January 11, 2006

Elements of Romantic Suspense

Roaming through the bookstore over the weekend, I discovered several romantic suspense novels were shelved in both the romance section and the mystery section. Now, that's nice, isn't it?

This jives with Diedre Savoy's take on this sub-genre:

"Many people believe that any romance that includes a mystery or suspense subplot constitutes romantic suspense. In my mind, however, a romantic suspense mixes both genres fairly equally. One strand (romance or suspense) does not significantly overwhelm the other. From the beginning of the story, the reader knows that your protagonists will both a) fall in love and b) solve whatever mystery you have set up....

"...[D]istinction is made between a mystery (where your protagonists must figure out who is responsible) and suspense (where your protagonist knows or finds out early in the story who is responsible. The question is how much damage this person will be able to cause before he or she is stopped). "

For the rest of the article, go HERE.

But if you really want to learn from a master, go to Nora Robert's take on the romantic suspense novel:

"There must be a relationship -- that ongoing, developing relationship we expect between the covers of a romance novel. There must be an unknown -- a suspicion, a mystery, a danger that we expect between the covers of a suspense novel. Therefore, the outside tension is just as vital as the emotional and sexual tension and its construction must be just as meticulous.

"The mystery and its ultimate conclusion must be just as visible, just as believable and just as important as the romance and its final consummation. There are not two separate stores with a common link. It is one full, complex story where separate elements merge and affect each other. Two levels where the writer is in charge of setting the balance and keeping the reader involved.

"Any novel contains basic elements such as plot, character, setting, dialogue and narrative. Both mysteries and romance are build on a certain framework. Romance novels celebrate relationships. By their very nature they represent the standards and values of society. Seeking a mate, starting a family. Mysteries are our morality plays where evil is ultimately found out and punished by good.

"The mixing of the two results in a variety of genres and sub genres. Romantic suspense, mysteries with a dash of romance, romance with a dash of mystery. Women in jeopardy, the hard boiled or soft boiled detective novel that flirts with a relationship, the gothic, the cozy...."

Nora Roberts goes on to recommend Mary Stewart - using her Nine Coaches Waiting as an example.

She continues down a mystery road - recommending Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, particularly, as well as the work of Sue Grafton (her Kinsey Milhone series); Elizabeth George; Victoria Holt; and Nancy Picard.

"The fun of reading romantic suspense is to play along, and at the end when the solution is revealed, to be able to say -- yeah, of course, I should have guessed. And to say, when the relationship is resolved -- they belong together. I'm glad they worked it out.

"You must give the reader these two levels of entertainment so they are satisfied with the romance and its outcome, satisfied with the mystery and its outcome. And there should probably be a connection between the two."

For her full article, go HERE.

Lisa Gardner has offered some good advice as well, in an article appearing HERE.

"Romantic suspense is about impending danger and blossoming romance—and none of it is meaningful if we don’t care about the characters. Moreover, many beginning writers make the mistake of inventing intelligent, clever protagonists, but then pit them against slow, stupid villains. The match of wits should be even, or your conflict and tension will be contrived.

"... As the saying goes, the world was made round so we could never see too far ahead. Syd Field’s book on screenwriting techniques is still the best plotting advice I know. Basically, start with a bang, build tension, offer a few resting moments, then throw in complication after complication until it appears all is lost. At that moment, your protagonists will refuse to give in, launch their final bold attack, and since this is popular fiction, emerge triumphant.

"By definition, a romantic suspense novel is still targeting the romance market. Remember why romance readers read—for escape, for entertainment, and for happily-ever-after. If your book becomes too hopeless or too negative, you risk losing your reader. As a result, you must seek to modulate tension. Plot twists, escalating tension and harsh setbacks should be followed by fresh ideas and new plans for attack. Your protagonists can feel cornered, afraid, and overwhelmed, but they should never, ever be hopeless...."

For all of Lisa Gardner's advice go HERE.

Where to read good romantic suspense? Check the awards given out - as well as the nominees - over at Romantic Times. There, the categories alone are interesting, as for example, the nominees for 2005 in the Mystery and Suspense category:


BLOODLINES Jan Burke Simon & Schuster (Jan)
EYE OF THE WOLF Margaret Coel Berkley Prime Crime (Sep)
DEAD SECRET Beverly Connor Onyx (Dec)
CHILL OF FEAR Kay Hooper Bantam (Jul)
CASE OF LIES Perri O'Shaughnessy Delacorte (Jul)
CROSS BONES Kathy Reichs Scribner (Jun)


ENTOMBED Linda Fairstein Scribner (Jan)
A CLEAN KILL Leslie Glass Onyx (Jun)
S IS FOR SILENCE Sue Grafton Putnam (Dec)
LAST WITNESS Jilliane Hoffman Putnam (May)
SUSPICION OF RAGE Barbara Parker Dutton (Feb)
DEVIL'S CORNER Lisa Scottoline HarperCollins (Jun)


THE SUDBURY SCHOOL MURDERS Ashley Gardner Berkley Prime Crime (Jun)
LOCKED ROOMS Laurie R. King Bantam (Jun)
MURDER ON LENOX HILL Victoria Thompson Berkley Prime Crime (Jun)


FUNERAL MUSIC Morag Joss Dell (Apr)
THE HISTORIAN Elizabeth Kostova Little, Brown (Jul)
MOST WANTED Michele Martinez William Morrow (Mar)
MURDER UNCORKED Michele Scott Berkley Prime Crime (Oct)
KITTY AND THE MIDNIGHT HOUR Carrie Vaughn Warner Aspect (Nov)


SINNERS AND SAINTS Eileen Dreyer St. Martin's (Sep)
VANISH Tess Gerritsen Ballantine (Aug)
COUNTDOWN Iris Johansen Bantam (May)
CATEGORY FIVE T.J. MacGregor Pinnacle (Oct)
NOTHING TO FEAR Karen Rose Warner (Aug)
DEAD RUN P.J. Tracy Putnam (Apr)


ELEVEN ON TOP Janet Evanovich St. Martin's (Jul)
GRAVE SIGHT Charlaine Harris Berkley Prime Crime (Oct)
DATING IS MURDER Harley Jane Kozak Doubleday (Mar)
LOVE HER TO DEATH Linda Palmer Berkley Prime Crime (May)
BUBBLES BETROTHED Sarah Strohmeyer Dutton (Apr)
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