we write (well, okay, we do, but we don’t reasonably expect that ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). We know that we have to write to our audience—our niche, our genre.

Also, check out some recent posts on my other blog for help on finding your blog niche and expressing your blog niche.

What do you think? Have you focused on a specific audience with your blog? How did you find your niche?

Photo credits: yellow paint—Tom; puzzle piece (get it—a niche?)— Andronicus Riyono