Today I’d like you to welcome an award-winning novelist, Marti Perry, who writes romantic suspnese, romance sometimes in an Amish setting. She knows how to write an excellent novel and I’ve invited her to be my guest today to share her expertise with you on writing romantic suspense. Please leave your comments and let her know if you enjoyed the post.
Marta Perry’s post on TIPS ON WRITING ROMANTIC SUSPENSE
The romantic suspense requires all the elements of any good novel—character development, skillful use of setting, a strong inspirational theme, and solid plotting. But in addition, the inspirational suspense reader expects a bit more.
Pacing. Suspense novels give the reader the impression of brisk forward momentum, no matter how long the book actually is. Every scene, even the quiet ones between lovers or parent and child, must include something that advances the suspense plot.
Emotional Ups and Downs. Emotion should grow even as the danger grows. The character moves constantly between trust and suspicion, between safety and danger.
Steadily Worsening Danger. Suspense should build; the coils tighten slowly around your character. First the danger is something that could be explained away. Then it becomes more overt, but perhaps in a way that has meaning only to the protagonist. First the danger is out there, in the distance. Then it’s here, in the house, drawing closer.
Use the Setting. Choose the place of your story for maximum impact. Is it a location that’s inherently dangerous? Or is it a site so ordinary that violence seems unthinkable? Either way, consider all the possibilities. How can you make the setting more dangerous for the heroine? How can you reduce the chance that she can get help? Are there natural dangers in addition to the villain? What objects in the setting can be used as weapons by either character? In my current book, SEARCH THE DARK, the pool in the woods behind the main character’s house, once a place for lovers meeting, becomes a brooding presence and ultimately a death trap.
Red Herrings. A red herring is a fact which seems to lead to the solution but which is a deliberate distraction. Skillful use of red herrings leads the reader to draw an erroneous conclusion. When they pop up in the middle of the novel, they keep the reader guessing.
Secrets. Give everyone in your story a secret, romantic suspense doyenne Phyllis Whitney said years ago, and it’s still a solid device. Some secrets bear on the main plot, dealing with something the character wants to hide, perhaps for an innocent reason. Some secrets have little to do with the main plotline, but will cause the character to behave in a suspicious or mysterious way. Secrets cause conflict, and conflict raises suspense. Each secret should be revealed at the point when it will cause maximum dramatic effect.
Clues. Although not a traditional mystery, the suspense novel stills relies the unraveling of the puzzle throughout the story. In a suspense novel, the clues your heroine follows may be subtle ones, something that is slightly awry which is noticed only by the protagonist. Or a clue may be hidden in plain sight, so obvious that the significance isn’t immediately realized. A clue to the solution may be dropped in when the reader is distracted by a colorful or exciting or emotional scene.
Foreshadowing. Foreshadowing hints to the protagonist, and to the reader, that all is not as it should be. This might be a subtle threat, such as finding a supposedly locked door ajar. Or it may be the way the author makes innocent objects look sinister.
False alarms. Your protagonist investigates a frightening sound, only to discover that it is the wind rattling a shutter or the dog scratching at the door. When it happens again the reader, and the protagonist, will relax, assuming they know what it is, but this time it’s the killer.
Cliff-hangers. End scenes and chapters with something which pulls the reader along: a surprise, a secret unveiled, a threat, a physical attack, an emotional revelation.
The MacGuffin. This term, coined by Alfred Hitchcock, refers to an object or secret that everyone pursues throughout the novel, each for his or her own reason. Hitchcock is said to have insisted that the ‘what’ didn’t really matter, as long as the characters and readers believed it to be of crucial importance.
The Ticking Clock. It doesn’t have to be a bomb, ticking away the seconds, but a deadline imposed upon your characters to resolve the situation automatically increases the suspense. In my Final Justice, the hero and heroine race against the clock to reach the hero’s child before the villain disappears with her.
Characterization of the hero. What is your character’s greatest fear? Be sure that’s what he or she faces in the final showdown. (Remember Indiana Jones and the snakes?) What character flaw makes it difficult for her to stand up against the villain? That’s her point of growth in the story.
Characterization of the villain. Your villain has to be strong enough that he or she stands a reasonable (or over-whelming) chance of winning the battle. Don’t create a paper cutout for your protagonist to knock down. The villain’s need, goal, and motivation should be as clear in your mind as that of the protagonist. Without that, the battle will be nothing but shadow-boxing.
Steadily increase the odds against your protagonist. When the protagonist is in a deadly situation, jack up the suspense still further through the exposure of a plea for help (Now the killer knows that I know—what will he do?) or a failed rescue attempt, or have him/her reach safety only to have the very person who represents that safety turn against him.
An ordinary person thrust by forces beyond his or her control into danger, with something important at stake—there you have the classic definition of romantic suspense. Use all the tools at your disposal, and you’ll create a book which has readers saying the words all authors want to hear: I couldn’t put it down!
Bio: Marta Perry is the author of fifty-some published novels and still feels the same excitement when she begins a new book. A lifetime spent in rural Pennsylvania and her own Pennsylvania Dutch roots led Marta to the books she writes now about the Amish. The Pleasant Valley Amish series from Berkley Books are longer, more complex emotional stories with Amish main characters, while the Amish Suspense series from HQN Books are more adventure-filled books set in Pennsylvania Amish country. She also continues to write for Love Inspired Books.