Day 1 Keynote address: Nalini Singh

As I mentioned in my previous post, due to a mix up with start times on the convention event app, I (and many others) missed the first half hour or so (more ‘or so’ for me, I woke with a bad headache – more on the later) of Day 1.

So I missd the opening remarks and the Welcome by Anne Gracie, which was a shame because Ms Gracie’s comments were referenced in a later discussion.  However I did make it for most of Nalini Singh’s keynote address, so I’ll start the conference proper there.

At the point I arrived, Nalini was talking about “key words that hook reader”.

Building blocks for a series:

  • Connectivity
  • Reader must want to follow the characters and/or the world from book to book


Building block 1 – Family

  • Sketch out a family tree
  • Need to be able reference relatives as aunt / uncle / cousin etc
  • Useful to have some extended family (series can go on)
  • Family secret. Other branches of family etc
  • Generational series more difficult to pull off, as people due (readers don’t like it) – historical / contemporary may be able to pull it off
  • Figure out ages in comparison with each other – need to be the right age when you need them to be
  • Ageing someone by 5 years will lose 5 years of another couple’s development


Building block 2 – Band of Brothers / Sisters

  • How many core members are there?
  • Stick to the core number
  • What is their history? What ties them so tightly together?
  • Reader buys into the history and what ties them together
  • Tone depends on your story. Military, 4 bridesmaids – doesn’t have to be a heavy backstory, but you have to put work into it and know it.
  • Other ideas: people connected by –
    • A dream to set up a business 
    • Childhood event that scarred them all
    • A sport – books about teams very popular


Building Block 3 – Place

  • Sketch out a map of your location and stick to it
  • Readers who read books set around a town or a business or a neighbourhood are reading as much for the “feel” of the location as they are for the love story.
  • Familiarity for readers – like going to a favourite place with favourite people
  • Running gags that have readers cheering people on
  • Figure out your cast – feeling of home


Building block 4 – age and timelines

  • Age is important to all series, but particularly to long-running series
  • Characters may ‘age in’ or ‘age out’ of where you need them to be 
  • Time jumps
  • Time squishing / manipulation – be careful
  • You must keep a timeline especially if you have an overarching plot line 
    • Allows you to keep track of people’s ages over multiple books
    • Specific references to events vs vague dates.  Specific has more impact.
  • Do not use this as a procrastination tool. Simply jot down a couple of notes to remind you of an event on the timeline
  • Overarching series writers: also need to keep an overall timeline of the series, so you know how much time has passed.  Good for tracking things like pregnancies, children’s ages, time-sensitive series elements.
  • Will also save you time down the road if you decide on an offshoot series


Character introduction

  • Connection via characters
  • Short series vs long
  • In a short (4-5) book series, can introduce them all in book 1.  
  • In a longer series, will have to introduce in stages. Don’t try to introduce every single person at once.
  • Can’t have every single person appear in every single book (despite reader wishes).  Only characters who have a role to play should appear.
  • If you are planning a hook up later, you can insert a hint up in book 1 – Easter egg for devoted readers.
  • Do not sequel bait
    • Consider how people interact in real live and weave future heroes (or heroines) into the characters’ lives in a realistic way. Don’t push them in like the annoying gatecrasher at an intimate party
  • Surprises – bring in new blood, very incestuous if the only people who get together are only those who were in book 1
    • Fresh blood
    • Can lead to offshoots
  • Series readers get to know a set of characters as individuals
    • Memorable, interesting
    • Incite emotional responses
  • Readers will not be excited if all the characters in your series are exactly the same
    • Even alpha heroes need to be differentiated
    • Given your characters distinct personalities
    • Draw secondary characters quickly but with care – write tighter
  • Aim: make the characters feel like family to the reader, complete with foibles and likes and dislikes
  • Do all the characters have to be likeable?
    • No
    • Don’t go overboard
    • Characters can have friction with each other
    • Use friction like spice in cooking – don’t go overboard
  • Maintain characterisation through the series
  • With natural change / progression
  • Be kind to your beloved characters
    • if you have set something up like Mary and her crush on the sherif, then don’t keep Mary (and the reader) hanging forever. Give her a happy ever after
    • Kindness may not suit your series – balance that vs giving reader enough to keep reading


Long running series and endings

  • You MUST know where you are going
  • Ask: what is my end goal? Where am I leading readers
  • Makes it
    • Easier to thread the overarching plot from book to book
    • Maintain coherence
    • Not end up with scrambling to cobble together a resolution
  • Example Silence – the fall of Silence (Psy Changeling series)
  • Short, five words
  • Payoffs: critical to a series with a long or background story arc
  • Cannot lead the read on a book to book with no payoff
  • Boredom and frustration
  • Give them what you promised
  • Story arcs can come to fulfilment and open out again
    • Eg psy-changeling series: season1 and season 2



Worldbuilding is part and parcel of writing series. You must create whatever world it is that your story is set Iin.

  • A shapeshifter pack
  • A small town
  • A wedding catering company
  • A support group for relatives of murder victims
  • A sports team (or two competing teams)
  • A struggling theatre company
  • A military squad
  • The crew of an intergalactic spaceship

Choose something that you feel has emotional power and the emotional resonance you want


In summary: make your world vivid and realistic to the reader

  • The joy of the families
  • Characters that feel like family
  • Resist the ’kitchen sink’ syndrome;
  • A strong world will help tie all the stories together. Eg Sex & the City

Your thoughts and stuff

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