Tuesday, March 18, 2014

How To Write A Romantic Suspense

with guest Sandra Orchard
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…

“You don’t!”

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.

Any questions?

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!


Mary Curry said...

This was a really helpful post, Sandra. Thanks so much!

Wilani Wahl said...

I loved your post, Sandra!

I have done pitiful today. I only wrote a paragraph. Hoping to write lots more tomorrow.

Hoping I will win a copy of your book.

Christina Rich said...

Thank you, Sandra. I've dabbled with suspense but dont have it down quite yet. At times I'm not sure I will, but this article was very helpful.

Marianne Barkman said...

I love the romantic suspense genre...I love the romance genre. I do love suspense as well, just not as much as romantic suspense, and I will read mystery occasionally. Great post, Sandra.
I think Helen is still deep down under a bunch of words...

Carol Garvin said...

Thanks so much for this post, Sandra! You've provided wonderful advice. My second and third stories were inspirational romantic suspense, but I was never really satisfied with them. My last one was a cosy mystery, as is my current WIP, and that's where I'm more comfortable.

I checked out your cruise photos -- brought back great memories. We're heading off on our third Alaskan cruise this summer. I'd love to read your book before I leave. I'm sure it would give me a totally different perspective on the cruising experience! :)

Speedbo count for today: 737 words. Pitiful by some standards, I know, but I'm content.

Jenny Blake said...

Hi Sandra, Love the post and I agree as a reader I love where the suspense is from the beginning. Oh and I love not knowing who the bad guy is. I have read a few where the author has written from the villain's POV but in a way you have no idea who it is like you mentioned. Like you can tell hes watching but nothing more to give a clue. Margaret Daley is very good at this.

I like being surprised and having to try and work out who the villain is.
please enter me for a ecopy (pdf works for me).

Jackie said...

Hi Sandra, what a helpful post. Thanks for sharing!

(Beautiful cover, too.)

Tabitha C. Maine said...

I'm glad you mentioned that it was 100% suspense and 100% romance because I was wrong about that until I read your article. I had assumed it was 100% romance with a side of suspense. Thank you. Now I need to be sure to apply what I learned in my Killer Voice LIS pitch.

Mary Hicks said...

Thank you , Sandra. This was an enlightening post. :-)

It's hard to keep all the rules straight. But it helps when people like you, who know how to do it, are so good to share the information!

I like to read romantic suspense. Would love a copy of
Perilous Waters. :-)

Audra Harders said...

Good morning, Sandra and welcome back to Seekerville. Always a pleasure to see you here!

100% romance; 100% suspense. Thanks for summing up the key to a good romantic suspense. I love reading romantic suspense, but I'd never be able to write one. I know this for a fact. I've tried, LOL!

And thank you, too for explaining why your award winning ms that captivated readers, writers and agents didn't get a nod from editors. Oftentimes it's frustrating to win contests only to have the editor turn down your work. Thank you for explaining what the editor was looking for and hopefully, the editor that judged the contest put those comments down in notes!!

Thanks for sharing with us, Sandra!

Audra Harders said...

A paragraph today is more than you had yesterday, Wilani! Good for you. Keep at it and the words will come!!

Kav said...

Hi Sandra! Love that you said romantic suspense is all about the romance and the suspense equally. That's the kind of suspense I love to read...and hopefully write.

Oh -- and I love the before and after examples of your opening scene. It's great to actually see how that works. Having read your book, I can also see how you worked in the important stuff from your draft opening scene into the actual book, scattered throughout. Awesome learning tool there. Thanks!

Don't enter me into the draw because I have Perilous Waters already and loved it!!!!

Annie Rains said...

Wonderful post! I almost entered The Killer Voice contest, but chickened out at the last minute. I had my first page and everything. I've never written a romantic suspense though and I'm not sure I could pull it off :) I'll reference this post again though if I do decide to dabble in RS later.

Thank you! And Happy Tuesday Morning, Seekerville!

Sandra Orchard said...

