Thursday, August 27, 2009

55) how to write a novel--or a poem (snowflakes and popcorn)

the literary life 8/27/09

I was just surfing the web when I came across a website with a posting called, "How to Write a Novel: The Snowflake Method." This made me stop and read because while I write poetry mostly, I was curious what the "snowflake" method might mean. Randy Ingermanson, Ph.D., is the author of the piece, and his method involves moving from simple to complex, and thinking through the characters and plot before jumping into the actual writing. The method involves first summarizing the story you plan to write in a single sentence (15 words or less), a pitch sentence you could use to sell it, and then expanding that sentence into a paragraph, and so on. He guides the writer with questions. I'm not the outlining type. I like to just jump in when I write (even fiction). But I could see the wisdom in the approach Ingermanson outlines, and I may try it myself some day. If you have been wanting to start something new or are a bit stuck with a novel you're working on, trying even a couple of the steps he mentions might be helpful. Here's the link:

So as a response to the "Snowflake Method" for fiction writers, just for fun, I'd like to propose the "Popcorn Method" for poets. This method involves both a little organizing and a little luck. Here's what you do. Find ten index cards. On each index card, write a word that might relate to one overall poem you'd like to write (this might work well for a narrative poem). Then toss the cards across the room and look for the card that lands closest to you and the one that lands furthest away. Think about the word on the index card closet to you being the starting point in your piece and the word furthest from you being the ending point. The rest of the words might "pop" up anywhere in your poem. Before you actually begin writing your poem, on a sheet of notebook paper write your start word at the top left and end word at the bottom left. On the right side of the paper, make a vertical list of the remaining eight words in any order. Then, in the upper right corner, write a sentence predicting what your poem might be about, but be sure to link your start and end word. As in the snowflake method, the sentence summary should be 15 words or less. So, for instance, if your start word is "window" and your end word is "Europe", you might write: The kitchen window broke Monday; I didn't know I'd be going to Europe on Tuesday.

Then begin writing. Now you have a "poet" map of sorts with plenty of room for discovery. You've spent some time playing with the poem before you begin the play of writing. Let the other eight words just pop up where they seem to fit. Let whatever else you didn't intend pop up. But there's something reassuring about having the opening image and the ending destination in place. It may not be a detailed map, but you have a general idea where you might be heading. This is not as developed a model as Ingermanson's "Snowflake Method". But it might work.

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