Wednesday 26 August 2009

Historical romance and romantic suspense

Why do I write romantic suspense and historical romance? I love both genres because I like writing adventure and action and characters under extreme stress. I suppose all my novels are romantic suspense novels as well as some being historical romance novels. In my Bronze Lightning there is a mysterious villain threatening the female lead whom she has to battle against and finally unmask - like a romantic suspense. My second 'big' ancient Egyptian novel Blue Gold has at its core a religious mystery: the protagonists have to discover the true nature of the god Set, a search which leads to many adventures in strange and exotic locations - romantic suspense element again. In my Flavia's Secret there is the mystery of the death of Flavia's beloved mistress and an enemy working against Flavia and Marcus. In A Knight's Vow, Alyson must battle with Fulk, who works against her both in secret and finally overtly. In A Knight's Captive, the hero and heroine are in conflict because the hero is Breton and the heroine is English - and this is 1066, when England was invaded by Normans.

I suppose all my novels are romantic because they all have this quest/search/adventure motifs. I think all romance genres have similar elements to each other. My first published novel, Voices in the Dark, has a saga element because there are families involved and trouble goes down the generations (this is also true of The English Daughter). The second novel, Night of the Storm , has two romances and is more a romantic suspense than a romantic suspense, as is my novella A Secret Treasure. In romantic suspense you must have the menace and suspense there as a continuous strand, alongside the equally important relationships in the novel. These relationships, particularly the romance between hero and heroine can be brought under stress, threatened and changed by the thriller elements of the novel. The thriller elements can give you wonderful reasons for characters to be brought into sharp conflict as they each suspect the other or maybe want to protect each other but can’t. This conflict is very entertaining for the reader and writer because it’s always life and death stuff and usually two characters at odds because they’re both right. You haven’t got them arguing for the sake of it. Their choices through the story at key points are also very pointed, very stark, with big consequences, and I like that, too. I guess I’m not subtle!

Romantic suspense writing and historical romance writing are both very active genres and I like to have both my female and male leads rescuing each other at key points through the story, whether in active terms or psychological terms. The search and rescue strands in my books are always very strong.

In my novels I also have a strong whodunit element. The whodunit is also a whydunit, as with novels of psychological suspense (which I suppose are more intense, more character-driven versions of romantic suspense, where the threats arise from internal kinks in the characters rather than any external forces, as there can be in romantic thrillers. In my Night of the Storm, the storm is a vital element, adding something unplanned and chaotic and a further test for my people. To get the whodunit part right I always spend a long time at the start of plotting any novel working out who the villain is and why. I work out motivations and give my people backstories which I know, even if they don’t appear directly in the novel. It can add depth and richness to characters and make them intriguingly ambiguous. The ambiguous Byronic-style anti-hero who turns out to be a good guy is a staple in these novels and great fun to write and read about.

You can do romantic suspense another way, too, as I did with Night of the Storm, where the heroine, Melissa, knew that the villain, Katherine, was engaged in illegal wildlife trafficking, but had to search for the evidence to prove it. I also added a very personal element for Melissa, in that she’s also searching for whoever murdered her partner Andrew. I find in romantic suspense that the big issue brought into focus by making it personal works very well. So in Voices in the Dark I had my hero searching for a war criminal who tortured members of her own family. Personal helps readers to identify, I think.

The other bonus I find with writing romantic thrillers is that you usually can have an exotic location, or moderately so. This isn’t just because the setting is appealing to readers, giving them a bit of escapism. Sometimes it’s useful for the plot, too. Italy is popular as a holiday destination and it also has regular corruption scandals, which meant my heroine in Voices in the Dark had a very good reason not to go rushing to the police at the start of her search. That question: why doesn’t the female lead go to the police? I find must always be answered in a modern romantic suspense. Again, I’d no problems in my second novel, because the climax of the novel takes place on a small Greek island, cut off from the authorities by a massive storm.

So to summarise: the recurring elements in my romantic suspense amd historical romance are:

1. Strong, active female lead and male lead. Both might have added internal psychological kinks to their natures, just to increase the mixture.

2. A problem that needs a quest or search to be resolved.

3. Exotic locations where the police cannot easily be present, so your people have to search and find out and also save themselves. (In historical settings the police may not exist.)

4. Whodunit element which has to be worked out, otherwise the leads may perish. That threat I find very engaging and a pleasure to write, as you can have a building series of climaxes and a really juicy ending.

5. Backstories that have a direct bearing on the present novel.

6. Characters that are grey, not black and white. Sometimes the male lead can seem a villain, sometimes the female lead can do seemingly bizarre things, which are later accounted for in the novel.

7. Lots of action and violence. Woman against nature, woman against woman, woman against man. I like writing both and was told to cut down on the torture sequences in Voices in the Dark.

8. Relationships that change, are built up or destroyed through the novel, often as a direct result of the thriller elements and threats of the story.



Zequeatta Jaques said...

Hi, Lindsay.

Enjoyed reading your blog. All your books sound interesting, especially your book Flavia's Secret. Which is on my TBR list.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Zequeatta! I do hope you enjoy my Flavia's Secret. Congratulations, too, on your latest Bookstrand release!

Chelle Cordero said...

Wonderful & interesting, very informative. Great blog.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Chelle!

Jane Richardson said...

This is fab. I'm forever copying and pasting your notes into my files! I like this - 'two characters at odds because they’re both right.' Exactly! A key element in any drama is the fact that each character has something the other wants - whether that's an actual physical thing, an emotion, a response, an aswer, it doesn't matter what 'it' is, but the conflict very often comes from that idea.
Funnily enough, I've just begun Voices in The Dark - Italy, history and opera, what's not to like??!!!!
Loved this. :) Thanks, Lindsay.

Jane x

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Jane! (I must say Voices is most complex plot I've done so far - I had sheets showing me what each character knew at any one time.)

Kathleen O said...

Loved the blog Lindsay.. I loved your steps to writing a Historicla or romantic suspense...
I am going to file these away for that day when I may turn to my pen or my keyboard to writing my own book..

DanielleThorne said...

Flavia's Secret is on my TBR list as well. The new book cover at the top of the blog post is gorgeous.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Kathleen! I hope you find it useful.

Thanks, Danielle! I love the sunny cover of my A Secret Treasure!