Wow, what fun to log on to so many friendly comments!! I'm having a working holiday in Florida...and the internet is painfully unreliable and slow, so.... I'm going to respond to comments in bunches in hopes that it won't kick me off as frequently. :)

Mary - I'm so pleased that you found the post helpful
Wilani - perseverance is the key, sometimes I'll spend hours on one paragraph trying to get it right and then go back and change it again the next day! Did that this week in fact. :)
Christina - always fun to dabble in something different. I have a historical idea that I did a lot of research for, but...keep gravitating back to the RS
Marianne - yes, my tastes are similar. That's why my Deadly Devotion series reads like a romantic suspense, in third person pov with alternating hero and heroine viewpoints rather than the common single and sometime first person pov of straight mysteries. And I include lots of jeopardy to keep the pace "breakneck" as PW said. :)
Carol - your 3rd Alaskan cruise!!! Awesome. If you win, you should leave the book in the cruise library afterward. :)
Jenny - great to see you here, I like those villain scenes where you don't know who they are, too I have some of those in my next Port Aster book ;)
Hi Jackie!

Janet Dean said...

Welcome back to Seekerville, Sandra. Great to have you here!

I don't write suspense but as an author for LIH, I appreciate your tips for getting the hero and heroine together quickly and starting the story with action.

Thanks for showing the before and after openings of Perilous Waters. I can see the twins will not have an easy time on that cruise. :-) Looks like a great story!


Sandra Orchard said...

Tabitha - best wishes on your Killer Voice pitch! I'm glad I was able to offer some tips that will help
Mary - rules are never hard and fast, but understanding the reason for them helps you to see when your story would benefit from breaking them or not :)
Audra - funnily enough the editor who judged it didn't flag that as a problem; I talked with her afterward, and she sensed some issues, but hadn't quite put her finger on what it was; so I was very grateful when Tina James was able to narrow right in on the issue...at least for their line
Kav - I am always thrilled to read your reviews. I'm so glad you enjoyed Perilous Waters...and hey, everybody, Kav reviewed it this week on her blog and is also doing a giveaway! That's 3 chances to win this week. :)
Anne - you were probably smart to chicken out at this time, it's good to have a manuscript or at least how to write the genre nailed down before pitching. In hindsight, I was very glad that I had a few mss under my belt before I got my first contract. I learned a lot in the process of writing them that helped me to then offer a steady number of proposals that met their expectations, which is what they're hoping to gain

Sandra Orchard said...

HI Janet, it's always fun to be here. I enjoyed your post yesterday, especially since it was exactly what I'd been working on in my revisions this week. When I'm barreling (okay, in my dreams) through a first draft, I don't give a lot of thought to missed opportunities for deepening emotion and conflict and suspense in the way setting is conveyed. It's always so much fun when a few tweaks or a total paragraph revamp adds so much more.

Connie Queen said...

I've never tried to write a suspense before the Killer Voice contest. It's a challenge trying to get everything working at once.

I'd love to win your book. I've always wanted to write a story having to do w/a cruise, but I couldn't figure out how to do it.

Thanks for blogging about this today.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I had the recipe wrong as well.

This is hugely helpful, Sandra.

I also noticed LIS is changing the direction of their covers and I really like them. Very recognizable on the stands.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Connie Queen! Love your new profile pix.

Julie Lessman said...

Okay, Sandra, see??? This is why I stick with straight romance -- I am not smart enough to write a 3-in-one novel (suspense, romance, faith)!! I always tell Debby Giusti that you have to be pretty brainy to write a suspense or mystery novel because you gotta be able to fool the reader till the end, or you've totally lost them. I didn't think I was smart enough to do THAT, much less tie three strong components together. All that to say, I admire suspense/mystery novelists more than any other authors on the planet.

But ... if I were brave enough to try one, you certainly nailed it to the wall with today's blog, my friend, so EXCELLENT post!!

You actually hooked me with both openings, but the final version got the hormones going a lot faster!! :)


Tina Radcliffe said...

Tabith, you are doing Killer Voice!! Congrats. No guts, no glory. Good for you!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Coffee and tea and juice on the side bar.

Bagels and Killer Oatmeal cookies as well.

Connie Queen said...

