Monday, November 12, 2012

The Snowman Method

By Sue Ann Jaffarian

It has been years, many years, since I was a kid living in Massachusetts, but I still remember the excitement of the first significant snowfall of the year.  And I still remember how to make a snowball, a snow angel and a snowman.

When I begin a new novel, I pretty much utilize the same techniques to build the book as in building a snowman. I start with an idea. It's usually a small, quirky idea. It's not the plot or character development, just a theme on which to build the story around.  For example, in the book I am currently working on, which is my 8th Odelia Grey novel, the theme is auctions at storage lockers. You know, like that show Storage Wars.

Since I write humorous books, I like to choose fun or interesting themes to present in each book.  Murder, movtive and the solving of the crime are important, but choosing the theme is what distinguishes the books one from the other. Not to mention these topics are very fun for me to research. Here are some samples of past books:

Lunch box collecting -  The Curse of the Holy Pail (Odelia #2)
Drag Queen Bingo - Twice As Dead (Odelia #6)
Haunted vintage ring - Gem of a Ghost (Granny Apples #3)

When I begin a book, I hold the theme in the palm of my mittened hand like a fresh clump of snow and squeeze it together to see if it will stick and be strong enough to be the nucleous of the story.  Then I start packing the plot idea around it, adding to its size. I layer on the cast of returning characters and blend in characters particular to this book. With each plot point and page, I pack on new material, smoothing out the rough edges, making sure it's tight and manageable until I can no longer hold it in my hand.

Next I toss it on the ground and start rolling it around, letting it pick up more snow and more bulk, growing in size with each page, each chapter, each twist, until it's the size I want.  I set that aside and start over and do the same with a second ball of snowy words, starting with a palm of snow and building until it's the size I want. I place the second ball on top of the first.

At this point, the book is almost finished. Carefully, I pick up a handful of snow and start forming the most import piece - the ending. I pack it tight with resolution and justice. I roll it around in the snow, picking up the important words and information that will bring satisfaction to my readers. When I feel it is the right size, I lift the smallest and final orb and place it on top of the first two.

There, I 'm done!  No, not yet.

The snowman still needs editing. It needs to be smoothed and rounded. It needs eyes, nose and  mouth, and a few embellishments such as a hat, scarf or buttons down the front. Stick arms are always a crowd pleaser.

At some point I stand back and smile with satisfaction (and hopefully this is before or on the deadline date). Now it is finished and I can go back inside where it is warm and cozy and have a cup of hot chocolate ... until the next snowfall.


Alan Orloff said...

A very nice analogy, Sue Ann! Now, whenever I'm about to finish a manuscript I'll need to figure out a way to add some "stick arms."

Vikki Jeanne said...

As always, thanks for the inspiration. I have been slowed by a sick me and then a very sick kitty, but I'm trying to get back in the saddle. Oops, I'm mixing metaphors! My apologies!:) ♥

Reece said...

I've got a feeling this analogy is going to stick in my head, Sue Ann. Sometimes my snowman starts looking all gray and slushy and I have to tear him down and start over ...

Meredith Cole said...

Great analogy, Sue Ann. I think first time writers imagine the original idea morphs magically into a finished book and grow quickly frustrated--but in reality it's a lot of hard work writing books--or making good looking snowmen!