Romantic Suspense – An Overview

Romantic SuspenseIn a comment on a previous post, one TKZ reader asked about romantic suspense. Since I write in that genre as well as mystery, I’ll try to respond.

At first glance, the answer seems obvious. Romantic Suspense books have both romance and suspense. However, that’s a very broad definition, and in order to write in the genre, one needs to dig a little deeper.

Is it a romance novel with a suspense sub plot?
Or is it a suspense novel with a romance sub plot?

How are they divided? 50-50? 60-40 romance because it’s Romantic Suspense? Or 60-40 suspense because it’s Romantic Suspense? Or something else?

In truth, it’s none of the above, so let’s back up and look at the definitions.

According to the Romance Writers of America (presented long before the recent implosion and I think their definitions/guidelines still hold), a Romance is defined as a novel containing a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.

One of those subgenres is romantic suspense. What does RWA say about that?

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

You’ll notice the definition does not single out suspense. Instead, it adds mystery and thriller. And my own personal bugaboo is that RWA chose to call the entire subgenre “Romantic Suspense” when the mystery genre is also in there. A mystery is not a suspense, and vice versa.

Let’s look at those genres that fall under the mystery umbrella. Author and former agent Nathan Bradford sums them up thusly:

Mysteries have mysteries, i.e., something you don’t know until the end.
Suspense has danger, but not necessarily action.
Thrillers have action.

A bit simplistic, but it’s a start. An easy way to think of it is in a mystery, the reader follows the protagonist and doesn’t learn anything until he or she does. Think Sherlock Holmes.

In a suspense, the reader is one step ahead of the protagonist and knows facts before he or she does. Think Alfred Hitchcock.

Can your book have both? Yes. In my Finding Sarah, the story begins with a mystery, and both characters are working together. But when Sarah disappears, readers will see what’s happening from her POV, and they’ll know more than Randy. Likewise, as Randy discovers clues, the reader will know them but Sarah won’t. Moving your characters apart can increase the suspense aspect of the book.

What about thrillers? The older definition of a thriller was “a suspense novel with consequences of global proportions”, but the lines between suspense and thriller have blurred. A thriller has more action, should have higher stakes, but often the stakes and/or consequences are only for the characters and don’t reach far beyond the setting of the book.

(Side Note) At a conference, I asked Lee Child whether he thought thrillers had been “watered down” as a way for publishers to attract a wider audience, because I’ve seen reviews for some of my Blackthorne, Inc. books that refer to them as thrillers, which was not my intention when writing them. He gave me a serious look (from way up high, because he’s tall and I’m not.) He said, “Do you want to know the difference between thriller and suspense?”

Duh. Of course I did. This was Lee Child, after all. He said, “It’s an extra zero on your advance.”

So, for the purposes of this post, I’m lumping thrillers and suspense in the same box. Now, back to my initial question, taking the RWA definition of romantic suspense into consideration.

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

Note the word integral. The two elements are entwined so you cannot remove any of the mystery/suspense elements without the book collapsing. Likewise for the romance. If you can remove either of those elements, you don’t have a romantic suspense.

When you’re writing you should be writing 100% romance and 100% mystery/suspense.

Sound hard? You’re right. It is.

 



Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Keys Ways to Add Layers to Your Writer’s Voice

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane
 



Joe Moore’s guest blogger yesterday, editor and author Jodie Renner, had a great post on Developing a Strong Third Person Voice that stirred other ideas for me to dove tail off. I thought of experiencing a scene through the senses of my POV narrator and giving that character an opinion of his surroundings to add setting description color as well as insight into the narrator to reflect on him or her. By making each word choice serve more than one purpose (to add color as well as insight into the character) an keep the pace moving without bogging down the narrative.

James Patterson talked about this at a Romance Writers of America conference in Reno in 2004 to a packed house of writers that filled two ballrooms. He said on his computer, he has words that inspire him to remember the basics. BE THERE were the words he posted to remind him to put the reader into the scene by using their senses to trigger images from the words on the page.

When writing any scene, get the words down, but then go back and layer in other elements to enhance the voice of your narrator and make the reading experience more vivid for the reader. Ask yourself what your character would be seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and how something would feel when they touch it. Adding these elements can bring depth to the scene and draw the reader into the world you are creating, by triggering the “familiar” with them.

