There are a bunch of different ways to approach outlining a story, but one of my favorites is the snowflake, also called fractal, method. Put simply, it’s a process of expanding an outline from a small idea and fleshing it out into a big one. Here’s how it works:
If you had to sum up your story idea in a single sentence, what would it say? It’s much harder than you may think, especially if you’re planning on writing an epic novel, but try to distill your ideas into one or two sentences and see what you come up with. You can always change it later, but this makes you as an author evaluate what your story is really about. Think themes or an over-arching story
Start To Expand
Take the one or two sentences start, and turn it into a paragraph description. Keep your original thoughts and let them breathe a bit, but keep it consolidated to a paragraph. This is another evaluation of what’s really important in your story and will help guide the detailed outline you’ll eventually make.
Expand A Bit More
Turn that single paragraph into multiple paragraphs. I usually turn each sentence I to its own paragraph, but feel free to combine into whatever configuration makes the most sense for your story. Make yourself elaborate on your ideas to fill the space and be as specific as possible.
Start Adding Characters
Now that you have a general plot outline with all the key points of your story, make a list of characters that play main roles in the plot. Again, start simply, with just a sentence or two to describe their purpose in furthering the story.
Elaborate On Your Characters
Just like you did with the plot, turn the sentence(s) you made for each character into a paragraph. Be as specific as possible, giving as much detail for your side characters as your protagonist and antagonist. Try to make them all about the same length if you can.
The Short Version
The reason it’s called the snowflake or fractal method is that your outlining starts with general big ideas and is elaborated upon with smaller ideas. Let your story grow and expand with each iteration, adding layers of complexity while maintaining the same main theme established early on. If you find that your broad stroke ideas don’t properly set up the details, that’s okay! Try to tweak your big ideas to allow for the small ones. This forces you to focus on what truly drives your plot and will keep tangents to a minimum.
What do you think? Have you used the snowflake method? Does it help you or does it get in the way of your outlining process? What other methods do you use? Let me know in the comments!
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