Thanks, Tina. LOL. I don't take many pics of myself. There camera always seem to do a bad job...

Dianna Shuford said...

Hi, Sandra. Thanks for the great advice. I have entered a submission in the Killer Voice pitch. Your post has definitely given me a measurement to use when I read back over my submission material.

Congrats on the new book. I would love to read it.

I'm still waiting on your book with the witness protection librarian to come out. That was December, right?

Olivia said...

Woohoo! Every time I need to develop a skill, it appears on this blog. Sandra, I printing this blog so that I can digest all of the concepts. Btw did I say I am writing a romantic suspense. On to the bookstore to write.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Great cruise photos! Did you see any wildlife?

DebH said...

Thank you for this wonderful post Sandra. I now know why my attempt in the Killer Voice contest may only make it past the first page stage.

**hero and heroine had no personal stake in the outcome of the jeopardy they’d happened into…well, besides getting out alive.**

erm... uh, that'd be my WIP. wonder if i can make major character adjustments on the fly for the contest... *sigh*

brilliant information though. very clear and uber helpful. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your lessons learned with us.

Crystal Ridgway said...

Well, I looked at the title of this post and thought 'but I don't write romantic suspense!' But I came in a read it anyway, and I must say this is a wonderful post. Though I'll never be a suspense writer, I'm with Janet on the fact that you nailed the importance of getting the h/h together as soon as possible. I usually try to aim to get them together by page three, and never later than chapter one.

Jeri Hoag said...

Thank you so much! This is very helpful. My one question is about the villain is it ok if you reveal him, but not his motives?

Thanks again!

Tina Radcliffe said...

How's everyone's Speedbo numbers looking. I got my proposal turned in on day 16 so I'm happy. Half my goal done and half of Speedbo to go!!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi SANDRA, Welcome to Seekerville. Its always nice to have you join us. I hear LI is upping from four suspense books to six. Great going. You suspense writers (including DEBBY) are upping the interest. yea

I'm going on a cruise to ALaska in August. Thanks for sharing your photos. Its making me excited to go. And the way time flies August will be here before you know it.

Have fun today.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Oh forgot to thank you for the great tips on writing suspense.

DebH said...

p.s. would like to be in the draw for your book.

SPEEDBO count for yesterday: 644 words. again, baby steps...

Janet Dean said...

Sandra, glad you enjoyed my post. I think suspense authors use of setting can really ramp up reader and character tension. Fun!


Connie Queen said...

I'm at 18,561 through yesterday on Speedbo. (25,736 total on the book.) Sunday and yesterday were my first days of struggling. I don't know if I written myself into a box or just don't know where to go. I'm going to keep pushing, writing through the tough parts and see where it takes me. I have their GMC charts out and am still reading every LIS I can.

Digging for Pearls said...

Great post, Sandra. :) Can't wait to read your new books.

Jodie Wolfe

Missy Tippens said...

What a great post, Sandra! Very helpful if I ever try my hand at writing romantic suspense. I really should do it someday because my mind is always going straight to worst case scenarios! :)

Kav said...

Sandra -- I have a question about how you plot out your suspense. Do you have a clear picture of the whole thing before you start writing or does it evolve as you write? If you plot it out, do you have any suggestions on an easy way to do that?

When I start I have a vague suspense thread. I know whodunnit and why and how, but nuances of the suspense crop up as I write which involves a lot of rewriting to tuck in clues, false trails etc after the fact.

Connie Queen said...

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.

I've never noticed this before, but is it always the heroine that's in jeopardy? Or at least both? That make sense.

CatMom said...

Welcome Sandra!!
Wow, what a great post - - very interesting even to someone who doesn't write suspense *grin*.
You've offered some very helpful tips here (no wonder your books are all so intriguing!).
No need to enter me in the drawing - - as you know, I plan on purchasing a copy.
Thanks also for being such a WONDERFUL accountability partner!!
Hugs from Georgia, Patti Jo

CatMom said...

p.s. OOOPS!! Forgetting my "southern manners" here - - meant to add that I've brought a warm, freshly-baked Georgia Peach Cobbler today - - in honor of my dear friend Sandra's visit! Enjoy!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Our newly agented friend, Jodie!!!! How are you??? Great to see you.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Another question: since you write inspies, Sandra: Do you write more stories where the characters have Christian world view or do you write more stories where the characters come to become Christians? Or a mix?

