I suppose there is a recipe for writing the right amount of “romance” and the right amount of “suspense” in the combo genre, however, I have always been one to tippy-toe around the norm. Writing in either genre is challenging enough without adding the additional stress of tracking how many “oh, baby’s” versus how many “oh nooooo’s”! Simply put, it’s all about the story.
Romance, as a stand-alone genre, is pretty formulaic. Boy meets girl, pursuit begins, and some type of turbulence ensues, leading up to a love-scene and a happy ending. Adding suspense ups the stakes, and what better way to test a relationship than to add an element of fear. In “The Red Chair”, the first book of my romantic/suspense trilogy, psychotherapist Grace Simms suspects she’s being stalked. But by whom? In her profession, it could be any one of her clients, and then there is the college crush who calls out of the blue and wants to get together for “old times sake”. The story begins with the character experiencing a triple dose of fear: fear of death, fear of the unknown, and fear of rejection. Fear affects everyone in one way or another, making it a good foundation for interesting characters, and nail-biting scenes. In the mix we examine love. Grace’s emotional attachment to a man she hadn’t heard from in years is spurred by memories. The fine line drawn between love and fear creates a plethora of plot ideas, and conflict. The amount of love and suspense is interchangeable as long as both are supported by strong writing and believable characters.
What makes romantic suspense a delicious sub-genre is the way the brain processes the written word. The amygdala, which is part of our brain’s limbic system, deals with emotional responses, such as love, fear, anger, sexual desire, and memory. Two different chemical reactions occur while reading. Fear activates cortisol, which makes the heart race, and creates that creepy, uneasy feeling. The reaction is increased when associated with personal memories. Writing scenes that address familiar fear based scenarios not only draw the reader in, they “feel” what the characters are feeling. Dopamine, the chemical response to love, produces that warm fuzzy feeling that connects the reader to the character on an intimate level. (Steamy love scenes keep the amygdala working overtime.) Combining “romance” and “Suspense” allows the author to create a roller coaster ride that keeps the reader turning pages deep into the night, with the lights on, and falling in love, over and over again. Imagine salted caramel, Hawaiian pizza. Some combinations are meant to be.
Photo credit Study.com