Wednesday, October 14, 2009


While I'm skirting on down the highway to Kelowna today, please welcome Carol J. Garvin, my guest blogger.

Occasionally popping up from beneath the protection of her pseudonym, Careann, Carol Garvin writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry from her rural home in BC’s Fraser Valley. She is a member of the Federation of BC Writers and the Langley Writers’ Guild. Her magazine articles appear in assorted Canadian publications but her novels do not (yet). In what is laughingly referred to as her free time, she indulges her love of photography, gardening, oil painting, music, all aspects of the purebred dog fancy, and of course, reading… always reading!

by Carol J. Garvin

You hear it all the time: “I've got this great idea for a novel that I'm gonna write.” It's a little daunting but not an impossible task, right? Once you finally latch on to some spare time you gather your writing tools, find a place to work and get the story written.

::tap, tap, zap:: That's the delete key removing the first page because it isn't getting into the nitty-gritty of the story fast enough.

::chomp, snap:: That's the sound of fingernails being chewed off as you contemplate the unfamiliar characters that have wandered into your story and taken over a scene that now has nothing to do with anything.

::agghhhh!:: That's your scream of exasperation as you discard 283 pages that took you three months to dredge from your creative soul, only to realize that there's no evidence of a plot.

If you employ a seat-of-the-pants approach to your writing (what I call the 'Alice in Wonderland' method: “start at the beginning and when you get to the end, stop”), your story might meander in circuitous directions and never reach the satisfying conclusion you once envisioned. But what can you do if the only alternative to pantsing seems to be plotting and, like me, you hate being confined to a predesigned outline because tight control over the story kills the joy of spontaneous writing? You compromise, combine the most useful elements of both techniques and start planning!

Planning doesn't mean pre-thinking every detail of your story. It just means that as for any journey, making a few initial preparations before you jump into the vehicle will leave you free to enjoy the adventure of storytelling without the frustration of getting lost in a jungle of words.

My first two novels were 'pantsers'. Both have since gone through several revisions as I try to repair major problems. I decided I needed a more organized approach for the third novel and undertook to follow Randy Ingermanson's “Snowflake Method” of designing a story.

Based on the Koch Snowflake, which is a mathematical phenomenon, a fractal, the Snowflake Method is Randy's idea for growing a story from its basic idea to its complex completion. It uses a progression of ten steps, each one returning to expand on the one before. I tried diligently to follow them but the process just about scuttled my story!

I need more flexibility than the Snowflake Method allows, more freedom, rather than an intimidating web of plot and character details. So I salvaged the steps that had been working for me, threw away the ones that were suffocating my creativity, and emerged with a five-point plan that would ensure there was a sound structure in place before I started again but would allow me wiggle room as I proceeded. Here's my plan:

    ο    Create a one-sentence summary of the story.
    ο    Expand the one sentence into a paragraph that outlines the story basics.
    ο    Expand that paragraph into a page or two (or however many you need) to introduce the main characters, the conflict, complications, and resolution. Include how the MC will change throughout the story  (i.e., intended character arc).
    ο    Create a spreadsheet into which highlights of each chapter's action will be inserted as the first draft is written.
    ο    Write and then rewrite as necessary, adding texture with more details and description in each successive revision.

All this assumes you've taken the time to get familiar with what constitutes good writing. If you need a little prompting check out Joylene's earlier blog on Seven Easy Steps to Writing a Novel. But when you're ready to start, do a little preliminary groundwork. Planning finds a comfortable mid way between pantsing and plotting, providing vital structure without constraining creativity.

Just as other methods didn't work for me, so this specific one might not work for you either. If it doesn't, improvise. Do whatever it takes to find a personal approach that meets your creative needs but ensures quality writing. By having at least an elementary plan in place before beginning your novelling journey, your chances of reaching the desired destination is much better than by starting it off with a vague idea and no prearranged way of developing it.

Now, go dig those 283 pages out of the trash and see what gems you can salvage. After all, you've got a novel waiting to be written. It would be a shame to let all the expended blood, sweat, tears and fingernails be for naught.

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Links to insert:
Snowflake Method:

Seven Easy Steps to Writing a Novel:


  1. Wow I had heard of the snowflake method before but had felt to intimated to try it. I never thought about taking what worked for me. Thank you for the inspiration.
    Jo Ann Hernandez
    BronzeWord Latino Authors

  2. Great advice that I can use. Or, ahem, SHOULD use. As a historical novelist I tend to let the facts dictate structure, which can make for high word counts. I think it takes a while for us pantsers to learn to value structure. I could never do the snowflake thing, though. I'd end up feeling like I was writing a term paper.

    What's your favorite dog breed? I've been showing Dobermans in obedience and agility for years. I've never quite had a breed ring candidate, though.

  3. Thanks Jo Ann & Vicki. I'm off for the big business meeting. Talk to you soon. Take care.

  4. Jo Ann, I'm pleased if my idea will inspire you to personalize a method for your own use. Anything that makes the writing process easier has to be a good thing, right?

    Vicki, I guess we share a reluctance to be boxed in by tight guidelines even though we both recognize the need for structure in our stories. Thanks for your comment.

    As for my dogs, Shetland Sheepdogs and Labrador Retrievers are my breeds of choice. I've bred, trained and exhibited in conformation and obedience for more years than I like to admit, taught classes and run my own dog show secretarial business, too. Just a wee bit obsessive maybe? ;)

  5. Dropping in late but agree with your approach. Noticed that occasionally there are tools that make the job easier. I wrote my first novel on a typewriter. It was a good thing I wasn't big on self editing because I'd never have finished it. It looks like crap and reads worse, but the point if that the computer became a better tool for my creativity.

    Now I use a writers tool for planning/creating called Write it Now. Great tool for organizing a novel but keeping it portable.

    And no, I'm not affiliated with the company other than I love their product.


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