Friday, June 11, 2010

World Building with Nalini Singh

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Nalini Singh, author of the Psy/Changeling and Guild Hunter series, was kind enough to let me interview her about how she approaches world building for her books. I am a huge fan of the Guild Hunter series, and the world and characters she has created just amaze me, not just with their uniqueness, but with the logic and consistency that are apparent in this urban fantasy setting.

Do you plan most of your world out in advance, or develop it as you are writing the first story in a series?

I like to just dive in and start writing - however, the world is usually extremely coherent to me when I begin. I see through the eyes of the point of view character, describing what he or she sees and experiences. I think this tends to make for a much more natural flow of information.

How much do you have to change or expand your world rules as you write successive books in a series?

The rules are sancrosant. It's part of the trust between reader and writer - everything that happens must be logical in relation to what has gone before. I also think this makes for stronger writing - I have to be creative within the structure of the world - there are no magical answers.

However, within a series, you don't necessary have to lay out every single piece of information straight away. That would lead to total overload in the first book, overwhelming the story. I always ask if it's necessary. If not, then it doesn't need to be in that book - it could be introduced in a later book. But again, story continuity must be maintained. New rules that contradict previous ones are an absolute no-no.

How do you determine the rules of your world, and when are characters allowed to break those rules (if ever)?

I don't sit down and plot out all the rules so to speak. I write the story, and see what happens. However, once book 1 is written, I do make sure I keep a continuity bible - to ensure that everything flows smoothly from book to book.

As far as breaking the rules - as you can see from my previous answer, I'm a stickler for sticking to the rules of your world. It might be tempting to take the easy way out and break a rule, but all that does is decrease the tension in the story.

For example, if you read my Psy/Changeling series, you'll know that cutting the PsyNet link has some pretty big consequences. The changelings have found a way to circumvent that, but my hero in Bonds of Justice is human. How will that work? That is an important question in the book - because the PsyNet biofeedback rule has stayed a constant throughout the series.

How much research do you do, do you try to keep your alternate reality world close to true reality or do you invent it all from imagination? Any resources you’d recommend?

I tend to build my worlds from the imagination, but I will research real-world information as necessary. For example, for the Guild Hunter series, I did research on wing structure, the placement of feathers, density of wing bones etc - all fine details that make the imagined world so much deeper.

One general tip for research is to use children's books. Not only do they have fantastic illustrations, they condense information down, so you can get an overview fast - if you need more detailed info, you can then go and do a very specific search.

Also if you have a tendency to go overboard with research, and then try and stuff all that research into a book, though it isn't necessary, write the story first, then go back and do the research. Once you know exactly what you need, you'll be less tempted to go off on tangents.

Any tips to help authors maintain continuity from one book to another in a series with complex world-building? Software, spreadsheets, sticky notes?

It really depends on the writer in question. I figured out what worked for me when I started writing book 2 in the Psy/Changeling series and realized I was constantly needing information that had been in book 1. My methods are relatively simple but effective for me - I keep a folder for each series that has maps with story locations marked, pages with major details about each character (physical appearance, age, connections to other people, any other salient facts), timelines and research notes.

One tip relates to the timelines I mentioned above - I keep one throughout each manuscript. Not only does it give you a quick-resource when you're considering the pacing of the story for example, but it helps you spot errors like a day that goes on for twenty-nine hours or the fact that the hero put on a T-shirt and is now taking off a button-down shirt.

I also keep up to date electronic files of each of my books so I can do searches if I'm looking for a particular piece of information - often, I'll know the exact paragraph I'm looking for, and this makes it easier to locate. And I keep copies of my books - so for example, with writing book #10 of the Psy/Changeling series, featuring Hawke, I'll be going through books 1-9 and marking every appearance or mention of him with a post-it.

I know other writers who use software, so that's also an option. I prefer to have a physical folder as I can have it open on my desk while I'm working on the manuscript.

Since you have two different series going, each with its own complex world, do you ever get confused while writing or have trouble keeping straight which world you are in?

No - the two series are so different that there is no cross-over in that regard. It's one of the reasons I enjoy writing them both so much.

Thank you so much.

Thanks for the great questions!

(Okay, totally off-topic question. Can you reveal who the “almost an archangel” is in the Guild Hunter series? The one the Ten—well, eight now—keep mentioning as soon reaching the level of being able to fill one of the open spots. Will that play into the future books at all?)

No, my lips are zipped. :x You may meet the angel later on, depending on how the series develops.

I've been writing as long as I can remember and all of my stories always held a thread of romance (even when I was writing about a prince who could shoot lasers out of his eyes). I love creating unique characters, love giving them happy endings and I even love the voices in my head. There's no other job I would rather be doing. In September 2002, when I got the call that Silhouette Desire wanted to buy my first book, Desert Warrior, it was a dream come true. I hope to continue living the dream until I keel over of old age on my keyboard.


Jory Strong said...

I always love gaining insight into how other authors, especially of the caliber of Nalini, approach their work. Like Raelene, I'm a huge fan of the Guild Hunter series. Thanks for the interview!

Samantha Kane said...

Very nice interview! I'm a big fan of the Psy/Changeling series, and I do appreciate the attention paid to continuity there. I also prefer hard copy for continuity research vs. electronic. I'm not really sure why. I just like having those pages to flip through, I guess. :-)

Diane M. said...

I love the Guild Hunter and was wondering who the other angel who is at the archangel level was also.

N.J.Walters said...

Wonderful interview. I'm a huge fan of the Guild Hunter series and can't wait for the next one.

Mia said...

Love to see how others world build and both series are amongst my favorites. Thank you!

Tammy said...

Terrific interview! I am about to start book two in a series about folklore creatures in Trinidad, and Ms. Singh's tipscame at the right time! THank you, and I cannot wait for Hawke's story!