Maggie Mitchell

CRAFT: Writing Romantic Suspense – Part 1


Firstly, just a little about myself. I have several books published under a different name, but since this genre and heat level is different I am working as Maggie Mitchell.

My new genre is contemporary romantic suspense (well, actually old, since this is what I started writing and was always my first love).

So to start off I thought I would talk about my thoughts on writing romantic suspense. I’ll be posting a few posts on the same theme so I hope you find them useful.  I’d love to hear your thoughts too – do you agree with me? Do you have anything to add?

What is the attraction of the romantic suspense plot?

For me, it’s the heart stopping suspense, the thrill of the chase, and nonstop
action that heightens the emotion and intensifies the romance. Knowing that the characters not only have to solve the mystery and conquer the evil villain or villains, they also learn trust and in the process deal with the best and the worst in each other. This is one of the main attractions of the suspense story for me. Whatever the plot device, be it women in jeopardy, murder, stalkers,
terrorists, spy thrillers, how can the heroine and hero not fall for each other in these intense and emotional circumstances?

How much is the right mix of romance and suspense?

Authors such as Nora Roberts, Nina Bruhns, Iris Johansen, Cindy Gerard, Shannon McKenna, Suzanne Brockmann, Debra Webb, Julie Miller and Heather Graham continue to write huge best sellers. Then there are the Aussie Rom Suspense authors – Bronwyn Parry, Helene Young, Sandy Curtis, Shannon Curtis and many more. These authors and all those others who write romantic suspense have such diverse styles it’s difficult to even attempt to define the genre. The popularity of romantic suspense continues to grow, but for some writers this sub genre of romance fiction continues to be one of the most difficult to write successfully.

The problem lies in the balance between the romance and the suspense. How much of each is needed? Should there be two separate or one integrated plot? The short answer is that it all depends what type of story you want to write, and which publisher you are targeting. In the category market, some publishers ask for a 50/50 split of romance with suspense or a 60/40 split with more of an emphasis on the emotional growth of the characters. If your book doesn’t fit into these moulds they won’t publish it. This may sound unfair, but in category fiction it’s all about reader expectation. In most cases the reader is buying the series, not the author, so the guidelines need to be very clear.

Mainstream single title romantic suspense on the other hand varies from author to author. If you are writing a single title romantic suspense novel you have more flexibility with the balance of romance and suspense in your story. Shannon McKenna integrates powerful emotional and sexual relationships within her suspense plots, while for Tami Hoag the suspense or thriller plot is

the main focus. That doesn’t mean the romance is secondary. Character development and relationship building are integral parts of all romantic suspense novels and add to the suspense/thriller plot and the spine tingling tension that enhances the story.

Marketing of your book can play a part in your decision as well. Depending on your own particular blend of romance and suspense, you may well find your book placed on the crime shelves in the local bookshop as well as the romance section. This can increase sales exposure of your books. Many authors and publishers do this deliberately.

At the end of the day, you have to write the book you want to write. I believe that instinct plays a huge part in how you decide to distribute the suspense with the romantic or emotional plot line. Nora Roberts says you “just know” what is right for your story. I’m not sure that it comes as naturally as Ms. Roberts would have us think, but believing in your characters and your story goes a long way to making it the best darn story you can write.


• Think about what sort of book you want to write.
• Are you targeting a particular publisher?
• How much romance/suspense do you think your book requires?

Publisher submission guidelines:
Harlequin Guidelines (Intrigue and Suspense)
Carina Press
Entangled Publishing (Dead Sexy)
The Writers Marketplace 
Penguin Australia

4 Thoughts on “CRAFT: Writing Romantic Suspense – Part 1

  1. Hey Maggie, great article.

    I write romantic suspense – woman in jeopardy stories – and love reading good romantic suspense. The main focus when I’m writing is on the suspense, but of course there’s lots of sizzle and romance!

  2. Thanks for dropping by Cheryl 🙂 Nothing better than suspense to ramp up the romance and vice versa huh?

    I’ll be posting part 2 of my article later today…talking about heroines and heroes 🙂

  3. Maggie
    Great post. You not only nailed the subject, you gave me lots of author names to pursue and publishers. …a great source of information for our genre. Thanks

  4. Hi Jo-Ann 🙂 Thank you so much for your kind words. I hope you get a chance to check out the new authors and in particular the Aussies!

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