Thursday, June 4, 2009

A few characteristics of Romantic Suspense by Vivian Zabel

I attended several sessions at the OWFI writing conference the first weekend of May, in between taking care of volunteer work. One of the sessions was Romantic Suspense by Merline Lovelace. I'll share some of the information I gained from her presentation, which I'm using to write a romantic suspense myself. Well, I'm not into graphic detail, but I think I can still manage an interesting book using a bit of humor and timing to keep things going.

Merline Lovelace is an interesting person as well as an award winning author. She retired from the Air Force after a travel-filled life thanks to Uncle Sam. Much of her experiences find their way into her writing. I enjoyed meeting her and visiting with her.

Now, what I learned about writing romantic suspense, which is a sub-genre of romance, rather than a sub-genre of mystery or suspense: First, what really got my attention is romantic suspense is big business which translate to big money. However, since suspense is a major component of the genre or sub-genre, I believe we can discuss it under mystery, too.

Merlene gave five (5) characteristics of romantic suspense. I hope I can explain them half as well as she did.

1. Romantic suspense is plot driven and usually about 60,000 - 80,000 words. The action escalates each chapter, with the suspense/crime/mystery and the sexual tension between the couple.

2. The action starts with a bang and continues at a fast pace. Little time is allowed for introspection. The characters don't take time to mull over emotions and remembering in the middle of the action.

3. Dramatic tone is a must, a strong sense of atmosphere that reflects danger, excitement. Word choice and setting contribute to tone.

4. Romantic suspense has a large caste of characters (sometimes). often to introduce red herrings. The author can leave the reader guessing throughout the book or allow readers to know the antagonist(s) throughout.

5. Romantic suspense required a strong female protagonist, a very active partner who may save the hero herself.

The main challenge in writing romantic suspense is the need to write two distinct stories, romance and suspense, which must be balanced. Everything that effects the relationship, affects the suspense. As the romance builds, so does the mystery/suspense.

Vivian Zabel
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap
Midnight Hours


Helen Ginger said...

Thanks for sharing these tips. It seems to me, from what little I've read of Romantic Suspense, that you not only need suspense about the mystery, but also about the romance. I've read some where it was clear from the beginning that the male & female leads would end up together. I like it if there's a bit of a question.

Straight From Hel

Mark Troy said...

Romantic suspense seems to pose real challenges for series characters. If the main character ends up in a stable relationship at the end of the story, where's the suspense for the next story? If the main character hops from relationship to relationship, like James Bond, won't romance readers be turned off?

F. M. Meredith, author said...

Good post, it's like the old Moonlighting TV series and what they tried to do with the new series Castle.


Vivian Zabel said...

Good comments.

I think one reason series characters change from being the main characters in one romantic suspense to being secondary characters in the next, and so forth, or at least other main characters are introduced to carry on the romantic suspense part.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Good advice. I didn't see anything about killing off one of the romantic partners, as I did in Diary of Murder. I'll never hear the end of it. :)

Vivian Zabel said...

*laugh* Oh, Jean, I'll never forgive you for that either.

Dana Fredsti said...

Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters/Mary Stewart... the Queens of Romantic Suspense and what defines good examples of the genre for me.