Last week we began a series of guest blog entries by my friend, novelist Cindy Martinusen Coloma. Cindy is explaining her “Puzzle Method” of writing a novel, which is very different from my Snowflake Method. I say, the more methods, the merrier. It gives us all choices when we know more ways to get that story down on paper.
So I now yield the floor to Cindy:
Blog 3 – SOME THINGS TO REMEMBER
Some Words on Trust – this writing method requires a good amount of trust. As a reader and a writer, you have an innate sense of story. Trust it. Trust yourself. Just keep going.
The more you write, the more you trust yourself as a writer. Yes, we all fight the demons and often the best of writers become insecure about a work. But writers speak more of their faults, demons, and insecurities than about their truths. The more you write and read, the better you know story. So practice trust!
And hint: if one method of writing isn’t working – try another! Once I was toward the end of a novel and felt a little lost so I found The Hero’s Journey on my bookshelf. I discovered that my story followed that mythic structure quite closely. It helped ground me enough to finish one of my favorite novels.
And Now A Note on Publishing Realities – most publishing houses require the entire manuscript before offering a contract. But at times, a book proposal is needed.
What do I do? I fake it! I write chapters and a synopsis knowing the final manuscript will be a far cry from what I turn in. To some editors, I’ve given an update during the writing, others I’ve let be surprised (and only once that didn’t go well). In fact, I usually rewrite the first chapter or chapters after I finish the novel. So no, book proposals are tough for out-of-order writers, but I also know any kind of writing discipline that we don’t like is good for us. And it won’t hurt the story creation.
Randy sez: Thanks for another installment of the Puzzle Method, Cindy! A word about proposals:
Pre-published writers are almost always going to have to write the full manuscript first in order to sell their first novel. There are rare exceptions, but generally that’s the case.
Published authors generally can sell their next book on the strength of a proposal. Cindy’s advice holds true for all novelists, whether they are Puzzlers, Snowflakers, or hard-core Outliners. You can’t guarantee in advance how the story is going to turn out, no matter how well you plan it. If your characters are truly alive, they’ll take charge of the story and do things their way, whether you want them to or not. Every editor in the world knows this, and fully expects that the story described in the proposal will be substantially different when finally written. Once in awhile, they decide they don’t like it. Most often, they love the actual novel a lot more than that horrid thing that was sketched out in the proposal.
I 100% agree with Cindy: you have to trust yourself as a novelist. You have to let the story go. If you do that, nine times out of ten, it’ll come out fine in the end. Once out of ten times, the story just can’t be rescued. Not your fault. You want the glory, you gotta be prepared to crash/burn. I have never figured out a way around that truth.
Go for the glory. Trust yourself to find your story. Have fun.
Daan Van der Merwe says
I’ve planned my current masterpiece according to the Snowflake Method because being a freshman at that time, I was unaware of any other method. I followed the steps to the letter and everything the writer of the Snowflake Method said and predicted, came to pass.
Reading about the puzzle method as well as all the comments and questions is indeed very interesting. However, as a sophomore I believe that the snowflake and the puzzle can’t be compared.
If a writer knows exactly what his story and the characters will be about, I can’t imagine that the puzzle will be more effective than the snowflake.
Cindy said: “My character of Emman in Orchid House started when I pictured a Filipino kid…”
I believe that the puzzle method will be great to conceive a new idea and to turn that idea into a novel.
Christophe Desmecht says
I saw an earlier WIP derail horribly in the past. I was writing chapter by chapter, not entirely sure where the story was going at any time. Then, suddenly, just past the 50% mark, I had noticed it was lost. I had written thousands of words that could be scrapped and a logical conclusion to my book was getting harder to imagine. I finally decided to apply the Snowflake method to this story and it has done wonders, at least to the story outline. Now I find myself bereft of any enthusiasm or drive to actually write the story out.
I managed to push out 7 chapters, but while the Snowflake method made my story outline dozens of times better, the chapters I wrote using no method at all are so much better than the stuff I produced the second time around.
So I’m kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. The more I read about this puzzle method, the more I get the impression that it’s the method I’ve been using all along (just didn’t know it), but my story wasn’t up to par. So what do I go with?
Is there such a thing as a mix between Snowflake and Puzzle? A Puzzleflake? Or a Snowpuzzle? The two methods are so much the opposite of each other, I can hardly imagine such a thing to exist.
This might not be what you’re looking for but I do something halfway in between: I write puzzling until I run out of steam 100-200 pages in. Then, I reread those pages marking down everything I liked gut-wise (there comes that trust thing), all the elements I really love and that seem true even if they don’t jibe with eachother. Then I take those elements and draw up a plot treatment with a paragraph per major scene where I can hash out the inconsistencies (sort of snowflaking in macro?). The plot treatment isn’t so much an outline for me as an emotion-centered character mapping of the story. When I have my plot treatment, the rewrite and finish come quickly.
The problem with pure puzzle for me is that I need to be able to gather my thoughts some time in there, and the problem with pure snowflake is I get exhausted with the story. I think that’s because I’ve logically connected the scenes but not emotionally, and I’m always worried when writing about getting it right. But with my combination here, I find the emotional core through puzzling and identifying my gems, then I can follow it through with logic.
Yeah, we all have our own mash-ups of methods! Hope this helps.
Christophe Desmecht says
Cate, the problem you described about using pure snowflake is exactly what I feel. I get tired, burned out on the story. I feel less emotionally attached to the story and my characters and the inspiration to write is gone. Maybe I need to try your method. I’ll give it some serious thought.
Carrie Neuman says
I’m not sure if it counts as a hybrid, but I get an idea for things I’d like to have happen and move them around in my spreadsheet until I’m happy with what order they go in. Usually, all I want to know before I start writing my scene is where it starts ad where it needs to end up.
Unless, of course, I don’t. 😛
Andie Mock says
For me, the snowflake method is designing and building a phone booth and then pouring all of one’s creativity into it for a year.
Personally, I love limits and paradoxically find them freeing. It enables me to get creative with the minute details. But it ain’t for everyone.
I’m trying an experiment today by taking the different parts of a scene: description, involuntary reactions, dialog, internal monologue and nonverbal communication and write these each separately then go back and layer them.
Anyone out there ever try this?
I figure it might free me up to brainstorm these separately rather than trying to come up with these various types of elements as I’m weaving them together.
I generally use the snowflake method to map out my story. But somewhere along the way, the characters take over and the story deviates (sometimes sharply) from the intended track. I still know the ending, but how do I get there? I tend to vere well of track from the original intent, and sometimes don’t know how to make it back. Any suggestions? Sometimes the only thing I can think of doing is to ignore some of what I’ve written and go back tothe original outline. But this doesn’t feel right to me. Is there a way to use my inspiration and still head in the direction of the outline?
Debbie Allen says
I was buying some writing books on Amazon, and noticed Noah Lukeman’s (author of The First Five Pages) free e-book on writing a query letter. You’ll like what he has to say on page 21 about a one-sentence summary. It’s a worthy download! Here’s the link: