Is There An Instruction Manual for Writing?

The above question is why agent Evan Marshall wrote the book The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.  He was getting asked this question by perplexed writers who were looking for step by step instructions on how to write a novel.  They wanted it to be like a computer manual where they could follow each step and have a publishable novel.

It’s more like buying a shirt at the store. You can’t go in and grab the first shirt you see.  Obviously, the first reason is that you might not like the color, the style, type of material, or the price.  Even when you find one that meets all those qualities, you still can’t buy one because you need to find one in your size.  If it’s like the Macy’s I go to, half the time I’m passing on the shirts because they don’t have anything in my size.  Found your size?  Now you have to try it on, because, even though it’s in your size, it may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.  Plus you have to check to see if the cut is flattering for your body type (this a big problem when buying women’s clothes).  Then you go to the dressing room, and you have to wait for a clerk to count the number of garmets you have before you can enter.  Then it’s a hunt for the dressing room.  Most are occupied.  You find one that’s open, but the door is broken; you find another, but it’s dirty.  Tags all over the floor, clothes tossed everywhere.  Now you try on the shirts.  One’s an instant no the moment you put it on, one’s too small, and the last one makes you look heavy.  So all the shirts go back, and you get to start again.

Writing a novel is like that.  It’s a huge project with a lot of complex relationships.  Everything has to fit together into the big picture of the story.  But depending on your “size,” how you get there and what parts you choose to use can be very different.  Evan Marshall, in the book mentioned above, describes a step-by-step process for outlining a book using his methods.  Which work for him.  But if you’re someone who can’t outline, it’s probably not going ot work for you.  Or you may struggle with characterization and need to do worksheets or interview them to help you.

There isn’t any instruction manual because every individual needs to build their own.  Try things on.  See how they fit.  If they don’t fit, try another until you find something that does.