Digging for Pearls said...

:) Hi, Tina. Things have been a bit crazy. Still working on landing my novel with a publisher. In the mean time I've been busy with writing, sending my son off to the Navy, water damage, etc. You know... life in general.
Thanks for welcoming me back. :)


Mary Curry said...

Congrats on landing an agent, Jodie, and good wishes to your son.

Tina, I'm holding steady on that 1k minimum a day, even though the first part of March is pretty much my busiest time all year. Hoping for an even better second half. Thanks for asking. ;). Congrats on turning in the proposal.

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

TERRIFIC post, Sandra.
I don't write romance but include some elements in my MG adventures, so this was excellent information. You explained it so well, and I can see where much of what you are saying applies to my stories. Thank you for this!

I'm not actually writing yet for Speedbo, but am working on plotting (ACK! Did I say this?) for book 4, so quite timely info. Thanks again.

Also - can't wait to see your photos. We are going to AK this summer and are quite excited about it. Never been, heard great things! And, to tie up the last thread, my 2nd book has "Peril in Paris" in the title. BOL!

Happy writing!
Would love to win a copy of your book!

Dawn Ford said...

Sandra, the first book I ever tried to write (years ago now) was a mystery with romance. I wish I had read this back then. The half-written mess nudges me once in awhile because I loved the characters but had no clue how to put it all together.

You clarified it wonderfully!

Missy Tippens said...

Way to go, Jodie!

Melanie Dickerson said...

Sandra, this may be a dumb question, but what if it's obvious who is the bad guy from the beginning but the hero and heroine are trying to get evidence against him and find out what exactly he's plotting and who is in on it with him? Will that be suspenseful enough to keep the plot going and the reader interested?

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Sounds like a great question to me, Melanie!

Meghan Carver said...

Sandra, I have Perilous Waters on my to-be-read list. I am fascinated by the cruise ship setting!

Thank you so much for your post today and your great tips. I'm heading over to your blog now.

Jackie Smith said...

Hi Sandra,
Love your book cover, and the book sounds fantastic...can't wait to read it. Thanks for the giveaway.

Meghan Carver said...

Sandra, I have Perilous Waters on my to-be-read list. I am fascinated by the cruise ship setting!

Thank you so much for your post today and your great tips. I'm heading over to your blog now.

Pat W said...

Hi Sandra, your post is extremely helpful. Romantic suspense is my all time favorite genre and I've wondered many times how it all gets balanced out. Thanks for the 100/100 % equation. That was a surprise to me. Maybe someday I will try my hand at one.

Tina, my speedbo word count is a tiny bit ahead of schedule at 11, 743 for the month. It isn't very high but my goal is to get into the habit of writing most days. I've found the weekend is not a good time for me to write. The other goal is to get my book completely plotted. Hopefully, I can start spending lots of time on that one by Friday. We're helping our daughter and SIL remodel their house so I haven't worked on that very much this month.

Chill N said...

Sandra, I saw the title of the post and thought I would give it a quick skim because I don't write romantic suspense. Instead, I gave it the read it deserves. Lots of info. Thanks.

I MARVEL at you writers who intertwine all those aspects in romantic suspense until a reader like me would be hard put to separate them. What a skill!

Oh, and nice cover. Wishing you many sales.

Nancy C

Sandra Orchard said...

Oh, wow, I love this blog! Y'all are so friendly. :)

But Tina...stop with the food, please! I just got back from The Golden Corral and I'm stuffed. We do not have that restaurant in Canada. :)

Patti Jo, I save room for that peach cobbler though. :)

Sandra Orchard said...

Connie - hope this helps you finetune your KV proposal. When you're stuck in the middle, just kill somebody off. Usually works. ;) Re. your question about jeopardy, it is usually the heroine, can definitely be both and often is at some point, sometimes it's a child that hero or heroine are responsible for and of course, they'll all get tangled in the jeopardy eventually

Sandra Orchard said...

