Talking Romantic Suspense: Intimacy and Love

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. BIG PROBLEM. An author has to weave in a 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 under the covers 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 24 year old 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 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, two experienced intelligence officers from different agencies have an affair that lasted more than a year. He 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 books about extraordinary women and the men they love. To find out more visit her web home

30 responses to “Talking Romantic Suspense: Intimacy and Love”

  1. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Great post, Rita. I find it challenging to build plausible motivation to get my H&h between the sheets and to fall in love quickly in all of my books. I just don’t believe people usually develop a lasting bond in a matter of days. It’s probably why I’m inclined to write second-chance stories.

    In truth, once I set up a situation to force the characters into close proximity, I have trouble making a story span more than a few weeks. I feel like I need to separate them somehow in order to insert a lot of time.

    Maybe I need to work on a story that takes place over a year.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      I think you know yourself. What makes it plausible for you. I can’t remember any contemporary stories that last long periods of time. Suspense, more to the point thrillers as I write, span a very short period. I had one going three months in the first draft. It ended up being three weeks.

  2. Liz Talley says:

    I think this is something that translates over all genres – knowing when sex should happen (if at all. The key is knowing your characters and knowing if the emotions are genuine enough for sex to happen.

    To me sex = intimacy. A one night stand is not about intimacy as much as escapism (eg. I need hot sex because everything is crazy….or I need hot sex because I’m in a rut) To me, anything beyond one night stand sex has to explore the boundaries of the h/h feelings for one another and enhance intimacy. It also has to complicate either by screwing up internals (or externals) or by giving a perceived rightness that will go horribly wrong in the ensuing chapter.

    I tend to have sex scene at the traditional mid-way mark or 75% in because it feels like a progressional thing, but I think it’s interesting to experiment with it at other places…allowing it to add more complication. I’m going to think about this for upcoming books.

    Okay, those are my thoughts for better or worse (from a non-adventure/suspense author). Great topic 🙂

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Yes! Yes! Yes!
      Thanks for your thoughts. Knowing your characters and how sex will complicate the story and their own feelings (external and internal goals) is very important.

  3. Diana Layne says:

    Like Liz says this is great info for all genres. I’m revising my novella with Nia and Sandro’s love story (from The Good Daughter) and yikes, it’s hard without killing or kidnapping a few people. I had a lot of this backstory written that I cut out when I realized it was really the mob daughter’s story, but now I’m working on it going…um, just exactly WHY would Nia have made this choice? When she’s been so career and school oriented up to this point. It has made for some headache-producing brainstorm sessions, something I had not anticipated for a novella length story. But it definitely fits in with what you said, know your characters and what they’d do and why.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Nia made that choice because of something in her back story no doubt. Your mission should you accept, it is to find it. There is a 1963 movie, Love with the Proper Stranger, Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, it was quite the sensation when it came out. It starts out with a pregnant Wood looking for a man she had a one night stand with McQueen. Her back story is the reason for the affair. She lives at home where three brothers control her life and are pushing her to marry a boring man who she has no feelings for. She acts out and has a one nighter. Of course it ends with them falling in love.

  4. Interesting post, Rita. Your premise may be a reason I haven’t sold yet. I’ve got to give my H & H time to develop a relationship (even if it’s adversarial) before I can plot them into bed. So for a tradtional RS, the story moves too slowly, even with car crashes, stabbings, and shootings. 🙂 I also use older characters, second chancers, in their 40’s and 50’s. Like Laurie above, I put in a bit of separation time in some books before that HEA happens. Lots to think about, Rita. Thanks.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      You can build the sexual tension in between all the action. I do that in my second book. The H&H are older characters and they are prevented from getting together, as a very frustrated hero says, by plane crashes, drug runners, Navy SEALs, things exploding and men in black suits. They finally get together in the end of the book. It is a very fine balance with suspense. Can I ask which ‘story’ are you speaking of when you say it moves too slow, the suspense or romance?

