Writing Prompts: The Snowflake Method (Part 2)

Part 1

Portal magazine is accepting submissions for our annual issue out in April (fiction/non-fiction/poetry/script, VIU students only, no submission fee, deadline November 30th). We’re looking for entries of up to 2000 words in all categories. This series of posts is here to get the wheels turning using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method.

A snowflake shown against the night sky

After the steps we covered in Part 1, you should have a good idea of what your story will be about and how it’s going to be structured. Now, take your summary paragraph and expand each sentence into a paragraph of its own. All but the last should end on a note of tension. The final paragraph should cover the ending. You should end up with a one-to-two-page skeleton for your story. If you’re working on a particularly short piece, you may end up finishing it at this step, in which case – congratulations!

Let’s return to the characters. Last time, you summarized each major character  in one sentence. Flesh that out into a full page for each and give an additional half-page summary to every other character. These summaries should be a full retelling of the story’s events from each character’s point of view. Ingermanson refers to these as “character synopses.” Don’t be afraid to include seemingly extraneous detail in your synopses – knowing your characters well can only make them more lifelike, even if most of that information never makes it into the story proper. Feel free to make revisions to your outline as you learn more about the cast.

At this point, you should have a solid core for your story and several character threads and subplots you could follow. A short story generally doesn’t have more than one or two subplots, so you may want to decide which ones you’re going to focus on at this point. Once you have an idea, it’s time to repeat your trick with the summary and expand each paragraph of your one-to-two page outline into its own page. You should end up with a four-page summary of your story. This is the time to be making strategic decisions – if there’s anything that needs fixing or readjusting, you want to do it now.

These are steps four to six of Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. Stay tuned for future installments and make sure to mark your calendars for the Portal submission deadline Nov 30th.

– Nicola Kapron, Web Editor

A single snowflake underneath pencils

Writing and Risk: Looking Ahead at the 2018 Gustafson Lecture

Black text on a white background

Next week on November 7th and 8th, VIU will welcome award-winning poet Lorna Crozier to campus as the 2018 Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poet. She’ll be presenting a lecture and reading/Q&A for students, as well as a public reading at White Sails Brewery. Click here for more information.

In her lecture, she’ll be talking about writing and the risks we take whenever we put pen to paper. Whether it’s a poem, a piece of short fiction, or even a film script, there’s no doubt that it takes serious guts to allow readers – strangers – to be an audience for our deepest thoughts and emotions. We’re opening the window to judgement. For some it’ll resonate, and others it won’t.

I’m looking forward to hearing what Ms Crozier has to say on the top. As a Creative Writing student, I have always been aware of this risk. I still struggle giving feedback in workshops, even in my third year, because I know how much of my own personal life trickles into my writing, and what if the same is true for my classmates?

Poetry is such a personal form of writing, so I try my best to be as gentle yet constructive as possible. I would never want to make an author feel like his/her feelings or experiences are invalid. It’s easy to feel personally attacked.

I would encourage all students and writers to attend Ms Crozier’s lecture and readings. On Wednesday, November 7th, she will be presenting her reading and Q&A at the Nanaimo campus from 2:30-4, in Building 355 room 211.

That night she will also be doing a public reading at White Sails from 7:30-8:30pm, with our very own Aislinn Cottell.

Her lecture is the following day on Thursday, November 8th at 7pm, in Building 355 room 203.

Ms Crozier’s poetry is an inspiring example for any aspiring writer/poet. It is powerful and shows a fierce bravery that I can only hope to achieve one day. The topics of her poems range from the beauty in everyday things (The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things) to female desires (What the Living Won’t Let Go) publishing at a time where women weren’t really given a voice.

Keep a look out for our interview with Ms Crozier in the 2019 issue of Portal.

– Erinn Sturgeon, Poetry Editor

Seeking a Literary Community

A table covered in laptops with hands tapping away at their keyboards.

As writers, we spend long nights in dark rooms with glaring desktop screens and stalled fingertips. As readers, our eyes crust over long before we’re ready to put the book down and sleep – even then, the stories follow us into dreamland.

