Hey, everyone, it’s great to be back to visit here at Seekerville. I hope you are all writing like crazy for Speedbo month. Today’s post will be of particular interest to the romantic suspense writers in the group and especially timely for those participating in the Killer Voice Love Inspired Suspense pitch.
I was invited to write about how to weave the suspense thread in an inspirational romance. But my kneejerk response to that concept is…
A romantic suspense is NOT a romance with a suspense thread. If you aspire to write romantic suspense, make it your goal to write a novel that is 100% suspense AND 100% romance.
Not 50-50 and definitely not 70-30 or 30-70.
In a true romantic suspense, the suspense and the romance start together and end together and are inseparably intertwined throughout. You can’t wrap up the romance, then spend 100 pages solving the mystery. That’s fine in a “suspense novel with romantic elements”, but not in a romantic suspense.
Likewise, you cannot delay starting the suspense.
My editors want the danger to be evident, ideally from the first line, or paragraph, definitely before the end of the first page. For Love Inspired Suspense, both the hero and heroine need to be introduced and connected to the suspense within the first chapter. In single title romantic suspense, depending on chapter lengths, you might introduce the heroine and suspense plot in the first chapter, the hero and his connection in the second, each with clear goals, and bring them together in the third, perhaps clashing over opposing goals or opposing means of reaching the same goal.
I personally prefer to see both the hero and heroine introduced, and if possible to meet, in the first chapter. But either way, jumping right into the suspense is key, you can’t spend the beginning writing set-up* or only writing about the romance or you will lose your reader before the suspense starts.
Romantic suspense readers want both. And they BOTH have to matter.
To succeed, you need to be skilled at writing both a satisfying romance, and at devising a suspense plot that is complicated enough that the reader won’t easily figure it out or, worse, become annoyed with your characters when they don’t.
Although not essential, I also personally like to keep the bad guy a mystery to both my reader and my hero and heroine. That means, I tend not to include scenes in the villain’s pov (point of view) unless they are anonymous or ambiguous and invite more questions than they answer. To me, keeping the villain a mystery adds more interest and tension to the plot, since the reader will only see things unfold from the hero and heroine’s viewpoint, and therefore share their emotional reactions to what’s happening on the page. Moreover, it keeps the romantic tension center stage, instead of detouring to a few pages where the hero and heroine might not even be on the page.
What is essential, however, is that the heroine be in jeopardy throughout the novel, and that both the hero and heroine have a stake in the outcome.
Let me repeat that another way.
The suspense plot shouldn’t simply be something the hero and heroine stumble into, which thereby puts them in danger, until they find a way out. It shouldn’t be a situation with which they have no personal connection other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Not that that can’t make a compelling story. My Daphne DuMaurier Award winning manuscript was a compelling read to the readers, agents and editors who gave it high scores. However, publishers turned it down precisely because the hero and heroine had no personal stake in the outcome of the jeopardy they’d happened into…well, besides getting out alive. :)
There was tons of romance. There was lots of suspense of the “oh, no, what’s going to happen next?” variety, and the two were tightly intertwined. But aside from survival, the outcome of the suspense plot had no personal consequences to either of them.
Do you understand the difference?
Another important thing to keep in mind as you devise your suspense plot is to play fair with your reader. You can’t pull a convenient explanation or twist out of the blue; you have to set it up first.
Details are the key to setting up suspense and having fun with the reader. As a writer you leave all kinds of toys on the floor in a scene, use them. (If you missed my previous post about toys, you can check it out here.)
Lastly, don’t wrap up your suspense too early and leave the reader with only the romance to support the end of the book. You need to meet readers’ expectations, and romantic suspense readers want both romance and suspense all the way through. And… inspy readers want to also see a satisfying spiritual growth or realization in the characters.
Being forced together in the crucible of the suspense plot forges and colors the hero and heroine’s character growth, growth that must take place before the romance can culminate in a happy ending.
Read that last paragraph again.
It is the bare bones blueprint of how the essential elements of a romantic suspense are inextricably connected.
But keep in mind that you can’t slow down for many home and apple pie romance scenes or deep spiritual introspection or discussions in the middle of a fast-paced suspense. They’re fine in a straight romance. But need to be utilized sparingly in romantic suspense.
I hope this brief overview has provided a better grasp of areas of your story that might need some attention. Feel free to ask questions. I’m out of town so my responses may be delayed, but I’ll be happy to try to answer your questions.
One last thing, to avoid potential confusion, to those familiar with my trade-length book, Deadly Devotion, it is not a romantic suspense novel. It is categorized as a mystery. The three books in the Port Aster Secrets series, taken as a whole, would more closely approximate a romantic suspense with its requisite HEA…if I don’t kill the heroine first. (just kidding…sort of ;) )
* For an illustration of what I mean by not starting with too much setup, check out the draft of the opening scene I deleted from my April release, Perilous Waters, then compare it to the excerpt of the opening in the final draft.
Sandra’s upcoming release, Perilous Waters (April, Love Inspired Suspense) is already available at Harlequin.com and will be on store shelves in a couple of weeks.
For FBI agent Sam Steele, there’s no room for error or emotions on his latest undercover assignment. Getting close to gallery owner Jennifer Robbins while on an Alaskan cruise is the only way to catch her dealing stolen art. Out on the icy seas, Jen suddenly goes from suspect to victim when she’s targeted by a deadly enemy. And Sam’s mission goes from investigating an art crime to protecting the woman who’s begun to melt his heart. As danger looms closer, he’ll do anything to save her life—even if it costs him his own.
Sandra Orchard is a multi-award-winning Canadian author of inspirational romantic suspense/mysteries with Love Inspired Suspense and Revell. An active member in American Christian Fiction Writers, The Word Guild, and Romance Writers of America, she enjoys helping writers hone their skills. To find out more about her novels, and to read interesting bonus features, please visit www.sandraorchard.com or connect at www.Facebook.com/SandraOrchard
Today there are TWO chances to win Sandra Orchard's April 1 release, Perilous Waters. One Seekerville commenter will win a Kindle copy when available -winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Now head on over to Sandra's blog (and then come back) and enter her giveaway for a chance to win Perilous Waters in print: http://www.SandraOrchard.com/blog
You can also check out Sandra's Alaskan Cruise photos. Inspiration for Perilous Waters!
|Day 18 of Speedbo!|