Elements of Great Storytelling
I’ve thought about this a lot lately since I ran into a spate of uninspired books, both on my Kindle and in Books on CD. I will say, though, that in the latter format, a gifted actor reading an audiobook can make even a mediocre story come to life and can gloss over awkward grammatical constructions so they aren’t quite as noticeable.
How about if we start with characters? It goes without saying they need to be three dimensional, which means they have thoughts, feelings, and actions that are congruent with their personalities. In my opinion, if a book doesn’t have characters that reach out and grab your heartstrings, then it’s DOA. It can have the most inspired plot in the world, but it’s wasted if readers don’t care about the characters.
Alrighty, so we have decent characters. Maybe not great characters, but they’re good enough you want to pick up the book to see what they’re going to do next. Plot determines the next moves in a book. Plot is basically the story that the book tells, but it’s how we get from point A to point B that weeds out talented writers from the rest of the pack. Brilliant plotting is tightly woven and the writer’s hand is all but invisible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been somewhere in a book and something happens that just screams “convenient plot twist.” As an aside, this is why all writers need someone—crit partners, publishers, editors—to be a fresh pair of eyes. No matter how seasoned a writer is, he (or she) can’t see the foibles in his own writing. Not all of them, anyway. Another plotting issue is plot threads that go nowhere. They look intriguing, but the writer just never gets back to them.
A corollary of plotting is pace and tension. The plot has to move fast enough to draw a reader along, yet not so fast as to lose them. Writers accomplish this by inserting pacing into the plot and building/releasing tension. Of course certain genres, like horror, have a whole lot more tension than most romances. But even romances—the good ones—have a big, dark moment when it seems like the hero and heroine will never be able to bridge the gap between them. This introduces tension and draws readers into turning pages to see what’s going to happen next.
I think I’m probably like most writers in that I write the same type of fiction I like to read. For me, it’s fast paced, with strong characters that collide with one another. Lots of passion. Lots of angst. Big, dark moments that are really big and truly dark. In a lot of ways, writing isn’t so different from being a psychologist. Not everyone will like what I write. I don’t expect them to. Not everyone likes Stephen King, or any of the really big names of our time. Likewise, I always told my patients that the first couple of sessions were “getting to know one another,” and seeing if we were a good match. Just like I’m not the right author for everyone, neither was I the right therapist. That’s just common sense, really.
What sings to you in books you read? Why do you adore your favorite author? If you had to pick great characters versus great plot, which would it be?
By Ann Gimpel
Publisher: Liquid Silver Books
Release Date: 7/1/13
Genre: Paranormal Romance/ Spicy hot shifter ménage story
Snared by the shifter mate bond, Alice’s carefully tended wasteland of a heart cracks wide open.
It’s 1936. Thirty-year-old Alice has almost given up finding a man. Between civil engineering and mountain climbing, her interests are so masculine she scares men away. A poor route choice lands her next to horror movie star Lon Chaney’s cabin deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. She’s wary when Jed, a strikingly handsome man, offers her shelter.
By the time she discovers he’s clan leader for a pack of wolf shifters, she’s in way too deep to back out. Her carefully tended wasteland of a heart cracks wide open and all her preconceived notions shatter. Snared by the mate bond, Alice discovers passion hot enough to change her forever. She’s just getting used to Jed when his clan brothers show up, and she discovers she’s mated to all three.
…Alice sputtered. The stranger had just accused her of shoving Brent over a cliff. “How dare you?” she cried. Her face heated from more than the fire. She balled her hands into fists at her sides.
“Well.” He cocked his head to one side. “I wasn’t there. You’re on your feet, and he isn’t. What is he, your husband?”
She gritted her teeth. “No.”
“What then? Brother, cousin—”
“He’s just a friend and it’s really none of your business. If you’ll unlock the door, I’ll take my chances with the mountain lions.” Alice grabbed her lantern and her pack and strode toward the door, eying the windows as possible escape routes. They could work. She’d have to unlatch the wooden shutters, but still… “You can have my ice ax. I don’t need it anymore.”
He shot her a blinding smile. His eyes glowed like exotic gemstones. She blinked. Alice had never seen such a gorgeous man. Red-gold hair fell to his shoulders. His face was more than handsome. He had a high, broad forehead and sharply cast cheekbones. His teeth were very white and very straight. What would it feel like to run her fingers through that wonderful hair, to stroke his tanned skin?
She shook herself mentally. I have to get out of here. Alice covered the remaining distance to the door and rattled the knob. “Let me out. It’s against the law to hold people against their will.”
“You’re being hasty. I apologize for suggesting you injured your friend. Please,” he gestured toward a carved wooden sofa with colorful cushions in front of the fireplace, “I’m not being a very good host. Have a seat. Let me get you a drink.”
