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The “System-Check” Virus

The past two days have been absolutely ridiculous. I touched on what happened a little in my last post, but today I figured I’d delve into the details of what happened. It’s been an interesting couple days.

It all started two nights ago. I downloaded a handful of Photoshop brushes and a few fonts that day. So I brought em over to my writing/art laptop and started unzipping. Unbeknownst to be, one of them was gonna turn my computer into a virus playground. My old hard drive broke. I had the laptop for years, and then it just started freezing for no apparent reason. No viruses, no nothing, just freezing. So after a mess of time-consuming hardware checks, I learned the hard drive was basically just kaput. I got a hold of an uncle of mine who’s a wiz when it comes to computers, bought and sent him a new hard drive, had him load it up with programs through the company he works for, and bam. The replacement hard drive saved me.

Problem is, the computer was never online. I never bothered to update the antivirus or anything, so when I unzipped this “brush” that I got from a third party site (that looked completely legitimate and had no red flags), all hell broke loose. Everything froze, including my heart. I probably swore; I don’t remember. The icons on my screen disappeared, a Windows “System Check” box popped up and started scanning My Computer, the HDD, the RAM, and the registry. Wait, scanning My Computer and the HDD? Aren’t those the same thing? And why is the system check still running with my custom color barf theme I created? Why is there a little “System Check” shortcut next to the start menu? Why is it is discolored and odd looking?

 

 

Who cares! My computer’s exploding! I ignored all the fishy signs and paid full attention to this scan. It only took about five minutes. Wait, what? Five minutes to scan the HDD? I’ve done that before. It took two hours. Four errors in My Computer, four in the HDD, three in the RAM, four in the registry. “The C: drive is unreadable.” No! I pressed the “Repair” button and sat patiently unpatiently. Hey!—it’s fixing the problems now! Oh wait, it can’t fix the C: drive. Awesome. I try not to cry.

The entire encounter was lots of fun. By the time I got to the end of it, the window tells me that if I want to fix all the errors, I have to pay for the full version. Pardon my Caprican, but what the frak? I have to pay to fix my computer? That ain’t right. I shut everything down and got extremely depressed, but that doesn’t mean I gave up. I’m not a computer expert, but I know my stuff. I started the boot diagnosis and… waited. The entire process takes almost two hours, so I laid down and tried to sleep, unsuccessfully. When I trudged back into the living room, expecting the worst, a pleasant sight met my eyes.

Nothing’s wrong with your computer, bro.

Okay, the screen didn’t say that, but it should have. You have no idea what a relief seeing that message was. All was not lost! Still, my computer was crawling with viruses. Things were bleak, but my hard drive was safe. Turning the computer back on (and wading through this dang “System Check” nonsense) I was able to find my files. They weren’t gone. The virus hijacked the start menu, as well as the desktop. My Computer and My Documents got moved to the “All Programs” tab. Tricky, but only to someone freaking out and blinded by thoughts of “MY COMPUTER IS BROKEN“. Everything was still there, to my incredible relief.

I went to bed at around 4am, finding solace in the fact that the virus was more a trick than a destructive force. Here I was thinking I got hit by some horrible virus that blew my hard drive to hell, like Magistr or CIH. The next morning I set out to find out what I was up against. It only took a single Google search to find my problem. The “System-Check Virus”, I found it was generally called. It’s not your typical virus, it’s called a “rogue“, or “rogueware”, and it’s a part of virus family called FakeHDD. Basically it’s a big illusion to trick you into giving out your credit card number. Remember the entire “buy the full version” prompt? You get it. Mostly people get hit by it when they get conned into those “free virus check” sites, but that certainly wasn’t how I got hit. I quickly found a step by step guide on getting rid of it and got to work. (Go bleepingcomputer.com!)

The process was pretty complicated. The first step was to turn on the computer in safe mode; easy enough. I downloaded all the necessary programs and threw them on a thumbdrive, like a warrior with his armor and weaponry coming toe to toe with the mighty dragon. The first step was to run a program called RKill, which basically kills all the processes that the virus runs to stop you from doing… anything really. Realize that it crippled my actions on the computer so badly that I couldn’t right click, move things, or even press crtl-alt-delete! It took multiple tries to run RKill, and I was forced to change the name of the program to “iExplore.exe” for the virus to let it through. That’s right, this virus protected itself in a big way. Try to run a program to fight the virus? The virus shuts it down. This was only the beginning of my battle.

