The foundation of writing a novel is plotting, and there are a plethora of books on the subject.  One of the most popular methods comes from literary agent Evan Marshall.  His book, THE MARSHALL PLAN, has been popular with novelists for over a decade because of its down-to-earth usefulness in helping novelists construct their plot.  Marshall’s literary agency, The Evan Marshall Agency, represents NYT and USA Today bestselling authors.  He’s also a novelist in his own right (more about that in a bit).  So he knows a thing or two about compelling fiction.

Evan has teamed up with Martha Jewett, an award-winning business book editor at McGraw-Hill, to create a unique writing software based on his bestselling book, The Marshall Plan®.  The software is a step-by-step program which takes the user through plotting their story.  Additionally, Evan and Martha have created a webportal called Write A Novel Fast, which offers a ton of useful information for novelists.  We were intrigued with their platform and asked Evan and Martha if they’d like to be interviewed for Writer Unboxed readers.  Happily, they complied.

And because winning things is fun, Writer Unboxed readers have a chance to win a copy of Evan’s forthcoming mystery novel CITY IN SHADOW.  Two winners will be chosen at random.  Leave a comment in the interview, and your name will be entered in the drawing.  Only residents of the U.S. and Canada are eligible.

Please enjoy part one of our two part interview with Evan Marshall and Martha Jewett, co-creators of  The Marshall Plan® software for novelists.

Q:  The Marshall Plan® is a popular fiction writing craft book on most novelists’ bookshelves.  Why did you decide to turn The Marshall Plan® book into a software application?

A:  Our plan’s highly structural approach lends itself beautifully to software. For instance, when you change any of a number of factors such as word length, whether or not to include a romantic interest, whether to make your antagonist visible or invisible (as in a mystery), the program instantly recalculates and presents a new template, with all story points in place. Previously, with the book and workbook, all of this had to be done manually. Over the years since the book’s publication, many people wrote to us asking for a software version, and we were thrilled to deliver it.

Q.  The Marshall Plan® for Novel Writing software promises to help writers take their ideas and turn them into a useful manuscript template in 30 days or less.  Can you explain how the software application gives users an advantage over other methods to help writers develop their stories?

A:  Other methods give vague advice that leaves authors at a loss as to what exactly to do! Our plan takes you through the process of conceiving and structuring a novel from start to finish. It structures a plot template for you, telling you exactly where to place certain key story elements, thus leaving nothing to chance. The way it works is that, based on a number of story decisions the user makes, the program generates a template to be filled in an developed. Each section (similar to a scene) may be displayed and filled in, with specific advice from the program on what to put where. For instance, the crisis that gets the story started, the decision the lead character makes that determines his or her story goal, the point of hopelessness, the saving act, the climax, and so on.

 Q.  Your program covers the basics of plotting, like asking users to outline plot and subplot, but you also offer extras like helping users develop the perfect character name.  Did you feel it was important to offer these tidbits of advice?

A: Yes. The program includes some of the most important advice from the original book and workbook. While users are developing their novels, they can refer to these entries for a refresher on the finer points. There are tips and advice on creating a story idea, deciding on the novel’s specific genre, word length, defining the main characters such as the lead, confidant, romantic involvement and opposition, weaving subplots, naming characters, giving your novel the right title, and even making smart career choices as a novelist. We always take a very nuts-and-bolts approach, no vague, artsy advice. Selling manuscripts to publishers is what we do for a living and we want to pass on what we’ve learned to the writer. 

Q.   The target writer for this software seems to be the commercial fiction writer who writes in a plot-driven, specific genre: romance, mystery etc.  Did you decide to focus on that type of writer for your software, or can any type of novelist find your software useful?

 A: The system works for literally every kind of novel, because the principals of good storytelling apply across the board. That said, we do strongly advise targeting a specific genre, because doing so increases the chance of a sale. Very often we receive well written manuscripts that don’t fall into any recognizable genre, or are a blend of genres without one of them being dominant. Editors need to know immediately what kind of book they’re looking at, and no one has time any more to work with a writer to fix a manuscript that has this problem. To an editor, even a mainstream novel is a genre. So is literary fiction. Everything fits somewhere. Writers need to know before they write a single word exactly where in the bookstore their novel will be shelved. 

Q.  The Marshall Plan® is a multimedia operation: the software, website, blog, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter . . . which of these social media platforms has been useful for you, and which ones to do think writers should focus on developing if they want to help promote their own projects. 

A:  Every author should have a great website. This is basic. It should of course contain information about all the author’s work, along with excerpts (very important these days) and reviews. But there should also be creative content that keeps visitors coming back. For example, on Evan’s own website (evan-marshall.com), for his Hidden Manhattan mysteries he has brief pieces relating to the “secrets” revealed in the various novels: human trafficking, abandoned tunnels, etc.

Q.   Tell us about Coaching Call. 

A: Coaching Call is one of our podcasts in which we lay out some important basics for writers looking to sell their novels. We talk about giving a story a special edge that will make it stand out from the rest–specifically, working within a recognizable genre but working hard to come up with a concept or story line that hasn’t been done, because this is what editors are constantly looking for. We talk about getting the novel finished, positioning it in the marketplace and working with a literary agent. We also reveal some techniques for submitting that publishers don’t tell you. For instance, contrary to public belief, a number of publishers will still consider unagented manuscripts. They don’t publicize this, however, so we provide a link to a special free report we keep current on who these publishers are. Then we talk about the right way to approach these publishers.

Next week Evan and Martha talk about crafting compelling fiction, and offer more insider scoop on how to catch that editor’s eye.  Don’t miss it!

About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She writes under a variety of pseudonyms, including Ani Bolton. She has written two novels as Cassidy Calloway: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins, and Tamara Blake, for the novel Slumber.