If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

October Interviews

10/07 M.E. Browning, Shadow Ridge

10/14 Alexia Gordon

10/21 Adam Meyer

10/28 Barbara Ross, Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door

October Guest Bloggers

10/03 Kathleen Kalb

10/17 S. Lee Manning

10/31 Sharon Dean

WWK Weekend Bloggers

10/10 Jennifer J. Chow

10/24 Kait Carson


For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!


Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing

At the end of November I received the exciting news that my novel Bad Policy had taken Grand Prize in the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest. The judging criteria included the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing.

For winning I received specific suggestions for strengthening the novel, an electronic copy of The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing and The Marshall Plan® Novel Writing Software.

I found the suggestions concrete and helpful. Because of them, I stopped submitting Bad Policy, did a minor rewrite to incorporate the recommendation and am now back to querying agents.

I’ve only just started playing with the software and so will save a review of that for another post. I’ll confine today’s comments to The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing. I have a fair number of books on writing. They are in many ways repetitive, but each provides a unique perspective; each has unique gems. The book was copyrighted in 1998 and shows its age in a couple of spots, but most good writing advice is timeless. As an example of the outdated, Marshall sticks to the formula of 250 words per page, whereas the world has progressed (or regressed) to using the word processing program’s word count.

Writers can be divided into two camps: plotters (those who figure out the plot and then start writing) and pantsters (as in, they write by the seat of their pants.) Many a novel dies aborning because of plot problems. Marshall’s book is designed for plotters who want a framework on which to build their idea. Pantsters who have finished a first draft and want to correct plot problems in a second draft will also find it useful. (I suppose pantsters who became stuck and didn’t complete draft one could use the templates to analyze what they have wrought and how it differs from Marshall’s “ideal.”)

Novel Writing has a good analysis of the opening hook and how to strengthen it. This will be particularly useful for many new and intermediate writers, who have a tendency to start their books too far from the inciting action.

For plotting, Marshall utilizes a devise he calls the section sheet. A section, in Marshall’s scheme, is a single unit of action—usually lasting four to six manuscript pages. Novel Writing discusses two type of sections: Action Sections and Reaction Sections and provides specific guidelines for when to use each.

Based on the target number of words for your manuscript (Marshall gives specific guidelines by genre) he divides a novel into a specific number of sections. He also indicates the number of sections to assign to each POV character. For example, under Marshall’s system a 90,000-word novel should have about seventy sections. Of these, the lead has forty-one, POV characters #2 & #3 each have ten and POV character #4 has nine.

Marshall includes helpful hints on how to introduce each section with a concise who, when and where. He also shows how to write smooth connectors between sections.

The rigid structure of the section sheets provides first-timers a template for writing their novel. Pantsters are unlikely to find the rigid structure to their liking. If, however, they run into trouble with a sagging middle, confused sub-plots or other plotting ills, I suspect a comparison of their implicit framework to Marshall’s ideal will provide useful clues. Participants in NaNo (National Novel Writing Month in November in which participants try to write 30,000 words) or its offshoot JaNo (January/50,000 words.) could benefit from the structure in order to concentrate on writing as many words as possible.

For the new writer Marshall includes advice about setting up your writing space, supplies to purchase, formatting manuscripts and much more.

This year I participated in Jungle Red Writers’ Write First contest, which challenged participants to write a manuscript page before reading email or engaging the internet (other than possibly for a very quick research question relating to the current page). Evan Marshall suggests a serious writer should put themselves on a schedule. He recognizes we all are different and have different constraints on our writing time and he does not suggest any particular schedule. However, he recommends that once you determine your schedule you should inform family and friends so the time becomes as sacrosanct as possible. Before you consider breaking one of your self-structured writing commitments, visualize a boss standing behind you, loudly tapping his foot. Would you break your commitment under those conditions at another job?

At the end of 2010, I reviewed my writing goals for the year. I was pleased to have met them all. For 2011 I developed a new set of goals, one of which is to give my writing time a higher priority and allow fewer distractions while I write.

Thanks, Evan, for your suggestions and your book.

~ Jim


E. B. Davis said...

I looked over Evan Marshall's website and read about the software. As an experiment, I almost downloaded the free portion of the book or maybe it was the software. But I stopped.

I worked for a time with software logic statements. To me, the result could only be a "canned" novel. I don't want to read canned novels anymore than I want to write one. Would it really be MY novel, if I employed another's logic?

Maybe I'm too egotistical, but reading a novel enables me to understand the author and perhaps identify with the author's "take" on life. Who would know me if my novel was conceived by Evan Marshall?

I'm glad you won the contest Jim, and that his ideas brought revisions to your script. And maybe once you explain the software (I can only suppose in your next blog.) I'll relent. I don't like synthesized music and I doubt I'd like synthesized writing.

Sandy Cody said...

Very nice review, Jim. I have quite a few writing books myself, but not Marshall's. Lumping all the advice garnered from all those books, I think the main thing is to figure out what works for you and be diligent about it. It sounds like you're doing that.

Good luck with that book!

Warren Bull said...


Thanks for your comments and good luck. I develop a timeline for novels I write after struggling through a "pantser" period of time. I'm such a klutz at computers that so far I've avoided software aids.

Pauline Alldred said...

Good luck with your review and with getting your work published. I don't have Marshall software but I do have 2 of his books. I found sticking to his rigid design counter-productive but I can see how his plan would help if, after who knows how many revisions,a writer is stuck. The man has more experience of the market than I have so I think I'll take another look at his books.

Kaye George said...

I downloaded the Marshall Plan a couple years ago and like it very much. I would get nothing done without a schedule. If it's on the list, I slog ahead and do it. If it's not, it doesn't ever get done!

Ice Charades said...

Congrats! Good luck with the book too. I look forward to reading your review on the software.