The Marshall Plan for
A 16-step program
guaranteed to take you
from idea to completed manuscript
Reviewed By Julie Anne Eason
Okay, I have to get something off my chest.
I am sick to death of being told I can't write fiction for money. You know,
the cliché advice in too many how-to writing books --"It's about the art,
not the money." Don't get me wrong, I understand the sentiment behind this
advice. After all, you're about as likely to make real money off your novel
as you are to walk out your front door and have a stork drop a tidy bundle
of $1,000 bills on your head. So you'd better enjoy the process, or why
bother? But I only have so much time, and I don't want to waste it
guessing at how to write a novel that will sell and pull in the kind
of numbers that will allow me to sell my next book.
If you, like me, would enjoy writing as a
career rather than a hobby, then The Marshall Plan is the book you've
been searching for. It does not recycle the same old platitudes and advice
that have circulated university classrooms and how-to books since the
invention of the printing press. What it does is set out an actual
step-by-step plan for how to formulate an idea, generate characters, plot
the entire story, interweave plot lines, insert plot twists in the right
places, format, write a synopsis, and, heaven forbid, actually sell
Now, if you are the type who likes to fly by
the seat of your hand-me-down jeans, hates the "O" word (outline), and
wouldn't dream of telling your muse to take a hike because you have
deadlines to meet, stop reading right now. This book is not for you. You
will feel imprisoned by all the structure. I like structure; it keeps my
fertile mind from running away with me and wasting precious time. I like
knowing where I'm going, though I admit freely that I will take a detour if
it looks interesting. But I always have a map in the car, just in case.
The author, Evan Marshall, is a novelist and
an agent -- a successful agent who knows what sells and what doesn't. I
checked his website, sales, and client list just to be sure he knew what he
was talking about and that the information was pertinent to today's
industry. He does and it is.
The book starts at the beginning, where all
good books should, although this is not with characters, plot, or even
setting. It starts specifically by asking what genre you should be writing
in, Every novel will be put into a category at some point. Sound
restricting? It isn't. If you think you're writing a "genre-less" book,
you just haven't taken a good look at all the genres out there. Marshall
lays out four pages of them to make the point that genres aren't
there to label you or pigeon-hole your work. They are there because each
one has its own set of rules. If you want your book to sell, you better
know what those rules are. How do you find out? Read books in the genre.
The next few chapters cover precise methods
for creating your premise, themes and characters (including special tips on
romantic involvements). One of the most useful pages in the book contains a
chart breaking a book down by genre what the expected word count is and how
many scenes you should have per character for the beginning, middle, and end
of your story. Let's be realistic here; Harry Potter aside, no
publisher is going to buy a 400,000 word fantasy novel. There are rules;
you have to follow them... at least the first time.
The real meat of the book discusses plot,
and specifically outlining. Marshall's method uses terms and concepts I've
never seen in a how-to book before. Concepts like action sections, reaction
sections, connectors, and story modes. He takes you step-by-step through
his outlining process. He teaches exactly how to interweave plot
lines of major and minor character for maximum impact, as well as how to
keep track of them so you don't forget to tie up loose ends. He tells how
to create conflict in every single scene, escalating tension and suspense.
He describes how and where to create those plot twists and surprises that
you have always been told need to be in the story. He explains viewpoint
writing, so you know how much description, emotion and backstory is enough.
When you finish writing your outline, you have what most writers end up with
as their first draft, only you haven't even started writing yet. You have
saved time and energy by planning ahead. What's more, you have no excuse
for writer's block because everything is right there in front of you.
Solid roadmap = faster writing = more novels
= more money. Yeah!
Beyond the plotting techniques, the second
most useful piece of information in this book is how to write a synopsis.
This information is so often glossed over in how-to books, and it is the one
thing most writers hate to do more than anything. Marshall walks you
through step-by-step and provides an actual sample synopsis for a published
book. I used his instructions to write the synopsis for the novel I had
just finished. It worked like a charm. This one chapter alone is worth the
purchase price of the book. He also briefly discusses agents and queries,
but most of that is a re-hash of what other writing book says about the
Marshall makes no bones about the fact that
this is only one way to write a book. It is not for everyone. But
I, for one, feel like I found the Holy Grail, the secret rulebook of writing
successful commercial fiction. I've read enough to know that there are
rules, patterns, and structures that every book follows. I spent years and
years trying to figure them all out on my own. All I ever wanted was for
someone to tell me what the rules were so I could concentrate on the
creative part. Now I know. Thanks, Mr. Marshall.
The Marshall Plan for
By Evan Marshall
Writer's Digest Books