On the Snowflake Method with Ali Cross

Ali Cross is an insatiable writer and organizer, heading a community of writers through her Ninjas Write Website. Her novel, Become, is coming out on 11/11/11. I’ve recently become involved with this community via online chat and other methods, and I find their company to be valuable to me. I’ve already begun to make some really cool friends, and get to know some writers that have great advice and support to offer.

Today she has been kind enough to host my blog on Outlining, which I hope will be useful to writers getting ready to do NaNoWriMo this year. The link can be found here.

I asked Ali to host this blog and, to my surprise, she agreed. You can judge for yourself if you think she made the right decision. If you’re a writer, consider stopping by the dojo and signing up, as well as following on twitter to keep up on the next upcoming Ninja Chat!


Snowflake Outline Instructions

I wrote a blog on outlining a novel, which will soon be hosted on Ali’s website. This is a cheat-sheet I wrote up, simplifying Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method (which I wrote more about in the blog post). I have it printed up and tacked to the wall over my desk, as well as the inside of my notebook where I keep my notes on the story:

Step 1: Write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Keep it short (less than 15 words), avoid names, tie together the big picture and the personal picture. [1 hour]

Step 2: Expand the sentence into a full paragraph describing story setup, major disasters, and the ending. [1 hour]

Step 3: Write a one-page summary sheet for each of your major characters that tells: Name, one-sentence story summary, motivation (abstract), goal (specific), conflict (obstacle to goal), epiphany (growth), and a one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline. [1 hour per character]

Step 4: Expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a full paragraph. All but the last paragraph should end in disaster. The last paragraph tells how it ends. [several hours]

Step 5: Write a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of the other important characters. These character synopses should tell the story from the point of view of each character. [a day or two]

Step 6: Expand the one-page plot synopsis of the novel to a four-page synopsis. [1 week]

Step 7: Expand character descriptions into full-fledged character charts detailing everything there is to know about each character. Birthdate, description, history, motivation, goal, change through the story, etc. [1 week]

Step 8: Make a scene list in a spreadsheet. Include one line for each scene, the POV character, and what happens. (Perhaps Chapter Numbers) [1 day]

Step 9: Take each line from the spreadsheet and expand it into a multi-paragraph description of the scene. Put in any cool lines of dialogue you think of, and sketch out the conflict.

Step 10: Sit down and start pounding out the real first draft. This stage is incredibly fun and exciting!

Book Review: Hard Magic by Larry Correia

book cover of Hard Magic
Click here for the Amazon page.

Overall Rating: 5 stars (Loved It!)

This book blew me away.

In a world that suddenly got magic in the mid-1800s, we follow a group of magical heroes led by General Pershing against the Immortal Emperor Tokugawa. We follow Jake Sullivan, and ex-convict and a “Heavy” who can spike gravity. There’s also Faye, a teleporting country bumpkin girl who seeks to avenge her grandfather. Some people sport super strength, telekinesis, healing, or the ability to influence others’ minds… the list of powers goes on.

If MHI was an homage to B monster movies, this might have begun as an homage to those 30s and 40s noir films, with the smart-mouth Private Eye in his black fedora. Seriously, I read Monster Hunter International and liked it, but this book was on a whole other level. Correia’s writing style has become more smooth and complex. In addition, the wide cast of characters were all very deep and convincing.

This is where I believe artists live to contradict themselves. I’ve met Larry, and Correia spouts long and hard about being a “Pulp Writer”, claiming that his books will win no award for literary quality. He may be right about that, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t DESERVE an award. Somewhere along the line, focused entirely on entertaining people, Larry Correia touched my soul.

I read the audio version, and I started looking for excuses to do chores around the house so I could keep listening. I went for walks, runs, washed dishes, cleaned floors that were already sparkling, cooked meals for a week ahead of time, and unpacked boxes that had hitherto been condemned to the closet. I found myself laughing, choking up, and getting adrenaline pumped along with the book.

And yet what other book can make you cry, at the same time as having a teleporting ninja-fight aboard a flying dirigible? Probably something else by Larry Correia.

I’m calling your bluff, Correia, on being merely a “pulp writer”. Literary critics can go to hell. This is the kind of thing I read for.


Age: Marketed to Adults

Language: Yep, expect a few SOBs and F-bombs.

Violence: I did mention this is a book by Larry Correia, right?

Sex: Mentioned, but not written.

Book Review: Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

book cover for peeps
Click here for the Amazon page.

Overall Rating: 3 stars (Liked It)

When I first saw this on the shelf and read the summary on the back, I couldn’t help but think, “Ooooh! Vampires meets Scott Pilgrim!”

And so, naturally, I picked it up.

Cal is a carrier of a parasite which infected all of his ex-girlfriends. They have all become vampires, parasite-positives, or “Peeps” for short. Cal may just be a carrier, but he’s got the strength, the night-vision, the craving for meat, and the horniness of a Peep. After catching all of his ex-girlfriends for the Night Watch, he is charged with finding the girl who infected him in the first place.

Cal is also a biology major, and just a little bit nerdy. Between chapters he gives mini-biology lessons on parasites, which are usually quite entertaining, and a little icky. He makes vampires scary in a completely different way, by relating them to intestinal worms.

