Maggie Mitchell

Category Archives: Craft

CRAFT: Estabilishing an emotional connection

Writing Romantic Suspense: Part 4

Establishing an emotional connection

Now you’ve got your characters sorted out they have to meet. To ensure the romance plot starts you have to produce an emotional connection between the two protagonists. I t could be something as simple as bumping into each other and apologizing, or it could be a case of annoyance or even anger that one of them is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Without planting this first emotional reaction between them early on in the story, it’s so much more difficult to establish a believable romance further down the track.

The suspense plot itself is often the reason for the first meeting and this can certainly be a brilliant opportunity for the hero and heroine to begin a relationship on some level.

Here is an excerpt from the brilliant Bronwyn Parry’s latest release DEAD HEAT

About the book:

National Parks Ranger Jo Lockwood is often alone in the wilderness, and she likes it that way – until she discovers the body of a man, brutally murdered.

Detective Nick Matheson’s new posting to the north-west of New South Wales is supposed to be an uneventful return to normal duties and a normal life. He knows organised crime from the inside out and suspects that the victim in the camping ground is not an isolated murder.

Jo is committed to helping the investigation but she has seen the killer’s face and now she’s at risk. Nick’s determined to protect her but as the body count starts mounting, his past and present collide, threatening the people he cares about most.

Trapped in rugged country in scorching summer heat, pursued by hunters who can’t afford to fail, Nick and Jo will need to trust each other completely, and use all their skills and knowledge in order to survive.


The first meeting between the protaganists: Jo has found the body, and Nick has arrived at the scene and started his investigation:

     He couldn’t learn much more from the victim until after the crime-scene officers arrived, so he would have to start with the nearest thing he had to a witness.
     ‘The National Parks officer who found him – do you know her?’ he asked.
     ‘Jo? She’s a newcomer to Goodabri. Setting up things for the new park. She’s the quiet type, doesn’t socialise much. Seems to work hard enough though.’
     Nick had taken a detour through Goodabri on his way to Strathnairn on Sunday, scoping a fraction of the large region covered by the police command. The town was thirty kilometres off the main road and consisted of fifty or so scattered houses, a police cottage, a small primary school, a row of empty shop buildings in the main street and a run-down pub. Not a thriving community, and presumably reliant on the larger Strathnairn, seventy kilometres away.
     A woman who kept to herself in a small community . . . He mentally filed that piece of information. Jo Lockwood turned as he walked towards her across the grass, assessing him in the
same kind of way he instinctively assessed her during those few moments.
     She’s the quiet type . . . Her emotions tightly leashed behind her pale face and closed expression, she shook his hand with a firm grasp when he introduced himself, and the constable’s
description underwent a swift revision in Nick’s mind. Quiet perhaps, but from reserve, not shyness.
     The calloused hand briefly in his, her lean, fit frame and her lightly tanned skin confirmed the ‘seems to work hard’ part of Harrison’s description.

