Writing Romantic Suspense – When Love Gets Mysterious

rosalie-warren-low-tide-lunan-bayRosalie Warren was born in West Yorkshire but lived for many years in Scotland before moving to Coventry in 2002. She has two grown-up children, a PhD in cognitive science, and was a university lecturer before taking early retirement to pursue her lifelong dream of being a writer. She has had two novels published. The first, Charity’s Child by Circaidy Gregory Press; the second, Low Tide, Lunan Bay by Robert Hale. We asked her to talk to us about writing romantic suspense, a genre she said she ‘stumbled into’.

Choosing a genre: so what kind of animal is it?

I worry a lot about genre. My first novel, Charity’s Child, proved difficult to classify. I couldn’t even decide whether it was aimed at young adults or fully-fledged ones (happily, people across a wide age-range have told me they liked it). With my second novel, Low Tide, Lunan Bay, I decided to go for something easier to pigeonhole. It was going to be hen-lit … forty-somethings looking for love.

But I decided my heroine needed to lose ten years, which meant it was no longer (quite) hen-lit. What’s more, my third draft introduced a mystery element I hadn’t foreseen at all. Instead of finding true love second-time-around online and all being (eventually) rosy, Abbie, my heroine, meets an apparently wonderful man called Bill and then her eleven-year-old twin daughters start to cause concern. Could her new relationship somehow be responsible?

Adding a mystery

A mystery element was now present. I found myself writing about my own anxieties – how do you balance children with new love and who (online and offline) can you really trust? When things go wrong, how far are you prepared to go to protect yourself and your loved ones?

My publisher, Robert Hale, liked the story but asked me to shorten it. In the final version, the mystery element became more prominent. A reviewer said it “plunges the reader into unexpected thriller territory” (Kay Green, Circaidy Gregory Review, May 2009), which I rather like.

Crossing genre

One way to describe Low Tide, Lunan Bay is as a mix of two genres, romance and mystery/suspense. I’ve been asked whether this poses problems for marketing (which shelf does it go on in the bookshop?), but it seems not. Romantic suspense has become a well-established genre of its own – and goes back, when you think about it, quite a few years. Daphne du Maurier’s books have been classified that way, as have those of Mary Stewart. More recent authors of this mixed genre include Linda Howard and Nora Roberts.

Knowing the genre conventions

I’ve told you how I did it – now let me try and work out how it should be done. At the very least, try to get clear from the start what genre you intend to write. Don’t (as I did) change your mind halfway through. Study the conventions of your chosen genre. Romances have a hero and a heroine (if they are heterosexual romances, that is) and usually (though not always) a happy ending. Suspense novels contain mystery, probably a false trail or two, an element of danger and someone to solve things in the end.

How you weave these elements together is up to you, but they all need to be there in some form. The same applies to whatever genre (or genre-mix) you are writing. Be aware of the conventions so that, if you decide to break them, at least you’ll be doing it with your eyes open, fully aware of the risks. Remember, readers like (up to a point) to know what to expect.

Keeping an eye on the market

Keep a close eye on the market. Find out as much as you can about what’s selling, what publishers are looking for (though the trouble is, fashions change quickly and by the time you’ve written your book it may all be different). Find out all you can … but when you sit down to write, shove it all away to the back of your brain. It’ll still be there, subtly influencing what you do, but your imaginative, creative side will be in control, as it should be.

Writing the first draft

I write my first drafts with no clear end in sight, allowing my characters to take me where they will. I like John Braine’s advice from his wonderful book: Writing a Novel (Methuen 1974). All that matters about the first draft, he says, is to finish it. (Actually I think he attributes the advice to Hemingway, but whoever said it first, it’s kept me going on many a word-jammed morning.)

When the first draft is finished, I leave it for a while… then I read it through and extract from it the synopsis of my story. It’s not set in stone at this stage, but it will guide me as I start my next draft. I also find it useful to get hold of a diary or calendar for the year(s) in which year the novel is set. It’s a good way to keep track of Easter and other breaks, the progress of pregnancies and so on. If you leave such things too late, you’re in a mess.

The fun bit of your research is to read, read, read. Focus on your chosen genre but don’t restrict yourself to it. All sorts of unexpected influences can nourish your work. Good luck and have a thrilling time!

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4 comments on “Writing Romantic Suspense – When Love Gets Mysterious

  1. Cattt on said:

    Funny part about not knowing what the genre ur book is in. I’m like that too. lol!

  2. Rosalie Warren on said:

    Hi Cattt – I’m glad I’m not the only one :)

  3. Cattt on said:

    :)

  4. Pingback: Just Write Blog Carnival June 12, 2009 Edition | Incurable Disease of Writing

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