“I don’t think so.” She curled her fingers around her pack straps. A spicy, exotic scent filled her nostrils. It seemed to be coming from him. A cross between bay rum and musk made her nose twitch. Alice tried to cling to fear and outrage, but felt them slipping away. She took a step closer to him before she realized what she was doing. Her gaze fixated on his lips. She wanted to feel them pressed against hers, needed to lose herself in his arms.
What’s wrong with me? How could I be so attracted to him? She struggled to regain her equanimity, but her body had other ideas. Her gaze swept lower. When she realized she was staring at his crotch, she got hold of herself. Heat flooded her face. She hoped he hadn’t noticed the direction of her gaze.
“Please,” he repeated and extended a hand, “I don’t even know your name. Like I said, I haven’t been much of a host.”
Alice swallowed hard. It didn’t make sense, but she wanted to run into his arms and wrap hers around his lithe frame to see what it would feel like right up against her. Her nipples hardened again, and her breath caught in her throat. It was like he was making love to her from ten feet away. For one wild moment, she wanted to strip her clothes off and…
“Here.” He walked to her and pried her pack and lantern out of her hands. She tried to hang onto them, but her fingers wouldn’t cooperate. Close like that, his lush scent surrounded her. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Christ! For the first time she understood the phrase “It smelled good enough to eat.” To her horror, Alice’s lips parted and turned upward, as if she were waiting for a lover to kiss her. What the hell is happening to me?
She shook her head hard and took a couple steps away from him and her pack. She couldn’t think. Hell, she could barely breathe. Her crotch was wet; it throbbed with need.
“Your name?” He set her pack next to a chair and moved to her side.
“Alice.” Her throat was thick. It was hard to talk.
He tugged her wet jacket off her shoulders and draped it over a chair. “Well, Alice, how about if you sit by the fire and I’ll bring you something to drink. Food, too, if you want. Your boots look pretty wet. Maybe you’d like to take them off.”
She tried to tell him that no, she needed to leave, but the words wouldn’t come. There was a part of her—the wise part—that wanted to run like hell. The rest of her couldn’t have left if someone lit a firecracker under her ass. She breathed in his scent. It was like a balm, heating her nerve endings and soothing her fears at the same time.
She watched his graceful form move to the kitchen alcove. He had a high, tight ass and long legs. She wondered again what his skin would feel like beneath her fingers. Alice caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror mounted to one side of the fireplace. Spots of color rode high on both cheeks. Her eyes glowed. Her nipples were fully visible pressed against the fabric of her wool shirt, and so were the curves of her breasts. She bit her lower lip and chastised herself for not wearing a bra. She’d hoped Brent might get … ideas if he could see more of her body. Except she flaunted it right and left, and he never did. And now here she was with a stranger—
Am I so desperate I don’t care anymore, just so long as someone has sex with me? It didn’t feel like that, though. Not really. It was more like she’d known Jed in some other lifetime and had some sort of bond to him. Alice rolled her eyes. I’m being ridiculous. It’s just nerves and exhaustion catching up.
“Here you go, sweetheart.” He pressed a glass into her hand and set a plate on the coffee table near the fireplace. “Come on. Sit. You must be exhausted.”
Alice sat, but it was because her legs didn’t want to hold her up anymore. To her surprise, he knelt and unlaced her boots. Once both layers were loosened, he tugged first one and then the other off. “Just as I thought,” he murmured. “Your socks are soaked.” He stripped them gently off her feet and hung them over the table’s edge nearest the fire.
It did feel good to get her heavy boots off. Alice wriggled her toes. They were cold. Almost as if Jed could read her thoughts, he rubbed her feet between remarkably warm hands. Her body sank back against the cushions. She took a sip of whiskey; it burned all the way to her stomach. She followed it with another. Her free hand moved with a will of its own. She yanked it back before it buried itself in Jed’s shiny hair.
He pushed back on his heels and rose in a single, fluid motion. In moments he was back, kneeling by her feet. He wrapped a warm towel around them. She moaned softly. “Where’d you get that? Surely you don’t have electricity all the way out here.”
He laughed. “It was on a hook by the fireplace. The fire warms the stones so anything hanging next to them gets toasty.” His blue gaze latched onto hers. “Relax. Everything will be all right. Have a bit more whiskey. It’s from Ireland and more than twenty-five years old. There’s bread and cheese on the table.” He winked at her, a slow, lascivious wink, which made her heart beat faster. “Let me spoil you a little.”
“I really shouldn’t.” Her words lacked conviction. She knew it. Worse, so did he.
He rubbed her feet through the towel and then wrapped it around one while taking the other in his hands. He massaged her weary arches and the ball of her foot with knowing fingers. “Do you always do what you should?”
The sexual innuendo was unmistakable. Her swollen pussy lips and clit thrummed with tension. She took another sip of whiskey, letting it roll around on her tongue. It was rich and oaky, like liquid gold. “Usually.”
