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Romantic Suspense

In Romantic Suspense there are two distinct stories. The suspense and the romance.

RWA defines romantic suspense as a romance novel in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.

You need a strong suspense story and a strong romance. Then you weave the two together perfectly. Today I’m only going to talk about developing quick physical and emotional relationships.  

 In this genre the action moves fast and the story takes place over a relative short period. I write contemporary thriller/action adventure and the stories take place over a couple of weeks and less. BIG PROBLEM. An author has to weave in a plausible —emphasis on plausible— romance and bring it to a satisfying conclusion (don’t forget part of a romance definition is the HEA) in short timeframe.  Not easy.

 If your characters are meeting for the first time on the pages of your story how can that plausible relationship develop so fast? What about the sexual aspect?  Characters getting between the sheets fast is crazy tricky. Of course if the characters have a history, good or bad as long as they have a touch point of knowledge, it’s less complicated.

 If you plan on writing sex for a hero and heroine who just met it is important you know yourself and your own boundaries.  Know what YOUR comfort zone is. If you can’t conceive of, or don’t agree with characters getting hot and sweaty together fast, for goodness sakes, don’t do it.

For example I’m not comfortable with a 2o something woman meeting a man,  two hours later being in bed and two weeks later being in a happy ever after relationship. Nor am I comfortable with someone that age knowing the man she’s just met is the one that fast. It would be impossible for me to give her the experiences that would allow her to make these decisions. Be clear here. I am NOT saying someone that age is incapable of making that decision, I’m saying I can’t write it to happen fast.   

Ergo, I write with heroes and heroines over 35. They have experience. To my way of thinking -my comfort zone- they are more capable of making a decision about going into a sexual relationship after a short time and handling any blow back. A 36 year old woman who has been around and experienced a lot in her life knows the ramifications of hooking up.

 You MUST know your characters.  What they will and will not do and why. I mean the down deep why.  While these issues are vital in every story, it is even more important in the fast pace RS genre.  You must know what circumstances will drive your heroine to hit the sheets quickly.  BTW I say heroine because I firmly believe she is the one who makes the decision as to the when and where.

 In my first book, Under Fire, the H&H go home together after they first meet. I totally knew my heroine. What event formed her values and beliefs and was behind all her decisions. The day the H&H met, she suffered two huge setbacks in her story goal. Going with him that night breaks all her personal rules but she decides to console herself with some sexual healing. Give in, just once, to her own needs and the reader knew this. She leaves his bed before he wakes thinking she will never see him again. In a few days this comes back to bite her. It also begins the resolution to her story goal. 

 As for the HEA in this story, these two people were NOT looking for a relationship but found something in each other that filled a void they didn’t know existed. As the author, I knew it did. Knowing your characters inside and out allows you to understand what they fear, what they want, and what they need. You use it to get them to work out their problems together and rapidly establish a bond. With each other’s help they face their fears, they change, and are rewarded with love and in the suspense novel get the bad guy in the process. This is an over simplification but I hope you get what I mean. 

 When the H&H have a sexual history getting them into a speedy relationship is always easier. In my third book, Point of No Return, two experienced intelligence officers from different agencies have an affair that lasted more than a year. You can read how they met in the free prequel No Holding Back. The hero broke it off for his own misguided reason. They come together again working to find the same bad guy. With their history, the sexual tension lasts for only so long before they give in. Their HEA is very complicated. Again, I know them completely.

 Another way is to use what some call survivor sex. After two people share a near death experience sharing the life affirming act of sex is always a possibility.  As an author, you can put friends, detective or business partners, who have worked together for years and know each other completely into that death experience and life affirming sex after. The act changes a relationship to full blown love and HEA. On the surface this looks to be the easiest choice. Honestly it’s the most difficult for me to write. To get a good balance of conflict you really have to know your H&H.

 I can probably come up with a hundred more scenarios but this is already too long.

Bottom line

  • Dig deep
  • Know yourself
  • Know your characters inside out.

What do you think?

Rita writes romantic suspense about extraordinary women who wear dog tags and the men they love.

 

16 responses to “Romantic Suspense”

  1. Like you, I can’t write two characters jumping into bed while bullets fly over their heads. To me that scenario is outlandish, however, I believe sexual tension can mount while they’re on the run or on the hunt.

    I don’t necessarily agree with RWA that a romance needs to end in a HEA. I think an ending that leaves the reader with the hope that a HEA will occur is just as satisfying and perhaps more realistic in many romantic-suspense stories.

    Great post!

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    • Rita Henuber says:

      Unfortunately I’m seeing some authors put characters together to fast and there’s no emotion. Only mechanics as in insert tab A into tab B. I two like a build up of sexual tension. As in will they are one day?

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  2. Addison Fox says:

    This is a great post, Rita! That plausibility is so key in the writing – and is SO essential for the author in feeling the book and the characters as they come together.

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  3. jbrayweber says:

    I think the key is, as you said, Rita, knowing your characters well. If jumping in the sack is what they would do, then I believe good authors can relay it on the page in an organic way.

    To me, it’s clearly evident when an author forces a physical relationship meant to become a long-lasting HEA. Other times, the author just didn’t go deep enough into character emotions, falling just short of believability.

    Great advice!

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  4. I don’t write romantic suspense – and probably never will because I simply don’t have the expertise to pull it off – but this post is really valuable to all subgenres of romance. We’re always balancing the romance arc and the external plot arc and the Insta-Love thing can be a hazard for the entire genre, I think. Very well put, Rita.

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    • Rita Henuber says:

      I think you’re right about insta-love being a hazard Vivi. I know it happens in real life. But it kinda takes the conflict out of a novel. LOL!

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  5. Darynda says:

    FANTASTIC post, Rita!!! There is nothing more jarring (and disappointing) than throwing the H&H in the sack and hoping for the best. There has to be a reason, motivation for everything your characters do, and knowing them deeply will help the writer accomplish this.

    Crazy well done!

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  6. Excellent post, Rita. I’m a huge fan of reunion stories in RS because they have characters with not only a sexual history but an emotional history complete with lots of baggage to dig through and unload. With the emotional set-up in place, authors have more room to develop rich and complex suspense elements.

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    • Rita Henuber says:

      Shelley I like a most RS emotional plots. I think that partners to lovers is kind of my favorite. I only wish the authors would put in more, well…. emotion. 🙂

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  7. The balance in romantic suspense can be so difficult! As you and others have said here, knowing your characters is key to any successful, intriguing story.

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  8. Wendi Knape says:

    I think this is what hit home for me, you write, “…these two people were NOT looking for a relationship but found something in each other that filled a void they didn’t know existed.”

    I’m always looking for the emotional tie that brings my characters together and what you said above made the most sense to me. The back story between the two would need to come into play for it to work, but the depth of growth for the H&H lie in how they fulfill each other in the end.

    Your insight was direct like I should have had a V-8, kind of direct. Sometimes though a writer needs someone else telling them what it is we need to know before we get clarity.

    Thanks.

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    • Rita Henuber says:

      Wendi, my heroines are women who are highly successful, at the top of their field and they take life pretty much on their own terms. Same with the heroes. I also look at these relationships as being puzzle pieces that fit together. Glad I could inspire an ah ha moment.

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