So many of us spend our time in isolation thinking – romantically, incorrectly – that this is how all the Greats write. Introversion has its perks, sure, but there’s a bigger world out there if you discard your recluse attire (fuzzy socks, baggy T-shirts) and socialize again.

The possibility that my words will be read is the encouragement I need to get out among a literary community: workshops; coffee dates with other writers; writing festivals and other literary events; book clubs; writing clubs; readings.

In the Creative Writing program, our communities come in the form of small classes. Portal is no exception –  20 people who keep me focused and encouraged, and that’s just on Tuesdays.

However, in 6 months, my VIU communities will expire and I will have to seek out others so I’ve made a shortlist of candidates like these:

I’m trying to approach my writing community in the right frame of mind (the first step was calling myself a Writer) by welcoming feedback and constructive criticism about how to turn my weaknesses into strengths, and how to not only grow, but flourish.

My ideal is a welcoming literary community of tough love, tougher support, and unending inspiration. So crawl out of the dark corners of your room and join Portal on November 15th, 2018 for a night of readings – more details to follow.

– Caileigh Broatch, Co-Managing Editor

Portal and Writing What You Know

What do I know?

Write what you know” is advice often suggested to writers, but what does it really mean? Author Nathan Englander, however, argues the downside of “writing what you know”: “I think it’s the best piece of advice there is, but I think it’s also the most misunderstood, most mis-taught, most misinterpreted piece of advice … Why do we love those books[we love], why do they change us, why do they touch our hearts, why do they hold so much meaning? Because they are truer than truth; because there is a great knowing within them, emotion. …  if you’ve known longing, then you can write longing.

In a New York Times column Mohsin Hamid argues that “what we know isn’t a static commodity,” and, in that same column, Zoe Heller says an author can also draw from the lives of others, from research, and from imagination. Raymond Carver suggests “a little autobiography and a lot of imagination are best.”

Depending on the genre of your submission to Portal, the proportion of real-life elements, research, and imagination will undoubtedly vary. Creative non-fiction describes real events, but utilizes an fictional techniques. Fiction is often inspired by, and draws upon fact. Both can be poetic and as dramatic as staged plays. 

My own script, The Only Moll for Miles, published in the 2018 issue, is a combination of all of the above and though I wasn’t alive in 30s-era BC during the Depression, I could imagine my characters, infuse them with a certain amount of my own emotional DNA, and research the setting. It was not what I knew, but what I knew I wanted to write. Sometimes that’s enough 🙂 

I hope you find your own elixir of inspiration, memory, and fact and send it along to Portal by Nov 30th so that our team and our readers can enjoy it. Authors may debate the meaning or accuracy of the adage, but if it gets you to write, it will always be worth considering. 

– Chyna Moore, Fundraising and Event Coordinator

The first page of the script Only Moll For Miles

Writing Prompts: The Snowflake Method

Portal magazine is currently accepting submissions for both our national non-fiction writing contest called Portent ($500 prize, $25 entry fee, deadline November 1st) and our annual issue out in April (fiction/non-fiction/poetry/script, VIU students only, no submission fee, deadline November 30th, ). We’re looking for entries of up to 2000 words in both categories.

This may seem a bit intimidating, especially if you haven’t submitted to a magazine or contest before, so here’s one approach you might use to get the creative juices flowing. The Snowflake Method was invented by Randy Ingermanson to inspire novelists, but a lot of his points are apt for other genres. Don’t worry – even if your manuscript ends up being longer than 2000 words, we accept excerpts.

A sheet of differently shaped snowflakes
Photo credit: Smithsonian Science Education Centre

Begin with a single sentence summing up your idea. Don’t include names or go into too much detail. This is the absolute bare bones– the line you’d use to sell it. Tell us who your main character is and what they have to lose.

Once you have this nailed down, expand it into a paragraph. A short story doesn’t need a 3-act structure or even a ‘disaster’ to drive the story, but it does need something compelling at its core. Think about what the story is about, fundamentally, from beginning to end.