Below is an excerpt from Robert Crais’s The Sentry, one of my favorite authors. This comes from the very start of the book.

The Sentry – by Robert Crais
Monday, 4:28 AM, the narrow French Quarter room was smoky with cheap candles that smelled of honey. Daniel stared through broken shutters and shivering glass up the length of the alley, catching a thin slice of Jackson Square through curtains of gale-force rain that swirled through New Orleans like mad bats riding the storm. Daniel had never seen rain fall up before.
     Daniel loved these damned hurricanes. He folded back the shutters, then opened the window. Rain hit him good. It tasted of salt and smelled of dead fish and weeds. The cat-five wind clawed through New Orleans at better than a hundred miles an hour, but back here in the alley—in a cheap one-room apartment over a po’boy shop—the wind was no stronger than an arrogant breeze.
     The power in this part of the Quarter had gone out almost an hour ago; hence, the candles Daniel found in the manager’s office. Emergency lighting fed by battery packs lit a few nearby buildings, giving a creepy blue glow to the shimmering walls. Most everyone in the surrounding buildings had gone. Not everyone, but most. The stubborn, the helpless, and the stupid had stayed.
     Like Daniel’s friend, Tolley.
     Tolley had stayed.
     Stupid.

This very visual and sensory description from Crais’s excerpt incorporates elements of the senses, as well as metaphors and analogies to describe an opening scene. Using adjectives like “arrogant” to describe a breeze is unexpected yet effective to say that the hurricane winds had been tamed. You can taste and smell the rain. It “tastes of salt and smells of dead fish and weeds” which adds to the raw feeling near the gulf. The narrow French Quarter room was “smoky with cheap candles that smelled of honey.” “Broken shutters” give you more than a visual when you can feel the chill of the hurricane through the “shivering glass.” The notion of “mad bats riding the storm” give the bluster a sinister feel too.

Having given these examples, it’s important not to overwrite the setting/scene. In this excerpt, there is a laser focus on setting the mood and the word descriptors are deliberate choices, like using dead fish and weeds to describe the rain in the French Quarter. It adds to the ambience without being overdone or by being unrelated to the location or mood. Recently I read a book where the metaphors and similes stood out because they were not only unrelated to the other examples on the first few pages, but these comparisons did nothing to enhance the mood or give insight into the character or setting. It made the author appear like a student trying to impress the teacher, with not much thought going into the word choices and how they pertained to the story.

We are Visual Learners
Many people are visual learners, so using the senses (and/or metaphors and analogies) can bring in the visual using something familiar. These ideas can quickly suggest a setting without slowing the pace with too much word description. They give a quick snapshot of the scene in a way to trigger the reader’s mind and delve into their own experiences to make things more vivid. These images can also trigger emotions, such as comfort or fear, at the same time. Adding these elements can not only bring color and distinction to the voice, but they can also layer in elements of emotion and visual triggers to enhance the voice. So let’s talk about metaphors and analogies.


Metaphors
A metaphor is an implied comparison that brings two dissimilar things together and implies that the two things are alike or comparable. Metaphors can be used to describe a complicated concept or setting, to make it more easily understood or relatable. They can enhance the imagery by adding a familiar feeling, such as the lightness of taking flight when you describe being in love, or describing death as a candle that is snuffed out.

Examples:

  • Ideas can mushroom
  • Love has wings
  • A brave man has the heart of a lion

Analogies
Just like a metaphor, an analogy makes a link between two dissimilar things, but implies there is a difference between the two things, while a metaphor treats them as the same.

Examples:

  • A fish is to water, what a bird is to air
  • A CEO is to a company, what a General is to an Army
  • A mother giving birth to a child, is what an author would be to the creation of a novel


I wanted to include other excerpts that use a visual imagery well in terms of metaphors and similes. One of my favorite books is The Book Thief. If you’re a regular at TKZ, you’ve heard me talk about this book before. I hope you enjoy these:

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
“She was the book thief without the words. Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like rain.” The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 
 
“Upon her arrival, you could still see the bite marks of snow on her hands and the frosty blood on her fingers. Everything about her was undernourished. Wire-like shins. Coat hanger arms. She did not produce it easily, but when it came, she had a starving smile.” The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

Anne Bronte – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
“His heart was like a sensitive plant, that opens for a moment in the sunshine, but curls up and shrinks into itself at the slightest touch of the finger, or the lightest breath of wind.” The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

If you are a reader – what are some of your favorite and memorable lines from books you’ve read that enhanced the mood, setting, or characters? If you are a writer – do you have any tricks to share on adding layers of a unique voice to your work?