Finally, after countless tries, RKill ran. It shut down a slew of processes and my desktop icons came flooding back. So far so good. The next step was to run a program called TDSSKiller. The aim of this program was to find and destroy a piece of the virus called a “rootkit“. Not only was this rootkit the culprit for killing my anti-virus and blocking out my virus killer programs, it also royally screws over your internet. If your computer is infected by a rootkit, your Google searches will give you crazy results, and you’ll often be redirected to ads and all sorts of nasty stuff. I think it’s commonly called the Google redirect virus, but either way, I had more problems than just that.

The rootkit proved to be a very difficult foe. Like diamond-hard dragon’s scales, no matter what I tried, my blows were deflected. TDSSKiller—no matter what I renamed it—was immediately shut down by this nasty bug. Why? The dolts over at Kaspersky Labs decided to put a nice big “Kaspersky Labs made this!” inside the properties of the program. So when I tried to open it, the rootkit saw the inner workings and source of the program and shut it down cold. I was screwed.

The solution was to download another program called Verpatch that I could use to change those inner properties of the TDSSKiller. Problem is, Mr. Rootkit stopped that program in its tracks too. Formidable opponent, right? I found a link to a version of TDSSKiller without Kaspersky Labs’ idiot name all over it, but to my great anger and frustration, the link was dead. I set down my sword and decided to move on to the next step.

It was time to ditch the sword and pull out the bazooka.

Malwarebytes is an awesome program. Not only did it break right through the virus’s defenses and run the setup and updates without a hitch, it also found eleven different viruses in the system. Yeah, eleven. I was back in business, and stomping out the bugs left and right. Problem was, the rootkit was still in business, protecting itself from the program that could root it out and kill it: the TDSSKiller.

I redoubled my search for the version of the program that would slip through its defenses, and I found what I was looking for. Kaspersky redeemed themselves, they had made an alternate version without their brand name all over it. If you’re screwed like I was, go HERE for the right version of TDSSKiller (you do have to register to the forums to download it). You can thank me later. I didn’t even have to rename the program from “TDSSKiller” and it started up like a charm. There are many breeds of this virus that I had; it looks like the one I had was nasty indeed, smarter than most versions. It wasn’t even looking at the name of the program—only its inner workings. Sneaky, huh?

The TDSSKiller fired up and found it. Buh-bye rootkit. I was glowing. I bested the beast. I ran Malwarebytes again and it found another handful of viruses. The rootkit was hiding them? I don’t know, but I was glad that thing was toast. I decided to turn the computer on without safe mode before running Malwarebytes two more times (yes, I was paranoid). You can only imagine my joy when the results came up with a big fat zero both scans. I was virus free. The final step was to run a little program called “Unhide.exe“, since the virus goes into your system files and checks “hidden” on all of them. A weak trick, but still.

And that’s my tale. Probably not very exciting, but I thought I would share, and hopefully help out anybody who’s run into similar problems. If you’re going through a FakeHDD virus hit and are stuck, feel free to get a hold of me. I might not be able to help, because each situation is different, but who knows?

Dealt with a rogue before? Comment about it! Viruses today are worse and worse. I’m just glad I came out on top this time.

Looking To Get Published?: Obsolescent.info

I had a fun morning today, and my work still continues. A rather nasty virus attacked my writing laptop (the one with my life on it, y’know), so I’ve been frantic to get it working again. Thankfully I think I’ve got it under control, and I also snagged a little job this morning,  so I decided to sit down and tell you lovely people about a publishing opportunity I came across today.

A weird one.

Obsolescent.info has an open call out for short stories. About what, you ask? About octopusses—er, octopi. I kid you not, this little press is working up an anthology of short stories focused on our aquatic eight-legged friends. Odd? Yeah, it is, but it also sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

This company is offering 20 bucks for each story. They need 10-15 of them, and they’re looking for stories about 1000-7500 words long. As for the contract, it looks like they’re only claiming non-exclusive rights, so basically they’re allowed to do what they want with your work, and so are you. What genres are they looking for? Well, basically anything. No kidding.

That’s about it. If you’re interested or just want to find out more, check out the page for submission guidelines below!

http://www.obsolescent.info/guidelines.html

 

A Fever Dream: New Community For Artists & Writers

Today I thought I’d talk about a cool little forum with a laid back attitude: A Fever Dream.

 

The place is brand new—as in, it just started up this week, but there are already over 60 members. It’s close-knit and active, and whether you’re a comic artist, classical artist, or a writer, everyone is cool and constructive. Basically, if you’re looking for fair critique and honest opinion, you’ll probably get it here, and fast. Just be sure to spread the love.

In addition to feedback, you’ll find helpful resources, previews into the current projects of talented artists, and all sorts of contests. Currently there’s a “Draw Everyday” thing going on come February, a writing contest using prompts that’s going on right now, as well as an open call for a forum banner/header. All in all, the forum has a focus on creativity and fun. You’re not going to find that same easygoing, pleasant attitude on other large sites.