Then flesh out primary and secondary characters. Write a one-sentence summary for each individual and outline his/her motivation, goal, conflict, and epiphany (if applicable). If there is a subplot, feel free to summarize that too. Revise your summaries as the manuscript takes place. Editing at this early stage is much easier than editing once you’ve got 10 pages of text to juggle.

These are the first three steps of Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. Stay tuned for future installments and meanwhile mark your calendars for the Portent and Portal submission deadlines next month.

– Nicola Kapron, Web Editor

A zoom in on the word 'portentous'
Photo credit: Shutterstock
The word 'portal', underlined, with a person emerging from behind it
Photo credit: DeviantArt brunobps

Portent Contest: Deadline Extended to November 1st

Did you know this is the first year Portal is running a contest open to all non-fiction writers across Canada? Portal magazine is Canada’s only full-colour nationally distributed literary magazine and invites Canadian authors to submit their best work to its premiere competition entitled Portent.

The deadline has been extended to November 1st, 2018 with a grand prize of $500 (Canadian funds) going to the winner. The entry fee is $25 which includes an issue of the 2019 Portal. The contest’s genre rotates every year among creative non-fiction, fiction, poetry, scripts and art and photography.
While Portal is dedicated to publishing the works of students at Vancouver Island University, the contest is open for the first time to non-student entries from across the nation and is an opportunity to be published in Canada’s only full-colour literary magazine.

Genres under the umbrella of creative non-fiction include: personal essays, memoir, narrative non-fiction, social commentary, travel writing, historical accounts, cultural criticism, nature writing, literary journalism, and biography.

The entry must not be more than 2,000 words and include contact information (address, phone number, email) and title and word count of submission on a separate page as the contest is adjudicated through blind judging. Please double space your work and submit only one entry per a person.
To pay the entry fee:

• go to the VIU Foundation website and select “other” under Amount and enter $25 and “other” under Designation typing in Portal Portent contest in the allotted space. Fill out the remaining credit card billing information and consider yourself entered.

• Alternatively, enclose a cheque made out to the VIU Foundation with $25 in Canadian funds and mail to: David Forrester – Portent Contest, Advancement & Alumni Relations Office 900 Fifth Street, Building 310 Nanaimo, BC V9R 5S5.

• Submit your ms by email to viuportal@gmail.com

The winner will be notified via email and be announced on Portal’s website and Facebook page, with the publication of the winning entry appearing in 2019 issue. The winner will be interviewed for our website.

Entries already published, accepted, or submitted elsewhere are ineligible. Previous publication is considered to be any appearance in print or online, including in a newspaper, newsletter, magazine, anthology, chapbook, book, website, electronic magazine, personal blog, Twitter, or Facebook prior to April 2019.

-Zachery Cooper, Non-Fiction Editor


It’s Hard to be Canadian



Traditionally, it’s been hard to be a Canadian literary magazine. Spill over from the American market has caused Canadian literary magazines to exist in their shadow. However, according to statistics on magazine trends published by Magazines Canada American spill over is on a long-term decline. The top two American magazines in Canada are National Geographic and People; neither of these magazines are a direct threat to Canadian literary magazines.

There are 1311 consumer magazine titles in Canada as of 2013. Average readership for print and digital remains stable, as does reader interest. The average Canadian literary magazine has five readers per issue, and trends are showing that if given the choice, Canadians will read Canadian content over American content. This is especially true in Quebec and other French-speaking parts of Canada. Currently, the largest revenues generated from literary magazines are in Ontario, according to data from omdc.on.ca. The lowest revenue from literary magazines is in the maritime provinces, followed by British Columbia and the territories, which are grouped in the same category. Hope for literary magazines may rest with youth; magazine readers tend to be younger. An estimated 60% of magazine readers are millennials, according to information gathered by Vividata, a research company specializing in magazine and newspaper statistics.

So, with all this positive data, why is ad revenue declining? Advertisers overwhelmingly choose to advertise on online platforms such as Facebook and Google over traditional print media. From 2013 – 2015, ad revenue in Canadian magazines saw a 32.6% decrease. Many Canadian literary magazines are now sustained by government grants, donations, and subscriptions from their readership, newsstand sales, or wealthy patrons.