Connie - hope this helps you finetune your KV proposal. When you're stuck in the middle, just kill somebody off. Usually works. ;) Re. your question about jeopardy, it is usually the heroine, can definitely be both and often is at some point, sometimes it's a child that hero or heroine are responsible for and of course, they'll all get tangled in the jeopardy eventually

Sandra Orchard said...

Julie - you are so sweet,

Oh, Tina - got to be careful with killer oatmeal cookies around suspense writers. We take that literally!

Dianna - Yes, the book you helped me brainstorm has been christened Identity Withheld and it's scheduled for Nov, but...none of what we brainstormed will make it into the book. I'm thinking it might be a different short story or deleted scenes for bonus features, because...and this is very apropos for today's post those scenes slowed the pace too much for a suspense. My editor said they'd be fine in a contemp LI. I'll send you a copy when it comes out so you can see how it ended up. :)

Sandra Orchard said...

Olivia - glad to be of help

Tina - we saw seals, whales, some people with binoculars saw a bear on the shore, eagles, star fish and other sea creatures at one of the ports

Deb H - sorry to hear your ms has the same issue as mine had, but...you'll be happy to learn this lesson so quickly. I paid for 2 critiques and 1 mini on different versions of the ms, as well as entered it in several contests, receiving great responses, before the issue with it was finally deciphered. ;)

Crystal - thanks for taking the time to read the post! :)

Chill N said...

The end is near!

No, no, not THAT end. I only have 75 pages to go in revising my deep third POV to first person! Then, I can set it aside and go back to revise the first western historical. I'm sure it will take a lot more time as it was the first historical I wrote ... and I'm delighted to say I've learned some things since then :-)

Fellow Speedbo-ers, even if you aren't where you planned to be by now, you're still Speedbo-ing and that is HUGE. Congratulations!

And thanks to all who are cheering us on.

Nancy C

Sandra Orchard said...

Jeri - it's okay to reveal the villain at the beginning of a romantic suspense, the threat, however much of that is revealed, is always known from early on in a RS and the story is more about the jeopardy and stopping threat/solving in time. I like to throw in the extra layer of mystery.

Sandra and May - Have fun in Alaska! you'll love it. And I'd love it if you'd take my book along to share. :)

Jodie - congrats on the new agent!

Missy - You're so Southern sweet, I just can't imagine your voice in a suspense, but I have no doubt you could pull it off. :D My best brainstorming partner would never write it herself, but wow, she comes up with some great ideas! I tell her that I'm inhibited by the fact I know I have to actually figure out how to write whatever idea I come up with. :)

Sandra Orchard said...

Kav - How do I plot? It varies. I usually known who the bad guy is and why and at least 2 or 3 other possible bad guys. I try to make them all guilty of something. In Fatal Inheritance, the guy I thought was the bad guy turned out not to be and a whole new character who'd walked into the book part way through writing ended up being the one! Because my editors want to know my heroine will be in jeopardy throughout the book, I usually have the h/h internal and romantic conflicts defined, although rarely fully fleshed out; I have 3 or 4 ideas of major jeopardy that will befall the heroine...usually corresponding to the major turning points and then the other bits fill in as I write. My subconscious usually leaves lots of toys in the story that I latch onto in later revisions to lead the reader on a merry chase

Sandra Orchard said...

Tina - my books are almost exclusively from a Christian worldview rather than conversion stories

Dawn - I'm glad to hear that I've brought clarity to RS writing. It's time to dig out the old ms!

Melanie - excellent question! Yes, that's okay, but they or at least she needs to be in jeopardy AND you need a ticking bomb (not literally), but a time frame to up the urgency; then throw in the internal and romantic conflict--the more they're all connected the better--and you'll be all set. :)

Meghan - thanks, I love to hear I'm on people's TBR lists. :)

Jackie - you're so welcome

Pat W - glad you found it helpful

Nancy C - thanks! I'm glad I surprised you. :)

Pam Hillman said...

