OS: Welcome Crystel Greene!
How to write and get it right? Or: Are you a plotter or a pantser?*
(*A plotter would never dream of starting to write a story without an outline. Their process is all about planning and structure. The pantser, on the other hand, dives right in when inspiration hits, developing their story as they go, ready to follow wherever their muse might lead.)
Most writers identify as either one or the other. I’m a recovering plotter. Yes, I avoid outlines at all costs these days. They are dangerous for me, potentially fatal even, and I’ve learned it the hard way.
After years (and I mean years) of planning stories and writing outlines, I found that my writing books had almost ruined my life. They offered a lot of clever insights, but also a lot of varying recipes and rules for writing the perfect story. And there were just so many of them. It’s my own fault, obviously. Remember Imelda Marcos and her shoes? That’s me and all those lovely titles called “Master your Story”, “How to Nail the Ultimate Novel”, and so on. I have this compulsion to buy these books when I see them (Amazon’s “customers also bought” is a real curse).
The problem is, you wouldn’t believe how much time it takes to try to make a story fit all the various formulas in all the various books. Because that’s what I tried to do. I moved my plot points around on multi-colored Post-it notes forever. Eventually I moved on to rolls of wallpaper to have enough space for that really detailed storyboard. I wanted to get it right, right? I wanted my story to have it all.
Plot point one, plot point two. Inciting incident, midpoint, crisis, resolution. Three acts, four acts, five acts. The Sixteen Story Steps. I’ve done it all. And I do think it helped me understand a lot of things about story structure. Only it didn’t help with the writing flow.
To put it mildly.
After years (years) of working like this, I was on the brink of despair, or probably insanity.
It’s Stephenie Meyer who saved me. One day, I was procrastinating again, fighting another bout of outlining fatigue. I was surfing the net, and there, half-hidden under the layers of old Post-it notes stuck to my computer screen, was a blog post about how she came up with Twilight. It’s gone down in history, but I’ll give you a quick recap: she saw the scene where Edward comes out to Bella as a vampire in a dream. Edward and Bella were on a clearing in the woods, and he was showing her how his skin sparkled in the sunlight. Apparently the dream ended with the two of them happily cuddling.
This is clearly the midpoint (defined as one of the main plot points before the crisis: The key conflict of the story is out in the open, and the protagonist is in the middle of his quest to reach their goal (―in Twilight, it’s Bella trying to convince Edward he can be her boyfriend in spite of his vampire needs, remember?). Anyway, at the midpoint, there is a sort of lull in the action; it’s all about the emotional core of the story, a scene that highlights the theme and is a preview of the resolution. See how I’ve read those writing books? ☺)
Well, I’m pretty sure Stephenie never bothered with any of this. She simply had this lovely dream, woke up the next morning, and proceeded to write Twilight. And it worked out just fine for her, I’d say.
I still think about story structure when I write. A lot. It’s kind of a personal kink I can’t shake, I guess. But I always start right in the middle now, just like Stephenie did. I write the midpoint, and then I move on to the scenes that I know have to be in the story, the scenes that carry the key drama. Those are typically the most fun to write anyway, and for the most part it’s pretty obvious where they need to go in the context of the story. And if I’m in doubt about a scene, or don’t enjoy writing it, I just skip it and move on to the next. It’s surprising how many story steps and plot points a story doesn’t really need in the end…
So, this would be my very own, very simple how-to guide to storytelling: Focus on the scenes that are fun to write, because those are the scenes that drive the story and will hopefully be fun to read too.
PS I wrote the first draft of GLACIER GOLD in just four weeks. No outline. I hope you’ll enjoy the read! (Can you spot the midpoint?☺)
Up in the Alps, a single night can change your life.
Struggling college student and self-taught graphic artist Justin Bennet isn’t the most self-confident guy, but he knows he’s good at two things: snowboarding and sex. Why does Andi, the hot instructor at the Tyrolean ski resort, pretend Justin doesn’t exist?
Justin becomes all but obsessed with the idea of scoring with the young Austrian. Because for all the man’s reserve, he made it quite obvious he likes Justin—at least from the neck down.
When Justin books a private heliboarding trip with Andi as his guide, he thinks he’s one step away from striking gold.
But then the forces of nature take over, trapping the men in a snowstorm, and things get real. What was supposed to be about some freeriding fun and inviting a closeted guy to start exploring his options suddenly becomes about survival—and the hidden truths of the soul.
World of Love: Stories of romance that span every corner of the globe.
Here’s the moment leading up to the resolution in GLACIER GOLD:
The cold is seriously creeping up on me. My teeth have even started to chatter. I never knew they could do that.
