Romantic Suspense, Writing Tips

In Romantic Suspense, Do You Go with Predictable or Twisted–or Both?

iStock_000018846669XSmallMy disclaimer is: I don’t write romantic suspense. I wouldn’t know how. It boggles my mind how writers create a cohesive plot and then give us editors nightmares. With this genre you have to think of character, romantic intrigue and the “boo” factor. Where would I even start? Probably with the villain because I love the evil ones (only on paper).

Because I read so much romantic suspense, I can usually smell the ending within the first few chapters. I just hope the reader doesn’t. This is when I remind myself that suspense lovers read lots of suspense and try to figure out the ending. I’m sure that for writers it’s a constant worry–how to generate suspense while keeping the reader questioning and on the edge of her seat. This is where the villain can help out. In a romance novel, though, you don’t want the villain to outshine the hero and heroine. This can be hard to help because readers love to get into the minds of a twisted bad guy/girl. How did he/she become bad? If you think about it, writers are amateur psychologists, piecing together a person’s internal framework then documenting it. Then the writer has to make the two central characters even more interesting. Add the suspense and you have many sleepless nights for any reader–and, I imagine, for a writer of romantic suspense (you all deserve medals!).

As an editor, I see the following scenarios in romantic suspense:

1. A more predictable plot that most readers will still love. Some of us love our “comfort suspense.” (Bones, The Closer)

2. Several red herrings that throw me off before the obvious villain emerges, pointing a gun. (Agatha Christie sometimes, but I love her!)

3. A deepening focus on the characters. The edgier they are, the less I care that the suspense is uncomplicated. (The Killing, Breaking Bad)

4. A completely twisted story where I have no clue what’s about to happen and the author takes me to scary places (The Following, Hannibal, Breaking Bad). Recently, I was telling an author how twisted she was (she really was/is). I could hear her hesitation when she asked, “Is that a good thing?” It’s  a great thing.

I tend to love #4 the most but realize that readers love all four of these scenarios. They each have a place in suspense. We’ve seen just about everything, but if you add that there are a gazillion voices relaying these juicy tales, you haven’t read the same story twice. Just when I think I can’t be surprised, a writer will find a new way to shock me, to take me where I don’t dare go (but sort of want to). The best writers out there do this–lead you with language and/or story into a new or old place. You might have an idea what will happen, but you don’t see it coming–or maybe you do, but you want to go on this ride anyway.