Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Celebrity Encounters of the Coolest Kind

Once upon a time I gushed over men like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Viggo Mortensen (he's delicious in Lord of the Rings) - these days, I get more excited about celebrities of another sort: Neil Gaiman, Pseudonymous Bosch, Lief Enger, and so on. I may have gone a little far when I told Evan Marshall that chatting with him was like meeting my favorite rock star, but it's true. I freaked out when I saw his e-mail in my inbox. Just ask my friend, Robin. Well, she might not remember my freaking out because of her own freaking out. We may be mature thirty-somethings, but when it comes to Mr. Marshall, we're like crazed groupies.

Why, you ask? Well, it's like this: He's a genius. Seriously, though, I've been trying to write a novel since I was around 7. Sometimes I came up with a great opening, sometimes a fascinating character, occasionally, a great plot, but I could never stay with it long enough to turn all the elements into a story. A few years ago, I had a story idea germinating in the back of my head. In my brain, the whole idea sounded brilliant - unique, clever and engaging. So much so that I was entertaining Susan-as-J.K.-Rowling fantasies. It wasn't until I actually started typing up the story that I realized how silly it all sounded. Frustrated, I headed to my friendly neighborhood Borders to get some help from real writers. I came home with two books in hand: The Marshall Plan for Novel-Writing by Evan Marshall, and its accompanying workbook. In the former, Marshall basically boils the modern novel down to a formula, even going so far as to tell the wannabe writer how many pages should be in his beginning, middle and end. He stresses the importance of good plotting, focusing on its essential ingredient - conflict. Then, he shows the novelist-in-training how to use Action/Reaction sheets to plan out each section of the book. Doing so helps the writer plan out her book, work out plot kinks, and make sure each part of her novel works in harmony to accomplish the story's goal. The workbook basically takes the would be novelist through each of these steps. It contains forms about everything - characters, plot, story goal and so on - that can be photocopied and filled out. Once the whole novel has been sketched out, it basically writes itself.

Needless to say, I fell hopelessly in love with The Marshall Plan. It helped me see right away that my brilliant novel idea needed a little ... work. I eventually abandoned that idea, but I've remained loyal to my man, Marshall. My only complaint about his system had to do with all the photocopying and filling in forms by hand. The cost of paper and ink, plus the hand cramps made outlining not only expensive, but also tedious and painful. Just a few months ago, I decided to give my novel another go (this time with a different brilliant idea). As I was printing out a pile of Action/Reaction sheets, I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could just type up all the information on my computer, then print it out?" I even scoured the Internet to see if, perhaps, Evan Marshall had had a similar thought. I found nothing.

Then, I happened to mention Mr. Marshall in a blog post. The next thing I know, he's not only contacting me, but offering me the very thing I had been longing for a short few months ago: The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing software.

True story.

Being the Marshall fanatic that I am, I downloaded the software immediately. Registering and looking around took a few minutes, but within 10, I was hammering out the physical characteristics of my main character. The software isn't fancy - there are no graphics or flashing icons - it's basically an automated version of the workbook. Still, it's organized, user-friendly, and so much better than writing everything out by hand. Like the workbook, the software takes you through all the aspects of your novel - you fill out sheets about the protagonist, the antagonist, the romantic interest, the minor characters, the main plot line, subplots, etc. Once you've plugged in the names of your main players, the software shows you how many sections should be devoted to each character. It also walks you through the fine art of juggling plots and subplots. The greatest advantage is this: the software creates a template of your novel based on the information you supply. You will know exactly where your novel's going, exactly what the goal of your story is, and exactly how to achieve it. If you think The Marshall Plan takes all the creativity out of writing, guess again. It simply provides you with an outline. In fact, my only real complaint with the software is that it doesn't write the novel for you. It comes pretty darn close, though.

Marshall, author of eight mystery novels, with more on the way, was so concerned about the software staying true to his program, that he spent three years learning computer programming so that he could write it himself. After three years, it's now available for download at http://www.writeanovelfast.com/ . You can also learn more about Marshall (the rock star) and co-author Martha Jewett on the site. If you're interested in joining a community of writers using The Marshall Plan, check out The Marshall Planet.

If you need a last-minute gift for the writer in your life (yourself, perhaps?), you've found it. At $149, I admit the software's a little spendy, but it really is worth it. If you can't cough up that much, at least treat yourself your favorite writer to The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing and The Marshall Plan Workbook. I'm just going to warn you now, though: As soon as you start photocopying workbook sheets and filling them out by hand, you're going to want this software. You might as well just buy it now and save yourself the trouble. I'm serious - this software elevates my man, Marshall, from a rock star to a God. I'm not kidding. I love it.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah! You mentioned me again! :):)

    Just chiming in to testify about the freak-out. Susan freaked out, I freaked out, my writer-buddy at work freaked out. Of course, the latter two freakers were also insanely jelous of Susan's free software and are now considering starting book blogs of our own. That's the kind of perk that provides a lot of incentive! (Of course, if I had a book blog, a full time job, three kids, a house, and wanted to spend any time writing, I might find that I had no time for any reading at all. Which would make me a bit of a useless book blogger.) :)

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