That’s about it—hope to see you there!

Blogger’s Block

Above: Me, today.

Usually I’m never at a loss for word when it comes to writing. If you frequent the blog, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to go on and on and on and… well, you get the point. Even if I may give some people headaches, that long-winded quality I have is a blessing when you’re a writer. You can always edit yourself. You can’t always pull new things to write out of your arse. (Unless you’re far more talented than I.)

In any case, let’s talk about blogger’s block today. Is that a real term? Beats me—I just made it up. I’ve heard the comment “fiction writers are terrible blog writers” again and again, mostly spammed on twitter by someone who tweets “writing tips”. I didn’t agree. Heck, I still don’t agree. Fiction writers are the best writers anywhere. Not only can they write their butts off, they have the imagination to back it up! I don’t post a whole lot of fiction or writing on this blog; I mostly post tips and lessons off the top of my head for my lovely readers. If you’re new to the blog, I’d suggest you follow and/or check out my Breathe Life Into Your Writing! series. I’m not gonna link it or shove it down your throat, but it’s there if you wanna check it out. It’s pretty helpful if I don’t say so myself.

In the end, I think everyone gets blogger’s block. I post something everyday. It can be tiring, especially when I forget to all day and then throw something up at 6pm (which coming from Hawaii is much later anywhere else). Those days certainly don’t get me many hits. So how do you keep up on things, keeping them fresh, useful, FUN? Beats me, I’m flying by the seat of my pants. Since this post should be useful and informative, I’m gonna take a step back and link people who know more than me. Believe it or not, I do not know everything (can you believe it?), so occasionally I should leave it to the other know-it-alls. They need love too.

4 Tools for Breaking Your Blogger’s Block
7 Ways You Can Beat Blogger’s Block Today
10 Tips For Overcoming Blogger’s Block

As you can see, blogger’s block is a serious thing, and a real term (I just found that out). So to take a tip from those articles, I’m gonna ask a question:

What do you guys want me to write about?

I’d honestly love to hear. The comments box is right down there, just scroll… click… type. Did you do it? Attaboy/girl!

That’s all for now. Have a nice weekend everyone.

Looking To Get Published?: Katherine Press

Today I thought I’d try my hardest to be brief, yet helpful. I’d like to set the spotlight on a little site who both publishes stories online, via e-book, through a weekly review subscription, and also appears to be interested in full novels. Who are they? Katherine Press.

If you don’t feel like checking out the site, I’ll say that their market is that of chick-lit and anything pertaining to girls and young women. Their site looks so nice and cleanly put together that a part of me wants to submit something too, but… well, chick-lit isn’t my thing. I think I would crash and burn, but maybe you wouldn’t! They’re looking for everything from poetry and short stories to personal essays and full length novels.

They offer to pay flat-rates for the various types of submissions. They don’t advertise what those rates are on the site from what I can tell, but their email is there on the site and I’m sure they’d be happy to answer any of your questions. They also are giving themselves a six-week window before they reject or accept your work, so be patient.

Hope it goes well for you if you decide to take a shot at submitting something. Be sure to tell me what you think or have experienced with this company too!

Submit your writing here!

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part III: Symbolism

 

In this installment I’m going talk about something a little more… epic. Like personification and metaphors, this tool will go a long way towards giving something bland and boring new life. What’s different about it, though? It’s far more difficult to pull off, unlike the relatively simple practice of using personification and metaphors. What is it?

Symbolism.

I think this concept makes a lot of newer writers nervous—like they want to use it effectively, but are afraid that they won’t be able to execute it correctly. Those concerns aren’t unwarranted. There are certainly simple uses of symbolism that you may have already used without thinking, but creating lasting, powerful symbols that carry through your writing is another story.

Because symbols are so… symbolic, it’s easy to turn them into clichés. Clichés are something you want to avoid as a writer. Some people like them, and I’m one of the few that believes they can add to a story with careful thought, but that’s another topic entirely. The point is, symbols can easily become clichés. Why should we avoid that? We’ll get to that a little later. For now, let’s look at some examples of simple symbols.

At least they're not human bones, right?


A man wearing pastel colors with a wide smile on his face.

The permeating smell of death inside a dreary old mansion.

A crusty pile of bones deep in the woods.

