Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Balancing Act - Putting the Romance into Suspense - PART ONE

Some time ago I wrote an article and online workshop on Romantic Suspense.  Romantic suspense is my first love in writing, and although I've moved into some different areas, I still love a romance with a good mystery behind it.  This article has been previously published in HEARTS TALK, which is the monthly newsletter of the Romance Writers of Australia, and also ran it as a workshop on my old group The League of Amazing Writers.

Here is the first part: Feel free to complete the exercises and post your answers

A Balancing Act - Putting the Romance into Suspense

What is the attraction of the romantic suspense plot?

For me, it’s the heart stopping suspense, the thrill of the chase, and non- stop action that heightens the emotion and intensifies the romance.  Knowing that the characters not only have to solve the mystery and conquer the evil villain or villains, they also learn trust and in the process deal with the best and the worst in each other.  This is one of the main attractions of the suspense story for me.  Whatever the plot device, be it women in jeopardy, murder, stalkers, terrorists, spy thrillers, how can the heroine and hero not fall for each other in these intense and emotional circumstances? 

How much is the right mix of romance and suspense?

Authors such as Nora Roberts, Iris Johansen, Tami Hoag, Shannon McKenna and Rebecca York continue to write huge best sellers.  These authors and all those others who write romantic suspense have such diverse styles it’s difficult to even attempt to define the genre.  The popularity of romantic suspense continues to grow, but for some writers this sub genre of romance fiction continues to be one of the most difficult to write successfully.  The problem lies in the balance between the romance and the suspense.  How much of each is needed?  Should there be two separate or one integrated plot? 
The short answer is that it all depends what type of story you want to write, and which publisher you are targeting.  In the category market, some publishers ask for a 50/50 split of romance with suspense or a 60/40 split with more of an emphasis on the emotional growth of the characters.  If your book doesn’t fit into these moulds they won’t publish it.  This may sound unfair, but in category fiction it’s all about reader expectation.  In most cases the reader is buying the series, not the author, so the guidelines need to be very clear. 
Mainstream single title romantic suspense on the other hand varies from author to author.  If you are writing a single title romantic suspense novel you have more flexibility with the balance of romance and suspense in your story.  Shannon McKenna integrates powerful emotional and sexual relationships within her suspense plots, while for Tami Hoag the suspense or thriller plot is the main focus.  That doesn’t mean the romance is secondary.  Character development and relationship building are integral parts of all romantic suspense novels and add to the suspense/thriller plot and the spine tingling tension that enhances the story. 
Marketing of your book can play a part in your decision as well.  Depending on your own particular blend of romance and suspense, you may well find your book placed on the crime shelves in the local bookshop as well as the romance section.  This can increase sales exposure of your books.  Many authors and publishers do this deliberately. 
At the end of the day, you have to write the book you want to write.  I believe that instinct plays a huge part in how you decide to distribute the suspense with the romantic or emotional plot line.  Nora Roberts says you “just know” what is right for your story.  I’m not sure that it comes as naturally as Ms. Roberts would have us think, but believing in your characters and your story goes a long way to making it the best darn story you can write.

  • Think about what sort of book you want to write. 
  • Are you targeting a particular publisher?
  • How much romance/suspense do you think your book requires?

Next week: Steps to Balancing the Romance with the Suspense


Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Maggie,

I'd never think about my writing in terms of percentages like this. I have a story to tell and I tell it.

I've written one romantic (or really, more erotic) suspense book, EXPOSURE. To be honest, I found it really difficult (though I'm very happy with the result). Every detail is important in suspense, and you have to constantly be thinking about what to reveal versus what to hide.


Maggie Nash said...

I agree I quoted Nora's instinctive. The writer knows what is best for their story and what they want to achieve.

Thanks for dropping by!