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Years ago, I began a fantasy novel. It had all the requisite fantasy stuff: heroes, fair maidens, evil sorcery, and swordplay. I began writing it from the protagonist’s first-person point of view. I set a dark tone and laid plans for the protagonist’s revenge against his enemies. I added some horror because I like horror. There is so much horror under the surface of fantasy novels I enjoy most. It just seemed like a good fit. Then the project fizzled out. I don’t know what went wrong. I don’t know why my interest flagged. It became another unfinished novel to add to my small collection, and I didn’t miss working on it.

Then something happened. I finished the first draft of my first novel. Let me tell you, it felt like I’d successfully scaled Everest. Only without oxygen tanks, avalanches, frostbite, starvation, or exhaustion. Man, that was a bad comparison, but the feeling was great. I’d done something I doubted I could do, something I had failed to accomplish after many attempts. The best part was that it made me see that I could do again because I had done it once. I had learned a few things, and I was determined to succeed again. I was determined to finish my second novel more quickly, with less editing, because I would try to organize it better from the start. I wouldn’t get sidetracked, I wouldn’t doubt my character’s voices, I wouldn’t second-guess my decisions in the middle of the first draft. How? Not with just a simple outline. I stumbled across something I wish I had found years ago, something other authors have been using for a long time. It’s called the Snowflake Method, and you can read the details here.

I’ve returned to the unfinished fantasy novel. Why not? I’ve thought about it often. The characters, especially the villains, have grown in my mind, and I already have a general idea how the plot will unfold. If the Snowflake Method will work for me at all, it will work for this novel. I don’t need to start over from scratch. I’ve already written the first three chapters. My problem was charting the plot beyond that point. It seemed overwhelming to think about where those characters would go, how their motivations would clash, and which of them might not survive. The Snowflake Method could help me organize it, help me define the characters in such a way that there would be no doubting the decisions they would make. I could write a character-driven, dark fantasy novel in the models of those I love. Maybe that’s why I never finished it: it seemed like I was going about it wrong. If so, I’m glad I stopped where I did. It will be easier to fix.

What I like about the Snowflake Method so far is that I started with the simplest of ideas and progressively expanded them. The creator, Randy Ingermanson, points out that this lends well to pitching the novel to publishers and agents. That’s something I dreaded, and now I feel emboldened to talk about the novel with anyone, even though it’s not finished. I’ve really barely even started, and that’s the beauty. By the time I get done with the preparatory work of defining characters and slowly expanding the plot details, I will have largely written the novel’s basic form. As with any fantasy novel, there will be world-building work and rules governing magic that I have to solidify, but I already have most of that in my head from years ago, years I spent thinking about it but not writing it.

After my first novel’s first draft took me roughly two years to write, I knew that I needed something to help me accelerate future projects. I’m optimistic that the Snowflake Method will be just what I needed. It’s hard enough to find time for writing on top of a full-time job and family responsibilities. It feels so much better to know that I will be spending my writing time more efficiently. And if it cuts down on editing time because my first draft will be written better, that’s icing on the cake. After all, the writing is the easy part. Editing is work.

If you’ve thought about writing a novel, I encourage you to take a look at the Snowflake Method. Once it helps you eliminate some of the most daunting tasks, gives you a place to start and a path that makes sense, you may find yourself on your way to finishing your first novel, too. And writing it much more quickly than I did.