Imagining a world

Author Nalini Singh writes romance novels starring angels, vampires, shapeshifters, psychics, and more. What skills does it take to write a paranormal romance, set in a universe populated by people with astonishing supernatural powers? Careful worldbuilding is a sign of good writing in all romance novels, but it defines paranormal romance, says Singh.


How do you write paranormal romance?

I think it’s the worldbuilding. Because when you do a historical, you set the scene. You have to make your setting come alive and the Regency is a really good example because we have this romance Regency world, but if you read a historical fiction novel set in the same period of the Regency, it’s a very different world. So with paranormal, that’s exactly—you’re doing the same thing. You’re building a world, and so the worldbuilding rules really apply—historical, paranormal. And also, if you do a contemporary set in a small town and it’s your fictional small town, it’s the same skills. You’re creating this town. You’re making it believable [. . .]

[. . .] When I started the series, the Angel series, I had been reading a lot of paranormals with immortals, but in my view these people didn’t behave like immortals. They behaved like human beings. And so when I wrote my series, I was very aware I’m not writing human beings, I am writing people who have been around for a thousand or more years who have seen hundreds of thousands of humans die, be crushed out by war, disease, whatever, and what is going to be the impact on them. So I think the reader—the question is how is the reader going to feel. I think for me, the reader is meant to see the inhumanity. They have lived so long that they are completely remote and distant and in many cases jaded. And so they’re not meant to be human and easily relatable ’cause that’s not who they are. And I think that is the point of the series is “can someone who is that distant from humanity, who is so not like us, can they connect with someone?” And so that’s really—the whole series is exploring that idea [. . .]

[. . .] A vampire who has lived a thousand years and watched his family be slaughtered, is not going to be a nice kind guy. [laughs] You know? Yeah. I have great faith in readers and their ability to judge what they love, yeah, and their ability to go into these worlds with me on these journeys.

What do you research for your novels?

With angels, they’re winged beings so I had to find out about the dynamics of flight and how wings are put together and what kind of stresses they can take and whether my angels would need different body structure to support their weight in the air. And I just found all that really, really fascinating. It’s really interesting. And of course I did take some artistic liberties with the structure and stuff, but because I knew the reality of, like, a winged being, I could take those liberties and make it believable because I had the basis of knowledge. But, yeah, it’s fascinating. And I still refer to those notes when I write, when I write about flight, because it’s important that it be evocative of the real thing.

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