 

These are all pretty simple, and that’s the point. You probably wouldn’t think twice about any of these things as you read them within a story, but they are indeed symbols. The first would immediately tell you the pleasant, sunny demeanor of the man (unless you use it as an oxymoron, and he’s really an axe murderer). The second paints an immediate picture and mood behind a very scary venue. If a mansion smells like death, it’s not a very nice place. The third example is the most obvious use of symbolism. If your protagonist finds a pile of bones in the woods, it immediately tells him that he’s in a dangerous place. It creates suspense.

Did you notice? Each of these symbols have very different effects! The first might tell the reader about someone’s character (or create suspense if the symbol is an oxymoron), the second paints a better picture of the mood and setting, and the third primarily creates suspense, as well as telling you the mood of those woods. That’s the thing about symbols; they can achieve a variety of effects in comparison to the other writing practices I’ve highlighted in this series. While a metaphor might just make your reading a little more interesting, and might help set the mood a little but, even the smallest, subtlest symbols can paint a picture of your story in very graphic ways. That’s why it’s easier to mess up on them!

But how about bigger symbols? Ones that stretch far across your tale? Those are the most difficult to use to perfection, because they usually go a very long way to conveying two very important qualities to your entire story.

The first is mood and setting. Usually mood and setting only apply to one scene. The type of words you choose within a scene go a long way to telling the mood. If you employ verbs like “sweeping, drifted, ebbed, murmured” the mood of the scene is quite clearly slow, dreary, measured. It’s probably building suspense and leading up towards actions. If you use verbs like “snapped, bolted, snatched, barked” the mood of the scene is frantic, urgent, intense. As you can see, your word usage tells the mood of one particular scene.

Setting is a bit different, and not so straightforward. It’s up to you and your skill as a writer to paint the picture of your setting correctly. Setting directly relates to mood, and vice versa. If you write about a dark, scary tunnel full of ghostly whispers, the setting is going to make the mood scary. You can tell why setting is important now, can’t you? If you create a lackluster image of the setting, the reader probably won’t be able to interpret the correct mood, or a mood at all! If the reader doesn’t feel the mood of the scene, it’s very hard for the words on the page to draw them into your writing.

How can powerful symbols carry both setting and mood across your story, though? Well, that usually goes hand in hand with the theme of the story. Theme generally is a wide-stretching mood cast upon your entire story, but it also directly relates to the conflict and goal, beginning and end. It also makes up the entire message of the story. It tells the reader why the story is what the story is, as well as the purpose of the story. Before I create a few examples, look at a powerful use of symbolism in a famous piece of fiction.

In A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, a butterfly is stepped on far in the past by a time traveler from the future. That small death changes history in a drastic way. Where’s the symbol there? Well, it’s the butterfly. That seemingly small symbol highlights a powerful theme of change. That tiny, insignificant insect changed everything, and placed a fierce level of guilt upon the person who stepped on it, and that guilt goes a long way to setting a very dramatic mood. Pretty epic stuff, right? Doesn’t it make you want to think up a powerful symbol for your own story?

Let’s look at some examples now. Open your mind and let your creativity flow! I hope these can stir up your imagination. Focus on the structure of these—how they work—and then sit down to think up some powerful symbols of your own!

 

Nature can be a powerful symbol.

Deep in the blistering Sahara, a spelunking hero battles murderous smugglers within looming desert caves. A sandstorm howls a violent tune as the combat ensues. The protagonist fights valiantly, and bests the thieves as he blows the entrance to the cave shut with a bundle of dynamite, entombing them with their ill-gotten treasure. As he steps back onto the blistering desert sands, the storm dies down and rain begins to fall.

A withered old man sits on the porch during a nice big family reunion… except it’s not nice at all. His children and grandchildren bicker like kindergarteners. He tries his best to keep the peace, but his words fall on deaf ears as grudges and rivalries lock in the negative mood. Sat upon his old wicker chair on the porch, he watches the tranquil, trickling creek in front of the house. Since his childhood, he’s played along the bank of the gentle stream, but now the feed of clear crystal water is stopped up and dirty. Taking a long deep breath, he thinks on a kind and happy past before passing on.

As you can see, these examples aren’t short little sentences. They aren’t simple visuals that portray a mood or help paint a better picture of a setting. These larger, stronger symbols can be literal or figurative—usually both. They can be embodied in a concrete object or something more ethereal; maybe an emotion, or a state of affairs, or even a spoken phrase. Something that almost always makes up that symbolic connection is a visual (or perceivable) symbol directly connecting to a figurative message. Let’s pick each of the examples above apart and see how they utilize symbolism.

In the first one, we have something like you’d see in an Indiana Jones flick. You might think that in a story involving so much action, there isn’t a whole lot of room for symbolism. Well, that’s not exactly true. When you’ve got lots of action, there might not be a great deal of room for deep, thoughtful symbols. They don’t always fit into a fast paced, action-packed tale. That doesn’t mean these kind of stories need to be devoid of strong symbols though. In the example above, I used weather as a symbol.

