Vision: A Resource f

 Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Book Review: 

The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing

A 16-step program guaranteed to take you
from idea to completed manuscript

Reviewed By Julie Anne Eason
© 2005,
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 the manuscript.

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 subject.

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 Novel Writing

By Evan Marshall

Writer's Digest Books

ISBN# 1-58297-062-9