I fully admit that I hate outlining. It rarely feel as satisfying as actually writing the novel I’ve cooked up in my head. Often, I end up with a jumbled mess of scene and chapter breakdowns that don’t serve me well in the first or subsequent drafts.
That’s why I decided to try Snowflake Pro. I was hesitant because I’ve had experience with screenplay outlining software that was either too complex or tried to put my script into a formulaic, three-act box. Thankfully, while author and software developer Randy Ingermanson talks about three acts and other structural tools, he doesn’t push them hard, so I felt comfortable only using what I needed to help me write my outline.
The snowflake method isn’t new. The idea is to start with a simple pattern and make it increasingly elaborate until you end up with a beautifully designed snowflake or, in this case, a novel.
Snowflake Pro retails for $100, but discount codes are easy to find. I paid $50. It’s easy to install. The only issue I had was that it’s not yet compatible with Mac OS Sierra, but a quick email to Snowflake’s support staff told me that all I needed was to download an earlier version of Flash. I did and was quickly up and running.
Snowflake first asks you to choose a number 1 through 6 for how much detail you want in your outline. It didn’t give any direction as to what those levels meant, so I chose 4, which felt about right.
After entering some author information, step 1 asks you to write a one-sentence summary of your story. I think this is a vital step in any story development process, and one that was very familiar to me through my years of writing screenplays.
In subsequent steps, Snowflake has you expand that one sentence, first to a paragraph, then to longer synopses. It alternates this with steps where you develop your characters in more detail. At each step, Ingermanson offers a short audio lecture to guide you. I found these useful to get my bearings. Less useful are the examples offered from other books. There are only five available: Gone With the Wind, Harry Potter, Book 1, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Pride and Prejudice. I would like to see a wider variety of well-known classic and genre novels, and isn’t Pirates a movie, not a novel?
I appreciated the systematic way the software helped me expand my novel. When new ideas or changes popped into my head, it was easy to backtrack and add them in at earlier steps. In fact, Ingermanson encourages this.
Not as useful to me was the step where you add various details to your character profiles: what color are their eyes, what kind of clothes do they wear, what books do they read, etc. I know some writers like to consider these things, but I find it useful only when it comes up in my narrative.
While I loved the step where you make a list of your scenes (Though I know they’re going to change as I write.), it wasn’t useful to think about the typical pages per scene and the ideal pages per chapter. If that’s what your focus is on at this point, you’d better get your head back in your story.
The other step I found kind of strange was the final one, where you take what you’ve outlined and turn it into a proposal, adding marketing details, endorsements, etc. I know it’s useful to consider some of these things before writing a novel, but what are you going to do with a formal proposal? Unless you’re an established writer with an agent and publisher, who’s going to even read it?
I also missed having spell check and drag-and-drop editing. I’m so used to those conveniences in Word and other software that it made Snowflake Pro feel a little underdeveloped.
Overall though, I would highly recommend Snowflake to any writer who wants to improve his or her outlines. While you could create something like this on your own, it’s great to have it in a neat package. In my humble opinion, it was well worth a $50 investment in your writing.