      • Recent feedback from a publisher was I needed to add more with the “case.” I took that to mean, I have too much of the romance and other characters. My “supporting cast” ususally have issues and subplots. In that sense, I’m probably not a true romantic suspense and more of a single title that is about 60 % romance and other story lines and 40 % murder & mayhem. Nice of you to ask, Rita.

  5. Elisa Beatty says:

    Oh, yes–this is such a tricky business! I think I tend to assume getting h & h into bed is harder in historicals, since good girls were supposed to stay virginal or risk becoming social outcasts (and with minimal birth control available, the consequences of misbehavior were likely to become obvious to everyone). Under all that pressure, why WOULD a sensible woman jump into bed with a man she wasn’t married to?

    But it sounds like it’s just as tricky in contemporaries….

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Writing a sexy historical is certainly outside my capabilities. Unprotected sex would be difficult for me to work around I mean the heroine can’t say, “Slow down sparky. No glove no love.” I would have to write one with a bucket load of sexual tension and a lot of fooling around. This is such a complex issue for every genre.

  6. Can you meet someone and within a few weeks know they’re the one you want to spend your life with? Yes. It happens. It happened for me. Do I think it happens all that often? No. I was lucky.

    But I’ll tell you, a lot of communication went on between my DH and I and 90% of it was not face to face. And I think that is is the point. If you’re writing a story where two people are meeting for the first time, then there has got to be a lot of communication and learning between the two. Secrets must be revealed, wounds exposed, dreams shared.

    And you’re so right, Rita. If you, the author, is not comfortable writing hot sex, then don’t. It will show in your writing. And not all readers want it. Even readers of hot sex can be satisfied if the sexual tension is sizzling.

    Great blog! I’m going back to digging into my character’s psyche.

    • Rita Henuber says:

      I think I knew what I met my husband he was the one. I was 14. Yeaph! There were several breakups and some other guys but I we were married three weeks after I turned 21. That was a long time ago and not a usual circumstance but I agree. It can and does happen. And when it does… zowie!

  7. Balancing the romance and suspense is SO hard for me! I tend to be more suspense focused, which means the romance usually takes a back-seat, which is okay, but then makes it more difficult to write the believable HEA.

    I have an extreme dislike for RS books where they’re being chased by bad guys and all of a sudden they decide to take the time to hop into the sack. Umm…yeah. Right. That’s the first thing *I’m* thinking of if I’m being hunted by ruthless, violent criminals. 🙂 So, it is difficult to figure out where the proper ‘down time’ is amongst all the action. I think you gave the absolute best piece of advice–know thy characters!

  8. Rita, Liz, and others who mentioned intimacy – you hit the nail on the head. The pacing of the physical sharing must match the emotional sharing, IMO. And, ugh, is that tough in a fast-paced RS. What helps, though, is the tension that must be evident in an RS often helps me urge my characters to share…to survive together. 🙂

    And man, is this post timely. I tried something different with a recent manuscript, giving the H/H issues where they don’t want to be together because of their past, and giving the villain’s POV more of a slow-build, and editor wants me to go back and increase the sexual tension and suspense early on. Working on that now…

    • Rita Henuber says:

      Zowie. So they broke up and because of their misguided beliefs can’t/don’t want to get together. Their bodies are on auto pilot and the manual controls short circuit. As in sparks are flying.

      • Yep – sparks are flying, but not because they’ve been together before. They were about to get together a decade ago when someone intervened (with her own intentions toward the Hero)…then convinced Hero he had been wrong about Heroine (that she wasn’t a nice person), etc.

        It’s a long story…about 90,000 words. LOL

  9. Addison Fox says:


    This is a fantastic point – so many great points – but the one that I think is the best is that we all need to write what we’re comfortable with. Yes, we need to push ourselves, but pushing emotional boundaries is not the same thing as writing something that doesn’t match our fundamental, core beliefs.

    Great post!!!


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