     Despite her control, the haunting determination in her hazel eyes held his attention. Shock, yes – she still fought to keep it from overwhelming her. But she knew she could. He’d seen that same determination in the eyes of too many colleagues over the years – people who’d seen incomprehensible death, and survived it.
     He guessed she’d be in her early thirties, but those eyes were older. No makeup, no artifice, nothing pretty in her face, only a stunning, stark beauty he found compelling.
     Her colleague stepped forward and extended his hand. ‘I’m Malcolm Stewart, senior ranger for the Strathnairn National Parks division. Do you really need to interview Jo now? She’s had a tough morning.’
     Before Nick could answer, Jo threw her boss a glance that mixed affection with slight exasperation. ‘I don’t need mollycoddling, Mal. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can all get on with our jobs. I presume you’ll want this part of the park closed, at least for today, Detective?’
     ‘Yes. Perhaps you could liaise with the uniformed police, Mr Stewart, while I ask Ms Lockwood a few questions?’
     ‘It’s Doctor Lockwood,’ Stewart corrected him. ‘Doctor Joanna Lockwood. She has a PhD.’
     With a gentle hand on Stewart’s arm, Jo said, ‘It’s just a piece of paper, Mal. The title is irrelevant.’
     Irrelevant? Not in Nick’s estimation. He added intelligence and perseverance to his impressions of capability and control. For all the cool calmness of her manner, the late morning was already hot, and she’d been standing around waiting for a couple of hours. Nick dragged his gaze away from a trickle of sweat running down her neck and disappearing below her open collar.
     ‘Can we find somewhere in the shade to talk?’ he asked her.
     She nodded. ‘There’s a table down by the river. I don’t think we’d be disturbing any evidence there.’
     She slung a small backpack over her shoulder and led the way, skirting around the edge of the camping ground, along a thick line of trees and rough undergrowth that obscured the
river from view. He could hear it – water running over rocks –but only caught glimpses now and then. So he looked, instead, at the open area of the camping ground. He would go over it closely later, but for now he concentrated on getting the general layout, the context in which the crimes had occurred. Even from this distance, the damage was obvious.
     ‘They sure made a mess. I don’t suppose you collect names,
addresses or car registrations from visitors?’
     ‘Names and postcodes sometimes – when they fill in a form. But that’s hit and miss.’ She turned on to a path through a break in the trees, into a clearing beside the water’s edge. ‘However,
I can tell you that there were at least two vehicles here. And two dogs.’
     Hope sparked in him. ‘You saw them?’
     ‘No. I was only here yesterday morning, and it was after that. The tyre tracks are there, though, and dog tracks and faeces beside where they were parked.’ She rested her backpack on the
wooden picnic table and drew out a camera. ‘I have photos. I was compiling evidence for a long list of offences – criminal damage, bringing dogs and chainsaws into a National Park, lighting a campfire during a total fire ban – but I guess . . .’
     She sat down abruptly on the bench seat, her bitter, somewhat shaky laugh a small crack in her control. ‘Murder pretty much trumps all of those.’
     ‘It would. If the people who did the vandalism committed the murder.’ Avoiding a lump of bird shit on the seat, he sat opposite her, taking the camera she offered and flicking through the images while keeping half his attention on her. It was incongruous, sitting in such a cool, restful spot under the trees, the river winding its way over rocks less than ten metres away, when thirty metres behind him havoc had reigned in the night. She stared at the table, circling a knot in the timber with
her fingertip. Short, unpainted fingernails, he noticed. And tanned wrists and hands that, although small, were corded with lean muscle.
     After a few moments of silence, she looked up at him and said,
     ‘If it wasn’t them, then the timing would have had to be close.’
     ‘Why do you say that?’
     ‘When I arrived this morning, the dog faeces were still moist. Only a few hours old. And the . . .’ she steadied her voice and continued, ‘the victim – there was no sign of rigor. And few insects.’
     She had all his attention now. He considered her argument,and explored possible holes in it. ‘The dogs might belong to the murderer.’
     ‘The vehicle the dogs were tied up beside is the same onethat rammed down the information board. There’s a distinctive tyre track.’
     ‘You’re very observant.’
     ‘I’m a scientist.’

DEAD HEAT by Bronwyn Parry
Published in Australia and New Zealand in 2012
by Hachette Australia
(an imprint of Hachette Australia Pty Limited)
Level 17, 207 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Copyright © Bronwyn Parry 2012

Buy the book:
 Nick and Joanna have made a definite emotional connection here. He sizes up both her intelligence, and her personality, while she tries to maintain her composure and not give away much of how finding a body has affected her. She is also keen to show him she’s a professional and not a simpering female.

What do you see here? What emotional connection do you find?

BTW- It’s a fantastic book and I highly recommend it!


Think about your own stories. In your mind, or in your notebook – or even here – describe (in a few lines) briefly your hero and heroines first meeting. What emotional connection have they made? What emotions are involved?