Andi is watching me from under the hood of the sleeping bag, his eyes like two snippets of sky in the dark. For some reason, he has started chewing on his lip again.
I start walking about in the tiny space between the beds and the table, rubbing at my arms.
“Okay, you’ve got to get in here with me, Bennet,” Andi suddenly says, his voice shockingly clear, startling me. My brain seems to have slowed down somehow. It takes a few seconds for the meaning of his words to sink in. But then—
“No! No, no.” I vigorously shake my head. “No. No, definitely not, I won’t—”
“You don’t want to be dead by morning, do you?” he interrupts in that same clear voice. “Justin.”
It’s the most disconcerting thing to hear him call me by my given name.
Briefly, I think of how I heard him scream for me after I had fallen into the crevasse. Something shifted between us in that moment, I only realize that now. I don’t know what it is, but it scares me.
“I’m fine,” I say. “I won’t—”
“I won’t have a paying customer die on a trip.”
He’s cracking a joke. Or maybe it isn’t even a joke.
I utter a laugh that has an edge of hysteria to it and ends in another sneeze.
“Seriously, man. The thing is, I’m not really getting warm in here on my own.”
“Oh,” I say. Fuck, of course. I’m so dumb. Everyone has heard of how people suffering from hypothermia can be warmed up by another person’s body heat. He must think me such a dimwit, refusing to help like I did just now. This is about his health, obviously, nothing else.
“Didn’t think of that. Sorry. Sorry.”
Blanking out the awkwardness, I shimmy out of my hoodie without further ado, then yank off my snowboard pants. …
Then, my back toward the bunk bed, I strip down completely.
Andi has turned onto his side, facing away from me to give me space, I guess, and to make room for me. Setting my jaw, I start crawling into the bag behind him.
He feels like an icicle. Shit, he was right. He needed me in here much sooner. I shiver just from the feel of the cold skin of his back against my legs as I ease them down the bag behind him.
With a jolt of fear, I realize I haven’t yet saved his life. I’ve got to warm him up as fast as possible. Quickly I wriggle myself deeper into the bag until I’m fully inside, my front pressed flush against his back.
This is spooning. I would lie on my back so he’d just have to deal with the side of my body, but I have to focus on making sure he survives.
Trying to quash my worries about how much this must stress him out, I press up against him, focusing on willing what body heat I have left in my system to seep into his.
If only I knew where to put my hands. Eventually I cautiously rest one on his shoulder and the other on his clammy thigh, hoping my palms will work as heating pads.
Andi seems to have stopped breathing.
I try to do the same. Lying there, feeling every inch of the body of the man I’ve lusted after for a whole week, all I want is to not freak him out.
I keep as still as if he were a bomb that might blow up at the slightest jolt. The whole situation is so stressful that my groin is, like, switched off. The temperature is helping with that too. Instead of me warming him up, the polar cold he seems to have stored in his body is invading mine.
Minutes tick by. Suddenly the flashlight on the table starts flickering. A few seconds later, it gives out, leaving us in complete darkness.
Now that I can’t see anything at all, I can hear Andi’s breathing.
It seems to me his body is a little bit warmer. From a medical point of view, it would probably be a good idea to rub his arms and legs or something. But I don’t dare move as much as a finger.
The back of Andi’s head is right in front of my face. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I can make out a few strands of black hair curling above his ear.
It’s just a tiny detail of him, and it makes me ache with helpless tenderness. …
At least this whole bag-sharing thing seems to be working. He’s definitely warmer now.
His scent is coming back, crawling into my nose. It’s sharper than usual with all the dampness and sweat, and it travels straight to my cock.
Fuck no. Focusing what mental powers I’ve got left, I concentrate on making the stirring go away, trying to breathe through my mouth.
It doesn’t work.
Cursing in my head, I mumble an apology. Predictably, I get no answer.
No way can I go on prodding my throbbing dick into his buttcheeks like I am. This has to stop, for his sake as much as my own. If we stay like this for even another minute, I’m going to implode and die from the strain of trying to keep my body in check. Or worse, come all over his backside. …
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The first man Crystel fell in love with was Beauty’s Beast. Next came Robin Hood, then Mr. Darcy. Two decades of married life later, she still loves fictional men—especially when there are two of them who are meant to be! She likes it best when she can create their plights and fights herself, and she can always be counted on to throw in some sizzling hotness and a lot of feels. Here’s her author promise: no fade-outs when things get steamy or emotional, and an ending that will leave you smiling.
Crystel is a lawyer by training, a lover of pastry, and a believer in Happy Ever Afters. Born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, and a North Sea girl at heart, she lives in the beautiful Austrian Alps with her husband and four kids.
PS She loves reader mail!
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