It’s hard to be a Canadian literary magazine, but not just because we’re Canadian. It’s hard to be a magazine anywhere in the world right now, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon unless millennials embrace them and transform them.

-Cole Schisler, Print Publicity and Feature Writer.

Portal Team Welcomes Launch Keynote Grant Buday



In addition to the talented young VIU writers featured at our Portal 2018 Launch last Friday at the Grand Hotel, the team was happy to welcome Grant Buday as our keynote speaker to offer a seasoned author’s perspective on the evening. Critically acclaimed for his acerbic humour and imaginative storytelling, Buday will read from his latest novel, Atomic Road, published just last month. An absurdist blend of history and fiction, the book documents the (real) road trip of art critic Clement Greenburg as he travels across America during the height of the Cold War with the (fictional) goal of killing his industry rival, Harold Rosenburg. Accompanied by the infamous Marxist convict Louis Althusser, the story is, as put by book reviewer John M. Murray, “compelling fiction … sure to stick in the mind like an insightful LSD trip.”

Grant Buday has published eight other novels in addition to Atomic RoadDragonflies, The Delusionist, Rootbound, Sack of TeethWhite LungMonday Night Man, Under Glass, and The Venetian—as well as the memoir Stranger on a Strange Island: From Main Street to Mayne Island, and the travel memoir, Golden Goa.

-Aislinn Cottell, Poetry Editor

Portal 2018: Lucky Launch

Each year Portal launches new talented fiction, non-fiction, and script writers, poets, and artists from Vancouver Island University, giving them a platform to share their work and gain a publishing credit, sometimes for the first time.

Our magazine team, consisting of fourth-year Creative Writing student, has spent the last term reading, debating, selecting, and editing our favourite 25 pieces from over 400 submissions. Now it’s the end of the term and we’re ready to show them off.

Join us on Friday, April 13th at the Grand Hotel,

Rutherford Rd, for an enchanting starry northern lights night as we cruise through the pages of this issue. The launch will feature readings from most of our 18 authors: stories about bird watching, going home, dream construction, supermen, and haunting childhood moments. The event will also feature music performed by Maverick Cinema, a delicious reception with appetizers for all, awards presentations, and mingling with friends and fellow writers as we wind down and relax at semester’s end.

Tickets are available online at viuportal@gmail.com, Facebook/portalmag, portalmag.ca or from any of the Portal members for only $15 (includes a copy of the newest issue) and will be available at the door. Doors open at 6:30 pm and the launch party begins at 7:00 pm.


-Chantelle Nazareth, Event and Launch Coordinator

Fostering Creative Community

If there’s one thing I took away from the art careers class I took in third year, it’s that you need to leave your house and interact with other creative people. Some call it networking, but it doesn’t need to be as formal as this implies.

Going to book launches, gallery openings, EP releases, the opening night of a play, zine festivals, creative competitions, etc., is about building community, and supporting like-minded individuals. This sort of ‘networking’ doesn’t end after swapping business cards.

If you go to these kinds of events regularly, you will begin to see familiar faces, making friends and acquaintances in a variety of industries. These are the people who will think of you when an opportunity comes up. As I’m sure you’ve heard before, business is all about who you know. I believe this is doubly true for the business of being creative.

Finding value in the hard work and dedication of others, and supporting them, monetarily or with likes and comments and sharing on social media, contributes to the creative economy. They’ll return the favour when the spotlight is on you.

If you think about it, attending Vancouver Island University gives you an insider’s pass to creative events in Nanaimo. School has the benefit of a built-in community of peers – take advantage while you can. The connections you make here could last a lifetime.


VIU Art Club

VIU Creative Writing Club 

VIU Arts and Humanities



Recent and upcoming events in Nanaimo

Every Wednesday       Open Mic @ The Vault

18 March                     Write In Nanaimo – March

22 April                       Write In Nanaimo – April

1-2 December              Nanaimo Artwalk (Registration OPEN. Deadline 31 July)


– Rachel Jackson, Art Director

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