The Looking Glass

Hi there! Since this is my first post at the cafe, here’s a quick intro. My name is Amber Lin. My debut novel, Giving It Up, received 4.5 stars from RT Book Reviews and was called “truly extraordinary.” My latest release, Selling Out, was a Night Owl Reviews Top Pick. I have a novella in the same series coming out this summer and my book with Carina Press is scheduled for November of this year.

Now let’s talk about inspiration…

* * *

For me, characters always come first.

The inspiration for my books come to me in an instant, a flash. A snapshot of a person at a single point in their life. For my debut novel, Giving It Up, it was a wounded girl trying to numb her pain in a club. I could picture her walking through the crowd, feeling invisible, aching for something she could no longer believe in.

AmberLin-GivingItUp_200x300From there I fleshed out what backstory had brought her to this, what hero would be perfect for her (and what hero she would perfect for). The setting, the conflict, the plot all came later. That’s how it has been for each of the books I’ve written since. Characters first and then the rest to follow.

Sometimes I worry about that. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to relegate something as integral as “plot” to second tier, even though something has to be.

This weekend I was lucky enough to hear historical romance author Lorraine Heath speak at my RWA chapter meeting. She said that while so many factors go into creating a good book, she considers characterization the most important. The reason why? Because she’d never had someone write to tell her they loved her setting or her conflict… it was always the characters. They had fallen in love with this hero or they were asking when so-and-so’s book would be written.

And I understand that, both as an author and as a reader. There are skillfully executed plots that I’ll never read. Personally I’m a sucker for beautiful, lyrical prose or a witty voice, but even those aren’t enough. I need to yearn for the hero. I want to feel with the heroine, because reading is so damn personal. It should be personal, and I think that’s tangled and tied up with characters. Who are these people and what do they want? It’s a mirror, really. It’s a looking glass. It’s touching the last page of a book a different person than when you started. Or nowadays, hitting the next button on your Kindle the last time.

1814627It can be scary stepping through that mirror. I have the flash of inspiration, the glimpse of a character, and I know how really freaking hard it’s going to be to write that book!!! I don’t have to. Some people say that writers need to write or die, but I can tell you that the body keeps on breathing. And emotionally, writing carries its own risks. Writing means looking in the mirror, it means jumping through. Easier not to. Easier to keep walking through the crowd, feeling invisible, aching for something…

In that way, we writers are our own characters. The first characters. Recipients of the call to action, the reluctant heroes. We don’t always accept the quest, don’t write the book every time we get a flash of inspiration. Quite frankly, who has the time? :)

But when we do, it’s because this one’s worth it. Because this book demanded to be told. Because that nameless, lifeless character, in the split second of a snapshot, took her first breath and came to life.

PS. Did I write this just so I could put my book cover and Lorraine Heath’s in the same post? I don’t know but MISSION ACCOMPLISHED 😉

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The Looking Glass — 13 Comments

  1. Fantastic post, Amber!

    As a writer, reader, and fan of movies and television, I’m much more invested in character development than anything else. For me this is often also true of supporting characters. Give me an engaging cast of interesting characters and I’ll forgive a multitude of other sins. Conversely, there have only been a handful of stories and movies that I could love if I didn’t like the characters or at least find them intriguing.

  2. Thanks, Rachael!

    You’re so right, Reese. It can be hard to stay invested if you aren’t connecting with the characters, and I wonder if that’s even more true for romances.

  3. I’m with you on characterization. As a reader, I’m all about the characters and plot becomes secondary. Good characters won’t save a bad plot, but a great plot is worthless without good characters.

    I’ve just started writing romantic fiction–like this month. The characters are coming first and fast. Right now I have three books’ worth of characters and very little in the way of plot. Guess I better get writing and see what develops.

  4. I agree totally. I have this multitude of characters in my head ( not in a hearing voices way) and some just click together. They usually have their own ideas of how the story will evolve.

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