How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method

From “How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method” by Randy Ingermanson:

Our fundamental question is this: How do you design a novel?
For a number of years, I was a software architect designing large software projects. I write novels the same way I write software, using the “snowflake metaphor.” OK, what’s the snowflake metaphor? Before you go further, take a look at this cool website ( the top of the page, you’ll see a cute pattern known as a snowflake fractal [see above—the animation doesn’t work here (ed.)]. Don’t tell anyone, but this is an important mathematical object that’s been widely studied. For our purposes, it’s just a cool sketch of a snowflake. If you scroll down that same web page a little, you’ll see a box with a large triangle in it and arrows underneath. If you press the right-arrow button repeatedly, you’ll see the steps used to create the snowflake. It doesn’t look much like a snowflake at first, but after a few steps, it starts looking more and more like one, until it’s done.

The first few steps look like this:

I claim that that’s how you design a novel—you start small, then build stuff up until it looks like a story.

[The same might be true of building up evidence to support your thesis or point—which, in a standard five-paragraph essay, might be viewed in its three aspects or sides, i.e. like triangulation (ed.).]


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