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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Romantic Suspense in the Golden Heart

By Trish Milburn

To me, the sub-genre of romantic suspense is one of those best-of-both-worlds situations. For years, I’ve loved reading both romance and mystery. By writing romantic suspense, I could incorporate elements of both sub-genres in a single story. The important thing to remember in romantic suspense is that both the romance and the suspense elements are integral to the plot. Take one of them away and the story falls apart. One can’t exist without the other. This fact is apparent in the new definition and judging guidelines for the Romantic Suspense category of the Golden Heart.

Romantic Suspense
Romance novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.

Judging guidelines: In this category, a suspense/mystery/thriller plot is blended with a love story, which is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.

Notice in the judging guidelines that, at least for the purposes of the contest, the “main focus” of the novel is still the love story. Sure, your hero and heroine can be running from the bad guys or working together to identify the bad guy, but their growing attraction, their conflict that keeps them apart, and their eventual happily ever after are why the readers are going along on this journey with them. Yes, they want them to reach safety or put the bad guy behind bars, but they also want to see the hero and heroine work out their differences and find true love together.

That said, you can have each element play off the other. One type of scene that is fairly common in romantic suspense novels is where the hero and heroine have a love scene following some dangerous or life-threatening encounter. These scenes work because this is a normal human reaction — to do something life affirming like making love after a near-death experience. In those life-threatening moments, you realize how quickly life can be snatched away, and arguments and conflicts often fade in the face of possibly never telling or showing someone how you really feel behind all the bluster or fear of becoming intimate.

One pitfall that’s seen in some romantic suspense manuscripts is too much focus on the suspense. Remember, the romance is key. If you find more of your narrative and dialogue focusing on the suspense or mystery, you’ll need to rework it to avoid the manuscript actually being a suspense or mystery novel with a romantic element rather than the opposite.

Up to this point, I’ve been talking about romantic suspense manuscripts that are single title novels. But there are plenty of writers who write romantic suspense or romantic adventure for the category or series market, typically but not always targeted toward Harlequin or Silhouette. In fact, my 2004 GH winner in Romantic Suspense, Dangerous Kisses, was a series book. But at that time there was only one category specifically targeted toward romantic suspense, regardless of the book’s length or structure. Now if you write romantic suspense targeted toward the category/series market, you can consider entering this new category in the GH:

Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure
Series romance novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship but may have more complex suspense or adventure subplots.

Judging guidelines: In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.

Books that are targeted toward the Silhouette Romantic Suspense and Harlequin Intrigue lines immediately come to mind, but this category is not limited to those manuscripts. There are plenty of suspense or adventure stories (think hero and heroine running from the bad guys in the jungle, for example) that are targeted toward other lines such as Harlequin Superromance. These stories, though targeted toward a line that is not specifically about suspense and adventure, may fare better in this GH category than in the Contemporary Series Romance category against stories that focus more on hearth and home or those that revolve around sex and passion.

Whichever category you enter, make sure your premise, your writing, your characters, everything about your entry stands out. Romantic Suspense is a crowded field and thus a story has to have something unique to make it stand out.

Good luck to all the entrants. May your stories someday grace the shelves next to names such as J.D.

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At 9:20 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Thanks for the info, Trish! I really appreciate it. I'm glad to hear that making love after a life-threatening incident is appropriate. I had a feeling a love scene in my manuscript was okay where it was, but I'm always questioning everything. Thanks again for the tips!

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

One pitfall that’s seen in some romantic suspense manuscripts is too much focus on the suspense. Remember, the romance is key.

I think this is one area where the synopsis is so important. In a contest entry of only a fraction of the book, sometimes the only way the judge can decide about how much romance there is, is to look to the synopsis. And it is such a common tendency to focus on all the twists and turns of a suspense plot (or any external plot) and neglect the romance.

We should have one hot discussion when the synopses blog is up!

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

I definitely tend to skew toward having a suspense/mystery with a romantic subplot. It'll be interesting to see how much of that Kensington lets me get away with.

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Very good point, Diane. It's important to put the important romance progression and turning points in the synopsis as well as the more "plot-heavy" suspense stuff. The two elements need to be woven together there the same as they are in the manuscript.

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Jill Monroe said...

Love that ending line, Trish : ) Great advice!

At 6:02 PM, Blogger doglady said...

To me this has got to be one of the hardest genres to write. I cannot imagine balancing a good mystery with a good romance. I have outlined my next WIP and while it is a historical romance there is a mystery in it. Even as I outlined it I thought "How much time do you give to the mystery and how much time do you give to the romance?"

At 10:21 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

doglady, it's definitely a delicate balance. Often, you have to go with your gut or have a totally new set of eyes give it a cold read to let you know his or her impression of how you've handled the balance.

At 6:11 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

I dug out my notes from a workshop I attended; I don't write romantic suspense (yet ;))but I learn SO much from paying attention to how writers in different genres approach their work.

The big things the presenter mentioned were the romance and suspense feeding off each other, and the pacing being so key, the sense of urgency in the story, and to give the villain a POV, even if it was sparing. She said if you really, truly understand what motivates your villain(s), then your entire story flows so much better.

I had never thought about that, so it really stuck with me.

Great post!


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