CRAFT: Creating a villain you love to hate

Writing Romantic Suspense: Part 3

Creating a villain you love to hate

Unlike a straight romance, where the main focus is the heroine and the hero, in romantic suspense the antagonist takes on greater importance. The plot often revolves around what the villain has done or is planning to do. Without him/her/them, there is no suspense. That element of evil is what makes for a successful villainous character but we also have to understand his or her motivation for the character to meld with the story.

This pseudo-sympathetic villain is often the one we feel sorry for because we see how easily the human mind can be corrupted by circumstances. This is also the character that is so charismatic, they can make being evil appear seductive.

For example, think of the Phantom from Phantom of the Opera. Even though he was a villain and definitely up to no good, readers around the world relate to him because they understand his conflict and motivation. Another favourite example is Dracula. Who isn’t seduced by his hypnotic eyes and the spell he casts on his victims? You can see similar character traits in some redeemed heroes who started out as villains. I know I love Kresley Cole’s Lothaire and for many of her books he was a vicious villain.

The other type of villain is the one who has absolutely no discernible redeeming features. This character is pure evil and as such adds considerably to the chilling plot line. We want to toss him in jail and throw away the key.

We want him dead!

In the context of the story only of course. This increases the tension of the story and the danger to both main characters, immediately upping the stakes and intensifying the romantic elements.


Think about a villain who you loved to hate…one who made an impression…why do you feel this way?

It could be one who creeped you out, or one you felt sorry for…or you were appalled
by…enquiring minds want to know!

CRAFT: Make your characters memorable

Writing Romantic Suspense Part 2

Steps to Balancing the Romance with the Suspense

So now you have an idea as to how much romance you want to include in the suspense plot. What next?

It’s really important that both plot lines run not only parallel, but are entwined or integrated. To make the romantic suspense real to the reader the story cannot possibly work with just the romance, or just the suspense plot. They are both symbiotic parts of the story and cannot exist without each other.

This is the tricky bit and unfortunately it’s where a number of writers come unstuck. The flames of the romance need to be fanned to different heights throughout the story, but what is the best way to do this?

1. Make your Characters Memorable

The first step is creating the characters that will work well in a both a romance and a suspense. The hero should be someone who is larger, or more handsome, or more conflicted, or more silver-tongued, or more MORE…than the average Joe. He doesn’t need to be some huge heroic superhero, but he does need to grab you from the first glimpse. He’s the guy who’s got an axe to grind, or has more success with women than most. He’s the one with the killer smile and the sexy body like none you’ve ever seen before. He’s the millionaire because he’s worked his butt off all his life, or the rebel who’s great at his job but never gets promoted because he has such a bad attitude. He could even be the biggest nerd, but has an IQ off the scale. You get the picture.

Your heroine needs to be strong enough to deal with the circumstances thrown at her in the story however, she also should be someone your readers can relate to. She is the woman they identify with. She looks like them, or how they want to look, she has a similar job, circumstances, personality traits, opportunities, or they want to be like her. They want to be her. The hero is the fantasy, but the heroine could be you!

If the reader gets involved emotionally with the character, then the story will involve them to the point that they won’t want to put it down.


Write a short character chart for both your hero and your heroine, say 5 or 6 lines on each, if that is all you can think of right now.

Although it’s good to put in the physical traits, I want you to spend some time thinking what personality traits they have.

A good trick I use it to first visualize where they live…what sort of dwelling? House? Apartment? House boat? Hut?

Once you know where they live…close your eyes and put them there. What sort of furniture do they have? What books are on their shelves? Is the place tidy or messy? Are there photographs ? Who are they of? Is there music playing? What style?

What is their mood? Are they happy? Sad? Angry? Irritated? Hopeful? Lonely? Cynical?

What is their family like? Who are their friends? Where do they work?

I’m a visual learner so I find this method extremely useful in getting to know my
characters….I hope you do too…

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