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