“Winter's Snowglobe,” Unknown , Public Domain.

Writing CraftEight-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:

Randy's Snowflake Method Summarized
Plot Story
S1 - Sentence Logline  
S2 - 1-Paragraph Summary S3 - Character Summary
S4 - 1-Page Synopsis S5 - Character Synopsis
S6 - 4-Page Treatment S7 - Character Treatment/Bible
S8 - Scene List  
S9 - 1-Paragraph Scene Summary (optional)  

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, 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.

Lean's Eight Segments Mashed with Randy's Snowflake and Susie May's Story Equation
# Ext. Plot Story
S1. Hook, Ordinary World Inciting Incident Lie Believed
S2. Fails Re-Establishing Ordinary World Predicament Lie Proved
S3. Fails to Find Routine Solutions
Exposition Focus
Commits to Quest Truth Voiced
S4. Enacts plan s/change; Training & allies Disaster Lie Doubted
S5. Retreats
Subplot Focus
Attempts to Change Truth Explored
S6. Enacts plan, partly changed Destruction Lie Exposed
S7. Epiphany Enacts plan, fully-changed Commits to Change Truth Believed
S8. Desperate fight, can win with Lie but clings & triumphs with Truth New World Truth Proved

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.

Eight-Segment Section Breakdown
Wordcount Sections Lead Opp Conf VP4 VP5 VP6 VP7
Short-Story Length
8.8k 77 (1)No subplot, so no Segment 5
Novella Length
20K 1616 (2)------
40K 3224 (3)8-----
Novel Length
60K 4832 (4)88----
80K 6440 (5)888---
100K 8048 (6)8888--
120K 9656 (7)88888-
140K11264 (8)888888
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