Reading & Writing Romantic Suspense


For the next two weeks, Harlequin is hosting a Romantic Suspense Event.

And starting at 12:01 PM EST today, if you hop over to their Facebook page, you can take their quiz to find out which series is your perfect read for a chance to win a full year’s subscription!
Of course, I hope you’ll choose the series I write for:
Love Inspired Suspense.
LIS Books Collage

Then join us next week at the Love Inspired Suspense forum at for a variety of discussions:

      Mon will be the continuity and favorite dogs/hero dogs.
Wed will be characters you’d like to see/character name suggestions.
      Fri will be suspenseful settings/settings you’d like to see.
[I’ll add links here once their live]


Read on…
First of all, if you aspire to write a romantic suspense, it’s important to understand that it is not simply a romance with a suspense thread. Romantic suspense readers want both a satisfying romance, and a suspense plot that is complicated enough that she won’t easily figure it out or, worse, become annoyed with your characters when they don’t.

So make it your goal to write a novel that is 100% suspense AND 100% romance–two strands of a rope inseparably intertwined throughout the story.

My editors want the danger to be evident from the start, ideally from the first line, or paragraph, definitely before the end of the first page.

For Love Inspired Suspense, both the hero and heroine need to be introduced and connected to the suspense within the first chapter. In single title romantic suspense, depending on chapter lengths, you might introduce the heroine and suspense plot in the first chapter, the hero and his connection in the second, each with clear goals, and bring them together in the third, perhaps clashing over opposing goals or opposing means of reaching the same goal.

I personally prefer to see both the hero and heroine introduced, and if possible to meet, in the first chapter. But either way, jumping right into the suspense is key. If you spend the beginning writing set-up or only writing about the romance, you will lose your reader before the suspense starts.

Although not essential, I also personally like to keep the bad guy a mystery to both my reader and my hero and heroine. That means, I tend not to include scenes in the villain’s pov (point of view)  unless they are anonymous or ambiguous and invite more questions than they answer. To me, keeping the villain a mystery adds more interest and tension to the plot, since the reader will only see things unfold from the hero and heroine’s viewpoint, and therefore share their emotional reactions to what’s happening on the page. Moreover, it keeps the romantic tension center stage, instead of detouring to a few pages where the hero and heroine might not even be on the page.

What is essential, however, is that the heroine be in jeopardy throughout the novel, and that both the hero and heroine have a stake in the outcome.

Let me repeat that another way.

The suspense plot shouldn’t simply be something the hero and heroine stumble into, which thereby puts them in danger, until they find a way out. It shouldn’t be a situation with which they have no personal connection other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Not that that can’t make a compelling story. My Daphne DuMaurier Award winning manuscript was a compelling read to the readers, agents and editors who gave it high scores. However, publishers turned it down precisely because the hero and heroine had no personal stake in the outcome of the jeopardy they’d happened into…well, besides getting out alive.  😀

There was tons of romance. There was lots of suspense of the “oh, no, what’s going to happen next?” variety, and the two were tightly intertwined. But aside from survival, the outcome of the suspense plot had no personal consequences to either of them.

Do you understand the difference?

Another important thing to keep in mind as you devise your suspense plot is to play fair with your reader. You can’t pull a convenient explanation or twist out of the blue; you have to set it up first.

Details are the key to setting up suspense and having fun with the reader. As a writer you leave all kinds of toys on the floor in a scene, use them.

But keep in mind that you can’t slow down for many home and apple pie romance scenes or deep spiritual introspection or discussions in the middle of a fast-paced suspense. They’re fine in a straight romance. But need to be utilized sparingly in romantic suspense.

Lastly, don’t wrap up your suspense too early and leave the reader with only the romance to support the end of the book. Or vice versa.

Remember the image of the rope. Romantic suspense readers want both romance and suspense all the way through the novel. And… inspy readers want to also see a satisfying spiritual growth or realization in the characters.

Being forced together via the suspense plot, forges a positive change in the hero’s and heroine’s characters; growth that must take place before the romance can culminate in a happy ending.

Read that last paragraph again.

It is the bare bones blueprint of how the essential elements of a romantic suspense are inextricably connected.

Your Turn: I hope this brief overview has provided a better grasp of areas of your story that might need some attention. Feel free to ask questions. I’ll be happy to try to answer them.

Ask Me Your Writing Questions

Today, I’m cheating and letting you plot my blog!

I’ve been writing novels for ten years, have written 10 complete manuscripts, rewritten some of those so extensively that they could scarcely be called the same book, have 5 books traditionally published (4 category romantic suspense, 1 trade book mystery) and have 5 more books contracted.

So… I’ve learned some stuff about writing (particularly writing romantic suspense and mysteries for the Christian market).


And… I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have (if I can) about getting started or where do you go from here or just because you’re curious.

Your Turn: The floor is yours. Ask away.

Fatal InheritanceAlso this week:

Click here to visit me at Elaine Stock’s blog for an interview and giveaway op for my latest Love Inspired Suspense, Fatal Inheritance. (or one of my earlier LIS books if you already have the newest 😉 )


Empower image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


Finding that Perfect Line

Do you envy those people who can rattle off the kind of pithy comeback that, for most of us, comes to mind hours or days too late?

The wonderful thing about writing stories is that I get lots of time to think up the perfect responses for my characters. It’s not easy, though. I have spent days writing and rewriting in search of a perfect bit of dialogue or thought, and many more days fretting over bits I’m still not happy with.

So… when I hear such a line in real life, I grab my pen and write it down.

That’s what happened as I sat down at a picnic table with my husband during our vacation this summer.

This was the gorgeous view from my side of the table: 
The view from my husband’s side of the table was the side of a building. You’ll have to use your imagination, because it certainly wasn’t picture worthy. 
I said to hubby, “You’re missing the beautiful view!”  
His immediate response as he smiled at me across the table was: “No, I’m not.” 
Ahhh, good answer! 
Your Turn: What’s the best one liner, zinger or romantic thing, you’ve heard lately? Or wished you’d said after the fact?!
P.S. If you missed Monday’s post, everyone who leaves a comment will be entered in the draw for a copy of my October release, Critical Condition, book 3 in my Undercover Cops series. I’ll announce the winner at the bottom of Monday’s blog.