Maggie Mitchell

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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…

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

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