Using the Snowflake Method on Short Stories

Can you use the Snowflake method of writing a novel to help you write a short story?

I’m fully recovered from the ACFW conference and am now ready to resume blogging at the usual pace.

Chuck posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

I’ve been a lurker here for quite a while. I have over the last couple of years purchased your Fiction 101, and 102 series (Excellent investment, btw!)

My question is with short stories and the Snowflake Method. How would you suggest scaling back the Snowflake process to fit short story writing.

Randy sez: The Snowflake method is designed to help you manage the complexity of a novel, which typically runs from 60,000 words on up to maybe 250,000 words. A short story will typically run a couple of thousand words. So we’re talking about managing something that is 30 to 100 times smaller than a novel.

I’d say that you still want to do a one-sentency Storyline that defines your short story. (You’ll need this in your submission letter, so you might as well write it sooner rather than later.)

You probably also will want to write a one-paragraph summary, since that lays out your Three-Act Structure. Story is story, whether it’s long or short. Goldilocks and the Three Bears has a very clear structure based on threes which is useful to study for short stories.

I also think you’ll want to work out your characters’ Goals, Motivations, and Values, along with their Storylines.

I don’t see any need to write a synopsis for a short story. Nor do you need to spend a lot of time developing the characters’ backstories. A short story is really too short to have much in the way of backstory. You’re too busy trying to squeeze in the frontstory to care much about backstory.

Nor do you really need a scene list. (If you write one, it’ll be very short, and will probably just restate what’s in the one-paragraph summary.)

If you use the Snowflake method for a short story, you really ought to be able to do it all in an hour or two, and it will guide your thinking.

I don’t write many short stories, and I usually just think about them for a bit and then write them using that pesky seat-of-the-pants method. But I see no reason not to use some of the core ideas of the Snowflake — as long as you’re not using the method as a way to avoid writing the actual story.

At the end of the day, you get paid for writing the story, not for designing it. The design is an aid to you in getting the story written faster and better. If it doesn’t do that for you, then skip the design and go straight to the writing.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.


  1. Bruce H. Johnson September 27, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

    In these days of self-publishing, you could write a short story about a somewhat-minor character in your novel and give it away as a Kindle freebee.

    Of course, it will have a link where the reader could purchase the novel.

  2. Kim Miller September 28, 2010 at 2:24 am #

    Thanks Randy. A couple of good points in here for me as well.

    Oh yeah, and this …
    “I don’t write many short stories, and I usually just think about them for a bit and then write them using that pesky seat-of-the-pants method.”

    You have just given me the idea of writing an online guide to the ‘seat of the pants’ method. I’d sell it of course, but there won’t be much in it. Something like, ‘Sit in front of the computer, start the story, let it take you where it wants to, think up a good ending.’

    Yep. I reckon that will do it. Kindle, here I come. πŸ™‚

  3. Camille September 28, 2010 at 7:19 am #

    Bruce – that’s a great idea! I’d love to mess with my minor characters for no reason. What fun to give them a side story and make it a great teaser for the book. The danger might be in making it more interesting that the main story and causing novel let-down.

    I’ve got a blind, mischievous old Scottish woman as a minor character who has a rep for taking an axe to real estate agents’ cars. I’d love to actually write out some of her shennanigans and post it. That would just be some fun, seat-o-the-pants writing. Sounds like goofing off instead of work. πŸ™‚

  4. Dee September 10, 2016 at 6:14 pm #

    I love that you mentioned, as long as you’re not using it to avoid writing the story.
    I am so guilty of this!

    I spend ages looking for the perfect writing program, then looking at tips for whatever I’m writing, then ‘planning it out’ when really the only thing i’m doing is procrastinating.

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