Enjoyed this, Sandra, and seeing the before and after examples really brought home the importance of that opening scene.

Welcome to Seekerville...again! :)

Janka H. said...

I love the romantic suspense genre!
Your insight is very interesting! I, for example, love the idea of hero and/or heroine ghetting into trouble without anything but life in stake - from my point of view this is the only way how can I experience situation like that, as I am living very peaceful life:) Sitting in a plane (next to dashing hero :)) on a business trip, travelling by train, being in a bank, when something starts and you just continue because you become involved as a bypasser...well, I need to think about it more ! :)

And thanks for the giveaway possibility!


Sandra Orchard said...

Thanks for the warm welcome, Pam.

Janka - great to see you here; I think part of the appeal of RS suspense is that it taps into that universal fear of the unimaginable happening to you. It's also that fear that makes it difficult for many people to read it. ;)

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, SANDRA, and welcome! Late arriving today--busy upgrading computers, oh joy.

This is definitely a "keeper" post! I've been toying with the idea of trying romantic suspense, and you've given me some great info to think about!

Especially the part about making it 100% romance AND 100% suspense. You hear all kinds of percentages quoted as guidelines, but this makes it clear the story has to be about both, and the plots have to be intertwined.

Thank you!!!

Olivia said...

Dear Sandra,
You have no idea how this blog has helped. Once I realized I had over balanced on the suspense side, I was able to write a sweet chapter where the romance element develops amid the danger. All in all a great day.
Chocolate cookies for all! I have gone from 6000 words in six months to 20,000 words today in Speedbo. My pantser plotter self has made peace with the two methods and it is fun to write. Please include me in your book drawing and much success on its release.

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Sandra,

Good post. I didn't know much about the romantic suspense genre, and now I know a lot! I'm writing in the cosy mystery genre, so a lot less romance and a whole lot more mystery/suspense, but good to know if I find myself adding more romance than I thought!

Your book sounds fun. Between cruise ships and missing planes, it's getting pretty tense to travel!

Have a great day!

Debby Giusti said...

Sandra, great to have you back in Seekerville again.

You're right about keeping the heroine in jeopardy. Oh my gosh! That's so important...and can be quite a challenge.

Your cruise ship suspense sounds exciting. I had heard--way back when--that editors didn't want cruise submissions. So glad that wasn't the case with your story.

Seems to me that a cruise is the perfect place for murder and mayhem. :)

Emily Neyer said...

Sandra--What a wonderful post. I don't know that I will ever attempt romantic suspense (although I love reading it). I am only working on my first ms so I am still a newbie on this. I would love for a copy of your book!

And I agree with Julie, the idea of keeping up with 3 things instead of just two is hard enough. LOL! But maybe when I have a few more stories under my belt...

Didn't get a thing written last night. Very discouraging. But coming back to school after spring break was a bit of culture shock. Hoping I can get something in tonight!

Sandra Orchard said...

Myra - a "keeper" ...you made my day. :)

Olivia - huge congratulations on hitting 20K words!!! I'm so glad you found my post helpful

Lol, Stephanie...you do not want to travel with me. I actually had an editor tell me they read that airplane story proposal while traveling on a plane. :)

Debby - you're right about them being wary about a cruise ship setting. I believe the tipping point for my proposal was that the story is very family oriented with both the hero and heroine's families aboard the ship, making it more small town feel.

Emily - you and me both! I'm hoping to get some writing done tonight, too. Perhaps you can fit that culture shock feeling into your next scene somehow. :) One day I got totally whacked out by a migraine. The next day it happened to my heroine. :)

DebH said...

I appreciate your sharing so I CAN learn and see what is wrong with my WIP. So thankful I can learn from your experience. That's what makes this post so awesome.

At least I've only the beginnings of the story written and not a complete MS. That would be a bit disappointing. *heh*

Thanks! You are awesome!

LoRee Peery said...

Very interesting post, thank you Sandra. Romantic suspense is my first choice of genre. I really appreciated your scene examples and would love to read the one that comes out in print.

Sandra Orchard said...

You're very welcome, Deb and LoRee :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

These villager questions and Sandra's answers are actually as helpful as the post!!