I think we can all think of a movie we saw where rain poured down as the protagonist cried or dealt with some saddening emotional situation. That’s a very cliché symbol to use. Like I said above, we should generally avoid clichés. They’re predictable and they can very easily make your story boring. That’s why I personally dislike the vast majority of romantic comedies. The symbolism and structure is usually very “cookie-cutter”, and that’s basically just another word for cliché. When a romantic comedy like 500 Days of Summer comes along, I’m pleasantly surprised. That one broke down certain walls and did a great job at finding originality within a genre that’s been beaten to death, but I’m straying from the point.

In my action story example, while the protagonist battles the bad guys, a violent sandstorm rages outside. The wild weather mirrors the action the hero is involved in within the caves, and once he comes out victorious and back into the desert, the storm dissipates and turns to rain. I took the old rain cliché and gave it a twist. Instead of the rain symbolizing pain and sorrow, it’s an emotional release. A washing, peaceful symbol contrasting the frantic, stressful scene that made up the rest of the story. It’s a happy ending, and it allows the reader to set the story down feeling good. Cliché? A little bit, but it works. Never underestimate the power of a soothing happy ending. I might enjoy and write stories with a darker, emotional undertone, but that doesn’t mean happy endings are all bad. You just have to figure out what fits your story best.

In the second example, we have a very different use of symbolism. It’s a very reflective story, and the theme underlying is that of change. The protagonist, the old man, is surrounded by stress, bad feelings. He’s thinking back on his childhood; on happy times when that stress wasn’t there. The symbol here is the creek he played around as a child. While times were once tranquil—just like the stream—now they are stressful and dirtied up. As a reflection of that, the creek is now stopped up and tainted. The theme entails change of situation and a change of times, and the symbol of the creek plays a powerful symbol between those things.

So, now that you’ve seen some examples of symbolism, do you think you can put them into your story? It takes a bit of effort creating those powerful links and ideas, and even more effort putting emotional strength and visuals behind your symbols, but if you understand your story on a deep level, the symbols will almost create themselves.

Unlike the last two chapters of this series, there’s no exercise to test out your skills this time. Instead, post a comment telling about a symbol you’ve used in your writing before, or one that you’d like to use now!

Be sure to check out the first two installments of the Breathe Life Into Your Writing! series in the links below if you haven’t read them yet! Stay tuned for the next part, where I’ll talk about… dialogue!

deviantART: Not Just For Pictures

About a decade ago, when I was but a wee little boy, my mom and I found this cool new site for artists called deviantART, or devART for short. One could create a profile, upload their artwork, and browse and comment on other artists’ pieces. A very cool little online fellowship of like-minded artists, photographers, and anyone else with a mind towards all things artsy and fartsy.

I was little—I drew a picture of a Lego Bionicle, a monster, I painted a tree, etc. I also took lots of pictures back then; some of them were even pretty darn good. Since I was 10 or 11 during this time, I got a pretty good amount of attention. I mean, a decently talented little squirt is so much more exciting than a decently talented adult. Eventually I got tired of the site and moved on. I can’t remember why, but that’s the story as best as I can recall.

Yesterday I read a tip that there’s a pretty good writer base over there nowadays. Ever come across those little scrolling blocks of text while you searched for something on devART? I did too, and I realized they were stories, but I never really thought much about it. After reading about the site again, though, and how many writers made their home there these days, I decided to check it out.

The site hasn’t changed much in over 10 years. No, besides the subscription system that costs real dollars and grants you some cool little privileges and features, devART operates the same as it always has. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it was a very user friendly place to begin with. It’s clean, effective, and a fun site to loiter about, wasting hours of your life on.

Like I was saying, there’s loads of writing on the site these days. There are also a number of “groups” on the site focusing on writing, so be sure to check those out to publicize your stuff. There are a slew of different sites to upload your writing online, but probably nothing near as popular as devART. The only issue is that most people on devART are browsing for images, not stories. I can’t tell you whether it’s a great place for writers or not yet, but there are a few perks that I can point out right away.

