I absolutely love Romantic Suspense, both as a reader and as the author of the “SBG” romantic suspense series. Writing Romantic Suspense is fun, but like any genre it has its own rules. Here are my top three guidelines for writing this genre, illustrated with examples from my new book, EXCHANGE OF FIRE, out today from Penguin’s InterMix imprint.
Develop Balanced Alpha Characters.
What do I mean by this? Simple, the hero and heroine should be equally matched. This does not mean the characters are perfect or they’ve suddenly become invincible. Rather, their strengths and weakness ‘fit’ together, allowing them to defeat the enemy and find their HEA (“happily ever after”) together. No one wants to believe a gun-toting Special Ops hero falls for the mousy seamstress who is afraid of her own shadow. Um, ew!
In EXCHANGE OF FIRE, Wraith (our heroine) is a kick-butt sniper of SBG’s Delta Squad who is on the run and hiding in a small town. Her match is our hero Casper Grady, former marine, successful business owner and Wraith’s boss. These two complement each other with their skills and training and they work together as equals to defeat multiple enemies on their path to happy ever after.
Create A Strong Storyline Conflict By Using Villains.
In a typical romance, the Storyline Conflict is based on the relationship itself; the hero and heroine’s lives prevent them from forming the relationship. In Romantic Suspense, the storyline conflict happens outside of the hero and heroine’s relationship. To accomplish this, Romantic Suspense has a villain (or in my case, multiple villains). These villains give the storyline intensity by raising the stakes and presenting consequences that affect more than just the hero and heroine. Will the hero and heroine stop the bomber in time? Can the hero and heroine get that vital piece of intel back to command post before the military is deployed?
Having multiple villains makes the story more suspenseful, but, every villain must have a purpose and believable motivations. I have three types of villains: A Series Villain, a Storyline Villain, and a Personal Villain.
In a series set up like mine, where each novel focuses on a different member of a team, a Series Villain can tie the books in a series together. This villain could be a single person, a group (like Al Qaeda) or naughty corporation. But, if the series goes on for many books, then the Series Villain must evolve and change over the course of the series to keep the overall storyline fresh.
Like the Series Villain, a Storyline Villain also causes strife for our Hero and Heroine, but this villain is overcome by the end of the individual novel, defeated as part of our Hero and Heroine’s journey. If they are not, then the reader will not feel a sense of resolution which will undermine your entire story.
A Personal Villain is different from the other two villains. In most cases, this is a single individual intent on destroying the hero or heroine for a personal reason or vendetta. This villain can be defeated by the end of the book or transitioned into a Series Villain or storyline villain for the next book in the series
Increase The Suspense Through The Use Of High Action.
This is the fun stuff. The heart-pounding, pulse-racing, page-turning situations the hero and heroine have to accomplish/escape/evade/stop/ before something really bad happens. But, as the story progresses, the stakes must rise or the story may fall flat.
Consider the action setup for EXCHANGE OF FIRE. I open the story with Wraith in the middle of an intense mission that culminates into a tragic event. This High Action scene sets the tone for the book, but I can’t stop there. In each High Action sequence that follows, (think car chases, assassins shooting up homes, steamy passion, and drug lord hostage-taking) I consistently increase the suspense by having the risk-level of the outcome affect a wider range of people if the hero or heroine were to fail. Putting more and more at stake in each action sequence will keep your readers hooked till the very end.
So, there you have it: my formula for drafting a thrill-ride that keeps readers glued to the pages and demanding more.
P.A. DePaul is a multi-genre romance author including paranormal fantasy and romantic suspense. She originally hails from Carroll County and Baltimore County, Maryland, but also lived in Macon and Warner Robins, Georgia. She currently resides in a beautiful community just outside Philadelphia. EXCHANGE OF FIRE is her first novel in the SBG series. You can also find out more about her on Twitter at www.padepaul.com and www.facebook.com/padepaul.