Thanks you all!!

Jana Vanderslice said...

Here's a question for everyone!

How do you know when you’ve done enough revising & editing? How do you decide if changing two words in a sentence really makes it better?

I’ve written “Fierce Faith: A 40 Day Prayer Adventure”. We’ve just finished using it with our 40 Day prayer team. My brother, Jeff, helped me revise & edit it (He’s brilliant & has published several things). It needs some clean up. I want to rewrite one of the weeks/chapters that I wrote while I was in the hospital. Happy drugs don’t go with high quality writing! :) Other people have asked for copies, so I need to add to the introduction section.

But other than those things, how do I know when good enough is really good enough?

Thank You!

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

So great to see you here, Sandra!!! Very informative post! And I hope you're enjoying the nice weather where you are ;)

I have a question. Sandra wrote, "What is essential, however, is that the heroine be in jeopardy throughout the novel..." Can the hero be in jeopardy and the heroine be the one to 'rescue' him?

Melanie Dickerson said...

Yep, I have all those elements, Sandra! :-) Thanks! I always get scared I have left out something important! But yes, there is a heroine in danger, hero in danger, and a ticking time bomb so to speak. Yay!

Dana Mentink said...

Great post! I wish I'd read one like it when I was first starting out. I think something that is tricky in a r. s. is the balance between the heroine's strength and the hero's. You can't have a wimpy fainting woman who needs a man to rescue her, but then again, the lady cannot be stronger than the man because he just wouldn't be a hero then, would he? Ah well! No one said it was easy! Thanks for the great post!

Sandra Orchard said...

So true, Dana, and Eva, I think that sort of addresses your question. Yes, the heroine can rescue the hero ...at times...in fact, that happens in my current WIP, right after he rescues her. :) I think the balance is key. And it's not just rescuing in the sense of ext. conflict. The hero helps heal the wound (whatever happened in her past to create the internal or romantic conflict she needs to overcome) and so is "rescuing" her in an emotional sense as she is likewise doing to him. That dual character arc of romance is actually as challenging as weaving all the threads, because you're often telling 2 intertwined journeys--the hero's and the heroine's as co-protagonists.

Sandra Orchard said...

Jana, after I've spent a lot of time going through various revision checklists and critters comments and usually have gotten thoroughly sick of the story, I will put the ms away for at least a couple of weeks and give it one more fresh read, before submitting it to my editor. It then goes through line edits and copy edits and page proofs before being published. If you're self-publishing, you'd definitely want some proof readers to go over it first.

Jana Vanderslice said...

Thank you, Sandra! It was just for us, but it has grown. A 40 day prayer adventure is Addictive! Once people start praying they just can't stop.
I'm going to give it another hard push to finish & hand it off to Jeff for a final proofing.
*And thanks for saying you get "sick of the story"! I'm there! I think I could quote some parts of it in my sleep! :)

Thank you for spending your day with us! We really appreciate you!

Walt Mussell said...


I read the deleted opening and then the actual opening. I get how it drags vs. what was actually included. However, I'm still mulling over the earlier part about the suspense meaning something to both the hero and heroine.

Terri said...

Sandra, I seem to keep missing the mark on my romantic suspense. I think your post answered some of what I'm doing wrong. Thanks for the tips.

Rhonda Starnes said...

Thanks for this wonderful post, Sandra! It is very helpful as I am in the process of attempting to write my first romantic suspense. I will bookmark this article for future reference.

My Speedbo totals are moving slowly upwards. So far this weeks, I've added 1,820 words to my ms, and my to date total for Speedbo is 6,380 words.

Wilani Wahl said...

Yay, I made my goal for the day. I also had a great day since I am visiting my parents this week.

Sandra Orchard said...

Walt - I hear ya, I've had to mull it over on a couple of proposals that I really thought worked, not all editors might see it the same way

Terri - glad to be of help. Perseverance is key. :)

Rhonda - you're making great progress!

Congrats Wilani on meeting your goal for the day!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Great stuff, Sandra, this helps!

Lauren Ann said...

Great post Sandra! YOu made some really good points.