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Writing Romantic Suspense

Every Monday, we’ll feature a success story from our last conference, or a post by a conference speaker, editor, agent, etc. This week, we’re featuring speaker Anne Cleeland, whose latest book, Murder In Retribution, is out tomorrow!

Love in the Time of Peril: Writing the Romantic Suspense Story

Are you stuck in a sagging middle act, or struggling with an anemic word count? Despair no more; instead, pick a crisis, and try your hand at romantic suspense.

Because the romance is necessarily intertwined with a suspense plot, the story practically writes itself, and the only difficulty is in finding a pause in the action long enough for the hero and heroine to fall in love.

They say that a mystery is when the reader is trying to figure out what happened, but suspense is when the reader is trying to figure out what will happen. So for romantic suspense stories, there has to be a set-up, and the set-ups usually involve some familiar tropes:

The ticking clock: Time is short! Solve the problem, or terrible things will happen! Extra points if there is a child in peril, or if the world is about to end.

The man (or woman) on the run: Watch out! The bad guys are coming! Extra points if there’s a struggle atop a moving train, or if the chase goes cross-country.

The conspiracy thriller: Nothing is what it seems! Trust no one! Extra points if an ordinary-seeming person is actually a criminal mastermind, or if there’s a double-cross by a trusted friend.

The treasure hunt: Where is this very-important thing? We must get to it first! Extra points if the thing is ancient, with mythological powers, or if the thing must be destroyed to save the world (or both!).

The bewildering sequence of events: Otherwise known as what the heck is going on, here? This trope is my personal favorite—the ordinary heroine is swept up in extraordinary events, and the reader must find out alongside her why she’s at the center of it all. Extra points if the hero might be the enemy, or if it’s all a case of mistaken identity, and no one will believe the heroine.

Romantic suspense stories are particularly suited to writers like me, who don’t plot ahead of time—a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter only serves to inspire the next round of action. Because there are two intertwined plots, romantic suspense tends to be plot-driven as opposed to character-driven, but the best romantic suspense stories have memorable characters, too—after all, there’s only so many ex-navy seals with a drinking problem that we can handle without turning to the bottle, ourselves. So—try to put a fresh coat of paint on the plucky heroine, the mysterious/troubled hero, the staunch supporter, and the villainous villain.

Once you’ve got your trope and your characters, make sure to keep the pace moving; chapter one should open with something slightly ominous going on, and a heroine who is hoping against hope that things aren’t as ominous as they seem. We know better, of course; things are about to get even more ominous, and then outright scary, and then dire. Time to run!


author photo 1Murder In Retribution coverAnne Cleeland belongs to the OCCRWA. She is the author of an historical fiction Regency series, and a contemporary Scotland Yard series. Murder in Retribution, the second book in the mystery series, is available in bookstores and on Amazon starting July 29.

You can find Anne at her website and on twitter.