“What’s that saying? Good girls never have any fun.” His fingers worked her toes, and then shifted to the top of her foot and her ankle.
“I climb mountains. Most girls don’t do that.” Her head buzzed pleasantly from the liquor. I should eat something. If I don’t, I’ll be drunk in no time. Alice leaned forward and took a slice of cheese from the blue earthenware plate on the table in front of her. She wrapped a piece of bread around it and took a bite. The bread was flaky and fresh. It tasted homemade.
The longer he worked on her feet, the more she wanted him. Alice was mystified. She’d masturbated her lust away before, but what was happening to her now was in a whole different league. She’d never felt she’d die if she didn’t come. It didn’t take much to imagine those strong hands moving up her calves, settling between her legs, and… Her hips twitched. She covered the involuntary motion by shifting her position on the couch.
“I was talking about fun, not mountaineering.” He rubbed the spaces between her toes with gentle strokes.
“But they’re the same.” Her face heated again. The special place deep inside her ached to be filled. She wished she knew more about sex. It just wasn’t the sort of thing people ever talked about, though. She’d hunted down medical texts in the library, but they hadn’t been terribly helpful, other than giving her names for intimate body parts.
“There’s more than one way to have fun.” Jed wrapped the foot he’d been working on in the towel and switched to the other. “Is it still warm enough, sweetheart? Would you like me to get another?”
“No, really, I’m fine.” Alice was flustered—and so aroused she couldn’t think. She rubbed her thighs together. Maybe there’d be some way she could sneak off to the privy. Her head would be clearer if she made herself come. She drank some more whiskey. Between that and his suggestive comments about good girls and fun, the sensitive nub between her legs throbbed mercilessly.
She settled into the feel of his hands on her flesh. Her feet really were tired. The heavy, two-layer mountaineering boots didn’t have much give to them. They were made by a German manufacturer, and the standing joke in the climbing community was you had to adapt to them because they’d never bow to you. The next time she raised her glass, she was surprised to find it was empty. Alice set it on the table and leaned back against the cushions.
“Would you like more?” His voice was rich and smooth, just like the whiskey.
She shook her head. “I’ve probably had more than enough. I—” Alice stifled a gasp. He’d bent his head and taken her big toe in his mouth. He sucked gently, and then ran his tongue down the underside of her foot. Her hips writhed against the sofa cushions. His mouth moved to her second toe and he sucked harder. He ran a nail down the underside of her foot, and then did it again.
Heat roared through Alice. Her arousal from moments before was nothing compared with what was happening to her now. Her thighs fell open. Fingers moved between her legs. Momentarily confused, she was horrified to discover she’d jammed a hand atop her vulva and was rubbing her clit through layers of pants. She tried to drag her hand away, but her body had other ideas. It wanted to come. Had to have release or she’d die.
Her face heated with lust and humiliation. She glanced at him. One of his hands was buried in his crotch. The swell of an erection tantalized her and made her even hotter. He must have sensed her gaze on him because he raised his face from her foot. “Just let it happen, sweetheart,” he murmured, voice raspy with passion. “We needed to start somewhere. If you were any closer to coming, you’d be there. Go on, rub yourself. Or,” something feral and untamed blazed from the depths of his blue eyes, “I can do it for you.”
About the Author
Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent. Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Several paranormal romance novellas are available in e-format. Three novels, Psyche’s Prophecy, Psyche’s Search, and Psyche’s Promise are small press publications available in e-format and paperback. Look for two more urban fantasy novels coming this summer and fall: Fortune’s Scion and Earth’s Requiem.
A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)
Ann Gimpel is a mountaineer at heart. Recently retired from a long career as a psychologist, she remembers many hours at her desk where her body may have been stuck inside four walls, but her soul was planning yet one more trip to the backcountry. Around the turn of the last century (that would be 2000, not 1900!), she managed to finagle moving to the Eastern Sierra, a mecca for those in love with the mountains. It was during long backcountry treks that Ann’s writing evolved. Unlike some who see the backcountry as an excuse to drag friends and relatives along, Ann prefers her solitude. Stories always ran around in her head on those journeys, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made her fear for her life, sometimes for company. Eventually, she returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. Oh, it wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. And, she learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel.
Around that time, a friend of hers suggested she try her hand at short stories. It didn’t take long before that first story found its way into print and they’ve been accepted pretty regularly since then. One of Ann’s passions has always been ecology, so her tales often have a green twist.
In addition to writing, Ann enjoys wilderness photography. She lugs pounds of camera equipment in her backpack to distant locales every year. A standing joke is that over ten percent of her pack weight is camera gear which means someone else has to carry the food! That someone is her husband. They’ve shared a life together for a very long time. Children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out their family.