The site is by all intents and purposes a social media applet. You’ve got watchers, comments, favorites, friend lists, and whatever else I forgot to mention. Play your cards right, make some contacts, and you’ll drum up a nice following and some helpful feedback on your work. If you don’t do that, the feedback you do receive will probably be pretty shallow. It’s common to hop over to someone’s latest image, say “This is awesome!” and have them offer a similar comment on something of yours out of courtesy. There’s an unspoken etiquette as there is with many sites like this. Observe and learn these unwritten rules if you want to fit in and get comments.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Anyone else experienced when it comes to writing on devART? Leave your knowledge in the comment box below, and be sure to check out my devART profile at the link below! I’m a newbie on the site again, and I need contacts too!

http://htsundance.deviantart.com/

 

Creative Process

What’s a creative process? Well, if you need hourly caffeine intake, that’s creative process. If you need to write your story from end to beginning, that’s creative process. If you need to stand on your head to get the brain juice flowing… that’s just weird, but I suppose that’s creative process too. Basically, anything that enables you to effectively siphon what’s in your head into written material is a component in your personal creative process.

Naturally that means some people have awesome creative processes, where they both channel their imaginative and productive abilities and are able to pound great writing out. Some peoples’ creative processes are slower, more procrastinating, and even if they stay true to their imagination and what they love, they don’t get much done. I’m pretty sure that’s always been me.

Even when I was little, I loved to write. I’m talking probably 6-years-old and up. I remember the first story I really sat down and tried hard to write (on paper); it was called Wally The Waterbug, and it wasn’t a comic, it was a written story. He walked across the road, almost got ran over by a car, and got flung up into the bed of a truck. After the truck pulled into the garage, he got flung into the house somehow (repetitive flinging, I know—I was 6 or 7) where he fell into the cracks of a keyboard. I never got any further, but the idea was that kilobytes and megabytes (in the form of Pac-Man-esque evil creatures) then would chase him around trying to eat him. This poor waterbug clearly had a very upsetting life, and I don’t think the story had much purpose beyond that, but hey.

Imagination is great and all, but if this happens to you, call a doctor. (Image by xbooshbabyx @ devART.)

The reason for the useless trip down memory lane is to highlight the birth of my creative process. I started on something, got bored, and never touched it again. Totally understandable for a little kid, but the problem is, I did that same thing for the next decade or so. I’d start writing something (usually fan-fiction about whatever I happened to be into at the time), and would quickly grow tired of the project before moving onto something else. My creative process was a rather nasty cocktail of procrastination, impatience, and boredom.

So how did I kick it? I didn’t. Well, I did, but bad habits are the hardest ones to kick. I think over the years I’ve gained a little more patience simply through getting older. I make a strong effort to read what I write after the editing process just to see what I’ve accomplished and say “Hey, that’s pretty darn good. This is worth continuing.” I also make sure not to embark on projects that won’t hold my interest. I wrote a short story not long ago that didn’t fall under any of the genres I love so much. It was a thriller, maybe with a little bit of a psychological element thrown in for good measure. I had an idea, and I rolled with it. I put it on paper over the course of a few days. I made sure not to let the ideas in my head grow stale. Why? That brings me to my next point.

I’m what they call a pantser. I explained the term in another one of my posts, but I’ll explain it again.

Pantser: Writes by the seat of his pants—dislikes planning and outlines.
Planner: Plans their writing ahead of time—swears by the use of outlines.

Simple enough, right? Right off the bat, you can probably pick out which one you are. Now most “novice” writers are pantsers, but many famous authors can call themselves pantsers as well. I think when a writer hasn’t developed their craft yet, and hasn’t established exactly what their creative process is, they’re a “novice”. Once you pin down those things, you’ll probably form a structural process. As in, maybe you’ll discover that sitting down and throwing all your ideas down into a document helps you move your story along faster and more effectively. But on the flip-side, many might find that they just prefer flying free. There’s no right way, only the way that works best for you.

In the past, I was young and lazy. I never made outlines, I never did any of that stuff. I just wrote when I wanted to, and ditched my work when I got tired of it. Nowadays? I still don’t use outlines. I’m not against them, but I run with a different method. I have a good memory when it comes to my stories. I know what’s going to happen and when—not because I wrote an outline of it—but because I’ve got the scenes imagined in my head. When you can see the scene in your head as a real, moving scenario, I think you’re far better off than simply referring to a quick, dead blurb of text on a scene such as “Thieves ambush the protagonist, gunfight ensues.” If it’s in your head, you can see the dust fly, smell the gunsmoke, imagine the inner thoughts of your character as he fights for his life. It’s more real, and that translates well when you actually write the scene.

That’s not to say that making use of an outline makes your writing less powerful, or simply worse. On the contrary, sometimes it helps you remember key details that would otherwise be lost. That’s why everyone’s personal creative process is different. I can use my head. I can remember. When I put something into an outline, it takes some of the life out of it, and further than that, it doesn’t allow my story to have the twists and turns and last second changes that I often incorporate. If I sat down and started outlining everything, the writing just wouldn’t be honest. That’s a problem.

