Romance, Suspense or is it Romantic Suspense?

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by Susan Sleeman

Over the years I’ve had plenty of conversations about romantic suspense and lately I’ve had a lot of writers ask how they can know for sure if their work in progress is a suspense novel or a romantic suspense novel. So I thought I’d answer that question here and in my next few posts provide a few tips on writing romantic suspense.

Obviously romantic suspense is the combination of two genres – romance and suspense. But does that mean every suspense novel that has romance is considered romantic suspense or every romance novel with a suspense subplot is romantic suspense? The answer is a resounding no. To understand my answer let’s look at both pieces of the genre.

Everyone knows what a romance is, right? Boy and girl meet and are attracted to each other. After conflict that keeps them apart is resolved they live happily ever after. Now how or where they meet, what keeps them apart, and what keeps throwing them back together vary from book to book, but the reader knows that they will fall in love and have that happily ever after ending.

In the suspense genre, readers expect a plot with danger, a mystery, and a villain. Someone who commits dastardly acts and keeps committing them though the book. In fact, if he or she is a good villain the things they do to the protagonist escalate with every event so by the end of the book we find the protagonist in very grave danger. The reader may or may not know who the villain is, but they don’t know if the villain will succeed in his sinister plot. And often behind it all is a ticking clock. If the protagonist doesn’t figure out who the villain is and or stop him by the time the clock runs out something even more horrific will happen.

Romantic suspense then includes both of these genres in equal parts. Not a suspense plot with a dash of romance or a romance with a dash of suspense, but both elements in equal measure. The same priority is given to both romance and suspense. If you can take the romance out of your novel and it doesn’t significantly alter the plot of your novel, you have a suspense book. The opposite is true for the suspense. Take it out and the novel isn’t essentially different, then you have a romance with an element of suspense in it.

So really, to craft a romantic suspense novel, the writer has to plot two complete books. You must have a suspense story that drives the novel, moving it forward at a breathtaking pace and keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. And a romance story where the hero and heroine struggle with conflict that keeps them from falling in love as they are racing to solve the mystery or catch the villain.

BOTH storylines have to meld together into one seamless novel. BOTH storylines are equally important. And BOTH storylines are impossible to remove without the novel falling apart. So there you have my definition of romantic suspense.

Thanks for stopping by and please come back in January, when I’ll share my top tips on how to plan a romantic suspense novel.

SUSAN SLEEMAN is a best-selling author of inspirational romantic suspense and mystery novels. She grew up in a small Wisconsin town where she spent her summers reading Nancy Drew and developing a love of mystery and suspense books. Today, she channels this enthusiasm into writing romantic suspense and mystery novels and hosting the popular internet website Susan currently lives in Florida, but has had the pleasure of living in nine states. Her husband is a church music director and they have two beautiful daughters, a very special son-in-law and an adorable grandson.

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