Eight-Pointed Snowflake

Plotting writers are always looking for the right structure to frame their book. I’ve tried a few with mixed degrees of success. Here is a model that mixes Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method with the eight segments used by David Lean and the inner character development model espoused in Susan May Warren’s The Story Equation. I’ll touch on Evan Marshall’s The Marshall Plan regarding section length, characters and subplot.

Three Approaches to Story Development

Randy Ingermanson is known for the Snowflake Method. This method starts a story idea with the logline and expands the plot from sentence to paragraph, sentence to paragraph; while simultaneously expanding the story (i.e., character development) in the same way:

Susan May Warren’s The Story Equation explores the character’s growth by asserting that in the beginning the hero believes in a lie due to a Dark Moment Event, which wounds and flaws the character. Through the novel, the hero goes from being a firm believer in the Lie to a firm believer in the Truth. In this context, the Truth is the novel’s underlying theme. She has a variation of the three-act formula that mixes her Lie-Truth discovery mixed with plot.

David Lean was a prolific screenplay writer, known for such movies as Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge over the River Kwai, and Doctor Zhivago. In other words, a completely unknown hack. Rather than follow the traditional Three Act structure, he broke movies down to eight segments. The length of a segment was based on the length of a movie reel; 12–15 minutes.

Applying Snowflake & Story Equation to Segments

A few years ago I wrote that a story is [not three acts but four]({% post_url 2012-07-03-its-not-really-three-acts %}), in part because there’s always that “sagging middle” that punctuates the middle of the second act, which is itself twice as long as the first or last act. The problem is the three verses four acts is not sufficiently informative. It also ignores the lower-level structure. Lean’s Eight Segments gets down to a sufficiently atomic level that helps sustain both plot and story.

Randy’s Snowflake doubles in size. Randy’s second step in Snowflake Method is to write a Summary paragraph where the first sentence sets up the story and the four that follow speak to the three surprises/disasters and the final victory. If we mash Randy’s Snowflake with Lean’s Segments, then the Summary should comprise eight sentences; one per segment. Snowflake expands the Summary sentences to paragraphs, then expands those paragraphs to pages. Mashing with Segments means we will have an 8-paragraph Synopsis, and 8-page Treatment. Snowflake 8 would then list each sentence in the Treatment as a Scene. Then it is up to you whether you want to expand each scene into a paragraph which would give you a fully developed story.

Evan’s Marshall Plan Speaks to Segment Length. What about Evan? He advises that each section (his term for scene) is roughly 1,250 words long. There is a side-effect to an eight-segment plan with 1,250 word segments, because 8 × 1,250 = 10,000. That is, there are as many sections in a segment as there are 10k words in a novel. In other words:

  • 60k word novel = 6-section segments
  • 80k word novel = 8-section segments
  • 100k word novel = 10-section segments

The lead character’s story should be two-thirds of the total section count divided:

  • < 65k words: Hero + Subplot = 2/3; Opposition = 1/3
  • +65k words: Hero + Subplot = 2/3; Other Viewpoint Characters 9 sections each, with remainder sections allocated to Opposition.

We’ll just adjust that so that each minor Viewpoint Character has 8 sections with the balance of that last third going to the Opposition.