Some people feel just the opposite, and that’s totally fine. In the end, you do what works for you. That’s the most important thing. Just remember not to feel bad about yourself because you don’t have some articulate, masterful process of outlining each scene, summarizing every character, etc. If your quirky process creates material that you’re proud of? Well then you’ve got nothing to worry about, friend.

The Snowflake Method – What is it? Do I need it?

Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method

When it comes to writing a novel, there are a myriad and one different ways to go about it. Perhaps you’re a calculative individual, carefully outlining beginning to end of your future masterpiece. Or perhaps you’re a bit more like me, who might find a flash of inspiration, crafting an idea for something in your head and putting it down on paper; flying by the seat of your pants (as the term pantser comes from) while you paint your tale like an abstract picture.

Now, everyone has something that works for them. As is with art, one person might sketch the model of their finished product with light strokes, later erasing those guidelines and meshing out the finished product. Others might simply draw, creating exactly what comes into their head as they go. The finished result in that case might not have the flawless, mathematical proportions that some hold dear, but in the end, it might be far more creative. To some, that’s beautiful. To others, amateurish. As I’m bound to repeat in this post, to each his or her own.

Let’s bring a structured writing method into the spotlight: The Snowflake Method. If you’re an author, whether you write fiction, non-fiction, or anything in between, you’ve probably heard of this. Perhaps you’ve even used it. But for discussion’s sake, let’s pretend you’ve never heard the term in your life. This is my observations and opinions on the practice, as well as how I have seen others reactions to using it. If you’d rather hear exactly what the method entails before hearing a discussion on it, hop over here and read how it works for yourself (just be sure to come back after you’re done!).

Regardless, I’ll highlight a bit of a crash course in the ten-step process that the Snowflake Method utilizes. In short, it’s the ultimate progressively constructive way to build your novel from the ground up, from scratch. You’re starting with nothing, you’re laying down the idea, and then over the course of what will probably take a few weeks to a month, you’re slowly building the groundwork for your story. Some might be immediately turned off to that sort of commitment of time to not even writing your novel itself (I certainly was). When you’re inspired, sometimes you have to capitalize on that. When you have the idea in your head, you don’t always want to write about writing the idea later on, you want to write it now! That’s a major failing of this method, but that doesn’t make it a bad way to go about things.

Before I continue my analysis of the method, I’ll very briefly list the ten steps of Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. Ready? Go!

  1. Take an hour to write a one-sentence summary of your novel.
  2. Take another hour to expand that sentence into a summary of the novel; the setup, disasters, and ending.
  3. Take an hour to write a one-page summary of each of your major characters.
  4. Take several hours to expand each sentence of your summary paragraph into a paragraph of its own.
  5. Take a day or two to write a one-page synopsis of each of your major characters, and a half-page synopsis of the other important characters.
  6. Take a week to expand each paragraph of your story summary into a full page.
  7. Take another week to expand the character synopses into full-fledged character charts detailing everything there is to know about each character.
  8. Take your four-page story synopsis and place each scene involved into a spreadsheet list.
  9. Take each line of the spreadsheet and expand it to a multi-paragraph description of the scene.
  10. Begin writing your first draft.

Right off the bat, you can tell how intensive this is. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your preferences as a writer, and even your personality. We’re not here to debate whether the method is right or wrong, since it’s arguably the most popular method around for writing a novel. As was highlighted on Randy’s page, the directions for how the method works gets over a thousand views a day. If that’s not popular, I don’t know what is.

So let’s talk about the effectiveness of this practice. What’s good about it, what’s great about it, and what’s awful about it? Since I’m a rather positive guy (when I’m not trapped within the throes of agony and despair), we’ll start with what’s …

Great:
If you have a problem with focus; putting your mind to something and sticking with it; this method could very well be your salvation. Novels are long. Stephen King novels are longer. Who knows how long yours will be, but odds are that at some point in your unguided journey of authorial discovery, you will develop a bad case of writer’s block. The Snowflake Method is a painstaking process, and while it can be fun, it takes time. The upside to the month or so you will take to lay the groundwork for your novel is that when you finally get to writing your novel, it should come much more smoothly. While carrying out those ten steps, you’re creating the skeleton of your novel, then slowly fleshing it out. When you’re done, all you have to do is write it. It gives you a heavy dose of focus.

