Premise Writing – Ingermanson’s Snowflake Process


Ingermanson’s Premise Writing Process for Pantsers and Plotters

Pantsers believe fiction writing is creative, so it doesn’t lend itself to a process, while others have turned their writing process into a fetish.    We’re polarized on this point, but don’t have to be.  Pantsers can find a flexible process that works, and plotters can improve their current writing process.  We respect both camps, so we argue that fiction writing lends itself perfectly to a writing process if its flexible enough for writers to modify it to meet specific writing goals.  Whether we’re writing to experience the creative high, writing around our day job or other serious time constraints, hoping to write four novels this year or one, or writing for all of these reasons, a writing process can help us meet our goals.   

We’re looking today at Randy Ingermanson’s premise writing step.  Randy, aka “the Snowflake Guy,” is a physicist and author of several novels, and he’s developed the snowflake process.  It’s available under a link on his site (link provided) called Architecting Your Novel.  According to Randy, who’s written several novels, as well as Writing Fiction for Dummies, and developed his own Snowflake Pro Software, the novel’s one-sentence summary, “[. . . ] will serve you forever as a ten-second selling tool” (Step 1 Take an Hour).   He gives hints for developing it and makes it clear that this summary is our novel’s workhorse.   It shows up later and helps with everything from serving as the “hook” in your book proposal to a selling tool for agents and editors.   He then tells how to develop the one-sentence summary (step 2) into a paragraph that includes the disasters that occur at the end of the three-act novel. 

It’s a Bear to Write

Randy’s summary, fleshed out and turned into the five-sentence paragraph, becomes the “high-level view” of our novels.  And we agree with Randy, but would add a point by Donald Maass that drives home why premises are such exquisitely painful but necessary exercises in masochism and, hence, one of our favorite festishes:  Maass points out that the premise becomes the undergirding that supports our novel’s “mighty superstructure.”  Among gurus, Maass ranks up there with Merlin and Deming, so we revel in such insight.   

Randy’s first two steps are well written and easy to follow, but writing the premise is never as painless as it seems for him, possibly because he’s written several novels.  It’s one of the most challenging steps in the overall writing process.  Even many experienced writers would rather write five novels before writing one premise.  That’s the reason why we need to squeeze as much from this phase as possible. 

Building on what we’ve learned from our gurus, including Maass, Ingermanson, and others, we’ve put together a step-by-step procedure for writing the working premise.  It’s not painless (how could it be any fun if it were?), but it is different in one key aspect: it helps squeeze more from this very important step, including an up-front exploration of your novel’s position on Amazon, than does Ingermanson’s and Maass’ premise-writing procedure.  We’ll be posting it here on Friday.  Meantime, we’re interested in how you write your novel’s premise.  How much time do you spend writing it?  How difficult, or easy, is it to do?  How do you develop it?  What are obstacles?

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