The book doesn’t earn one of the highest ratings from me, but it was very entertaining and I read it in two sittings. I appreciated that, while sex is a common theme to the story, it successfully avoided being explicit, or in making me tired of the subject (which generally happens very quickly for me). It also avoids being gushy, which seems to be the weakness of most vampire stories, especially those marketed to teens.

So the book earned three stars simply because when I post this up on Goodreads, I won’t be able to give it three-and-four quarters, and I don’t quite feel like it earned an even four. Even so, if it sounds like something that’s up your alley, I highly recommend it as a fun read and an interestingly original take on teen-vampire stories.


Book Review: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

cover image for Behemoth
Click here for the Amazon page

Overall Rating: 5 stars (Loved It!)

Behemoth is Book 2 of the Leviathan Trilogy.

Behemoth picks up on a cheerful front with Aleksandyr giving Daryn his (her) first fencing lesson. I liked that the book had me laughing from page 1, and looking forward to the kind of high-adventure I’ve come to expect from the series. The fabricated beasts and large, clunky diesel engines give the world a distinct flavor that I love returning to. It’s a feeling that I hadn’t realized I’d missed, and one only a fantastic series can provide.

One of the things I love about this series is the real history we are getting, attached to a fantastical world of flying whale-ships and steam-punk mechas. Westerfeld ends each installment with an afterword that explains the differences between what happened in World War I and his alternate-history take. I really appreciate that he clarifies the changes he made for the purpose of fiction.

This has been fascinating to me, since honestly I don’t know much about World War I. It seems like history class, the discovery channel, and the book shelves are all preoccupied with World War II, and the two are very different. I love how Westerfeld conveys a complex mixture of thoughts and beliefs by Europeans at that time, giving readers the beginnings of a broad outlook which we can apply to our study, if we so desire to learn more about the war.

If you’ve read any of Westerfeld’s other books (I read Peeps after this one, and am getting ready to start on the Pretties), you might come to expect a certain sexual tension from his them. However, the Leviathan series reads a little more innocently, like a higher-aged middle-grade book.

I’ve had a few favorites so far, with “I Don’t Want to Kill You” being my favorite read of the year, and “The Graveyard Book” becoming one of my favorite reads of all-time. This has become one of my favorite series, starting with Leviathan in January and with Goliath (the last installment of the series) coming out on September 20th.

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

cover of the graveyard book by neil gaiman
Click here for the Amazon link

Overall Rating: 5 stars (Loved It!)

Hands down, one of the very best books I’ve read… not just this year, but ever! The Graveyard Book is gripping from the first moment, and sends chills down your spine. At the same time, it is written in such a way that it should be read aloud, and shared by the entire family.

The Graveyard Book begins with a baby, who narrowly escapes the man who murdered his entire family. The baby is taken in by the Owens – a pair of ghosts who had never been able to have a child of their own.

The problem with writing a review about a book THIS good is that you feel wholly inadequate to really describe it. It’s hard to put words to how great the entire experience of this book is. So instead, I’ll include a personal experience with the book.

I was reading the Audible version, read by Neil himself (coincidentally, @neilhimself is his Twitter handle if you’d like to follow him). I had three wisdom teeth taken out, and the dentist allowed me to listen to my Ipod during the surgery. So, hopped up on Nitrus Oxide, Neil Gaiman became like my father figure – reading softly to me as they pounded on my jaw with a tiny jack-hammer. It was incredibly calming, although I’ll admit I had to rewind and listen to those parts again… I wasn’t paying too much attention to the story. Just Neil’s voice. =)

So pick up this one. If you only pick up one of my recommendations, this should be it. It’ll thrill you, chill you, make you laugh, and cause your eyes to sting. Well done, Neil.


Age: Marketed to Children and Young Adults

Language: No.

Violence: Yes, but not at all graphic.

Sex: No.

Book Review: Servant of a Dark God by John Brown

cover of servant of a dark god by john brown
Click here for the Amazon page

Overall Rating: 4 stars (Really Liked It!)

I’m coming to the party kind of late on this one. Servant of a Dark God made its debut two years ago. The sequel, Curse of a Dark God, is in the works.

I met John Brown at LTUE when he did a presentation titled “How do Get and Develop Killer Story Ideas”. It was, to this date, one of the most helpful writing presentations I’ve seen. But back to his BOOK:

Servant of a Dark God is an Epic Fantasy, with quite a few Dark-Fantasy elements. It follows several character viewpoints, my favorite of which is Hunger; a kind of anti-hero composed of dirt, roots and multiple souls. Talen is the most frequent viewpoint; a young man raised with prejudice against Sleth (unofficial magic users), who begins to find out that his family has a long history of… Slething? Slethnessmanship?

The book is a fantastic read, and moves along quickly. There is never a moment in the book where something isn’t moving, or something isn’t at risk. Some of the familiar Epic Fantasy tropes are there, such as the young protagonist with undiscovered power. They provide an easy way to root yourself into the book, so you can hold tight when John twists them on their head.

I love a good Epic Fantasy once in a while, and John Brown delivers. Fantastic debut!


Age: Marketed to Adults

Language: Nope.

Violence: Yes.

Sex: Mentioned. A conversation between two teenage boys. (Come on, we know teenage boys…)