Good:
When it comes to characters, a lot of writers have a very hard time of making the character relatable. While they might have a good idea of the character they’re writing, and the emotions of that character, when they start writing their novel, those emotions simply don’t come across. Granted, this is my personal experience in reading, but I’d imagine many see the same thing. Utilizing the character building steps of the Snowflake Method literally drills your characters into your head. In step 3, you invite your characters over for dinner. In step 5, you let them spend the night on your sofa. By step 7, they’re literally snuggling in bed with you. This kind of extensive understanding of your characters and their emotions makes it far more likely that when you put them to paper, they will come alive. It’s not a sure thing, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Awful:
I’m going to choose my words carefully here. This is a timeless method, and the people who are committed to it sometimes preach its effectiveness with evangelical assurance. All the same, it’s easy for anyone to see how this method could be very counter-productive to certain writers. Let’s be honest, the entire process could take over a month. That’s a long time to be writing… about writing. While to some the process might be fun and exciting and amazing, other writers will burn themselves out with the method. The incredible idea that inspired them to write has now become a chore as they systematically carry out each step. By the time they are actually done, the passion they had for writing on their idea has dwindled. They have a model of point A to point B, not inspired, written chapters that they can look at and say “Wow, this looks good!”. To some, that’s a terrible reason for the method to be called awful, but if you’re sitting there thinking that, that’s because you’re a planner. No two writers are alike.

Since I’m an uneducated fool, I asked published author and teacher Steve Alcorn what he personally thought about the Snowflake Method. His response was:

” … You start with dramatic elements, and fill in the big plot details first, then the smaller ones. That’s really the only way to write a novel (other than simply starting at the beginning and hoping it goes somewhere). What it omits, however, is the important distinction between story and plot, and how they are reliant on each other, but with the story structure utmost.”

Let me try to decipher that. Basically, while it’s a simple process that explains itself and builds a novel from the ground up, it doesn’t take the story into consideration through the process. That might sound odd, since it’s helping you build… well, your story. However, there’s a clear difference between story and plot.

The plot of your story is what happens. If your protagonist is hurtling through country back-roads in his moonshine running hot-rod when suddenly his brakes go out, that’s plot. That’s what’s happening in your scene. When he slams on the brake pedal and realizes he’s headed straight for a tree, his heart pounding in his head, fear burning through his mind as he says a silent prayer for help, that’s story. The story (as opposed to plot) is the emotion behind your novel. It’s what your characters feel (since any novel worth it’s salt is going to be about a character or two).

So through the Snowflake Method, you’re building what? Your plot. You’re setting out what’s going to happen, when, and with who in your novel. That’s all well and good, but during this process, there’s not a whole lot of room for the emotion behind your writing. On your Snowflake spreadsheet, Amy and Jack are going to have an argument in front of their kids. That’s a scene. However that says nothing about their daughter, who hides her tears and sobs in her teddy bear and wishes she was at Grandma’s house.

... or HER own!

Regardless, it is true that this emotion (the story) can find life as you actually write the novel, once you’re finished with the ten step process. However through focusing on building exactly what is going to happen in your novel, it’s easy for the entire process to become robotic. It comes down to you, the writer, on how you will handle that. There are a great many methods of building a novel, but be forewarned that with the Snowflake Method, you do have to watch yourself for certain failings. There is a proper fit when it comes to any writer and any method of writing.

From what I can see, a lot of writers take pieces of the Snowflake Method. It’s a bit simple, but it’s also extensive. That relates well into fragmented systems using portions of the ten step process. For example, when I researched this, I found that the character building steps might be a great idea for me.

I do not plan. I do, but at the same time, I write by the seat of my pants. In my head, I know what’s going to happen at the end, and even some key events that will happen in between. However I leave myself a great deal of room so that my creative juices can flow, so to speak. It allows spontaneous action, honest character emotion and reaction, and a high level of leniency when it comes to the evolution of the story. In my working novel, Children of Solus, I know exactly what is going to happen at the end. I know quite a bit about my characters and what lies in store for them, but in between? The events sometimes surprise even me. However, like I said, the character building steps of the Snowflake method have inspired me to try them out. I’m all for getting to know my characters better, and I look forward to seeing how that helps my writing.

That’s my method, and it works for me. Some writers wouldn’t be able to get anything done if they did it my way, but that’s just how writing is. What works for one does not work for another. As you learn what sort of writer you are, you’ll find what method works for you too. If the Snowflake Method does, that’s great! If you try it and it doesn’t, that’s alright too. Feel free to use pieces of it that do work for you. Just remember not to force yourself into a mold with it comes to your writing style. When you feel your creativity and inspiration is becoming cramped, odds are that your writing is going to show it. That’s not a good thing.

So how about you? Have you used the Snowflake Method before? How did it work for you? Have you found another method (perhaps even your own) that has given you good results?

I invite you to leave a comment on your experiences!