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TEN Simple Relaxation Techniques & Stress Relievers for Writers

By Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

Recently I served on a panel at the Romance Writers of America annual conference on the topic of “Care and Feeding of the Writer’s Soul.” Below is only a fraction of the empowering presentation put on to a full house by Ellie James, Trinity Faegen, and yours truly. I had no idea how important our message would be to the attendees who found us afterwards and hugged us with tears in their eyes. So my message today is to take care of YOU.

1.) Meditation – Meditation isn’t about chanting “Ohms” and contorting your body. ANY repetitive action can be considered meditation—walking, swimming, painting, and knitting—any activity that keeps your attention calmly in the present moment. When your mind is at rest, the brain can be stimulated in a creative fashion.

2.) Visualize Being Relaxed – Imagine a relaxing setting away from your tensions, your perfect dream spot. This could be a vacation spot or a fancy luxury spot where you are pampered. Visualization could also include something you touch to trigger that feeling of calm—a silk robe, warm water, or a cashmere sweater.

3.) Breathe Deeply – Relaxed breathing is deep, not shallow. Get in a comfortable position and let out all the negativity in a deep expelled breath through pursed lips. Drop your shoulders to release the tension and imagine your core as the powerful place of your strength. Keep your mind focused deep into your power spot and consciously expel the stress with each breath. Breathe in the new and expel the negative until you are renewed. Believe it and make it so. Do this TEN TIMES and feel your body relax more with each step.

4.) Take a Look Around You – Something an author should do anyway. Keep your mind focused on one thing. No multi-tasking. Stay in the moment and focus on one thing or activity. Staying in the present can help promote relaxation, without all the clutter the mind can generate. If you are outdoors, focus on a bed of flowers or the sound of the birds. If you’re in a mall, keep your attention to one window, maybe one pair of shoes. Focus on how it was created, examine the details. Tell a story about that one object. As long as you focus on one object in the present, stress will take a backseat.

5.) Drink Hot Tea – Make a moment in your day to have a cup of tea. Go green. Coffee raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, while green tea offers health and beauty. Chamomile tea is a traditional herbal favorite for its calming influence. Any black tea is a stress reliever too.

6.) Show Love – Cuddle your pet or give an unexpected hug to a friend or family member. Giving a hug is like getting one back. Snuggling is good too. Snuggle that spouse who supports your writing. Social interaction helps your brain think better. Ever try a hug or snuggle for writer’s block? Physically showing affection—like stroking your pet—may actually lower your blood pressure. It can’t hurt.

7.) Self – Massage – If you don’t have time to visit a professional masseuse, try giving your neck a rub with both hands or use one hand to massage the other arm and alternate. The act will increase your blood circulation and be part of your newfound ritual to take care of yourself. Reward yourself with this each day when you’ve hit your word count. Make it your ritual of caring.

8.) Take a Time Out – When you sense stress happening or too much is bombarding you, take a time out. Walk away. Go to your happy place. Don’t let stress win. Find a quiet corner or room and decompress. Listen to your breathing and your heartbeat. Slow everything down. Remember that time is always on your side.

9.) Take a Musical Detour – Maybe with your afternoon tea, add music. If your mind is focused on the beauty of each note, this can also accomplish relaxation by keeping you in the present, away from your stressers.

10.) Take an Attitude Break – Believe it or not, THIRTY SECONDS is enough time to switch from stress to relaxation if you make the time. To do that, engage your mind in positive thoughts. Do this by anything that triggers a positive feeling in you—picture your child or your spouse, imagine your pet doing something cute, or picture wearing your favorite jewelry or shoes. Whatever that image is, it will slow your breathing, relax your tense muscles, and put a smile on your face. Your heart rate will slow down and a feeling of peace will follow.

Share what gets you through stress. You have any good tips?

To close, I’d like to share another secret with you: the outrageous benefits of Laugh Yoga. The technique is simple and can be done at any time, including five in the morning in Mumbai.

If you have trouble with this video, click on the link HERE.

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