Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Snowflake

Good morning, folks. It's been a while. I've been working on my outline for Identity, which, in retrospect, I realize I haven't said much about, only mentioned obliquely. What I used to outline Echoes as an experiment was Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method, a ten-step process to fleshing out a novel. Overall, I think the process is sound, but I did have to adapt it somewhat to my structural style. As I've mentioned, I write each chapter like it's own story, a structure influenced by my experience with Babylon 5, an epic television series where most episodes moved forward an overall plot yet still managed to be stories that could be understood (to varying degrees) on their own. His Dark Materials is what got me writing, but Babylon 5 has been the basic model on which I base my novels.

For my part, I think the structure has some advantages. It means the plot is fast, as each chapter brings about a new conflict (or an extension of an old one). Furthermore, each chapter has some stand-alone quality that is very well-suited to the serial nature of work-in-progress posting. The Snowflake Method doesn't naturally accommodate this structure, though. I found with Echoes that I was stuck on chapter two (yes, out of twenty) with a chapter outline that simply wasn't well-developed, couldn't stand on its own. In part, that was my fault, not realizing what was needed to truly structure the chapter, but at the same time, I grew comfortable with re-outlining each chapter as I came to it. Even then, however, it wasn't a perfect process: I wrote three or four outlines for chapter twenty, none of them satisfactory really until in the end I kind of winged it and got through with Echoes at last. Maybe in that sense outlining isn't going to be a perfect process anyway, something that must be iterated to really arrive at a story. Who knows.

But, I do recommend the Snowflake Method. Right now I'm on the "one-page outline" stage, where you take a book and outline it in paragraphs. I've expanded it somewhat, for this is to be a trilogy, so it's really going to be three pages. And there are more steps beyond that, of course. It's all a process of going forward.

So what's Identity all about, anyway? Well, without giving too much away, it's a Ranma 1/2 continuation story. I've long thought that the end of the manga provides a great opportunity to explore changing relationships and emotions in the characters, the consequences of what happened at Jusenkyou and the failed wedding. Ranma, at least, has admitted to himself how he feels about Akane, and she surely thinks he's admitted it to her, too. Shampoo and Ukyou must naturally see a strengthening relationship there, and that would be ample cause for much more desperate attempts to win Ranma back. And the sobering effect of seeing someone you love nearly die in your arms shouldn't be understated, either. I think the change in character dynamics is key.

At the same time, Identity introduces new characters, foils for the emotional and psychological issues that the main cast has, issues that, while humorous, are also tragic in their own way. Identity is a dark story, about the need for love that we all have, the terrible consequences when that need overshadows all else, and the insecurities that cripple us, especially, we think, in the eyes of the ones we love. I can't wait to write this story, for though I've hit some road blocks in outlining it and considered working on something else until those cleared, I've known since I wrote Glimpse that this is the story I want to write next, without a doubt. It's going to be a blast to do.

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