Ingredients for Writing Romantic Suspense
by Cheryl Wright
Those first few lines, those opening
sentences and paragraphs, are your first step to grabbing
the reader and pulling her into your story.
With romantic suspense, it's crucial.
Ellis slowed for the traffic lights. She didn't need this
- time was of the essence.
She looked about. Everything seemed fine, calm. She
tapped her fingers against the steering wheel. She would
be okay, no need to panic, no reason to worry.
A shadow came across her face, and Kareena looked up.
...His arms came down, the windscreen smashed into
millions of tiny pieces. The sledgehammer landed on the
steering wheel, barely missing her.
Already, the reader has connected. She wants to know why
the heroine is in this situation, and she wants to know
how she will get out of it alive.
Your opening lines need to act as a teaser, to get the
reader in, make her want to turn the pages, and make her
want to buy the book. As with any novel (or short story)
conflict is an essential ingredient - the romantic
suspense novel requires lots of twists, suspense and
sometimes even murder.
Stopping to research in the midst of a novel is a time
waster, and can be a major distraction to the flow of the
storyline. Research can take days, maybe even weeks in
some cases, so wherever possible do it before you start.
Arm yourself with basic information, such as:
How the criminal mind works/thinks
Go to your local library and browse through the various
books available on the mafia, criminals and their various
activities. When starting my research in this area, I
found an almost endless supply at the library. The
Internet is also an excellent source.
helpful links on this subject:
Real crimes and real news - if nothing else, this site is
source of inspiration. Provides links to a huge array of
An encylopedia of true crimes - articles/information on
True Crimes, Sex Crime, Organised Crimes, Serial Killers
- the list is endless.
A crime statistics site - if you want to know where all
that data comes from, this is the place for you.
Police procedures and rankings
Rankings may vary from state to state, and most certainly
from country to country - check with your local police
station or state headquarters.
Learn a little (or a lot) about forensic science, crime
scene investigation and techniques.
helpful links on this subject:
A huge amount of information on crime scene investigation
techniques and technology, forensic science, etc. is
provided. This is an excellent site, and you won't want
This site offers a host of resources for crime and
mystery writers. It's geared primarily toward
screenwriters, but will definitely benefit writers of
novels and short stories. Many of the resources are
available only to members, but the free resources are
worth checking. One of the 'free areas' they have is a
'crime desk' where writers get to ask individual
questions of experience police officers.
Various methods of murder (i.e. poisons)
One of my best friends (apart from my writing buddies!)
is "The Crime Writer's Handbook (65 ways to kill
your victim - in print)" by Douglas Wynn. As the
name implies, the book outlines various methods of
murder. My personal favourite is the section on throat
cutting. (I know, I know - it is worrying!)
The handbook also covers basic information about
autopsies and police procedures (US based), and has acted
as a good source of inspiration for short stories on more
than a few occasions. Be warned - it is pricey (around
$35 AU), and can be hard to get, but will become a
trusted and worthy companion if mystery/suspense is your
Weapons (i.e. guns, knives) and who can carry them
Never second-guess weapons information.
Firearms laws vary from country to country; ensure you
check locally before using information. (For example: In
Australia and the UK, Private Investigators are not
licensed to carry firearms. In the US - varies from state
Your local gun shop is a good source of information, as
are gun clubs and shooting ranges. If you are really
interested in learning about firearms, it may be a
worthwhile exercise to join the local pistol club or
helpful links on this subject:
Smith & Wesson
Comprehensive information (including photos) on Smith
& Wesson products
Comprehensive information on Browning products
GLOSSARY OF FIREARMS TERMINOLOGY
Exactly as it appears - firearms terminology explained in
Any specialised information required (i.e. codebreaking)
Again, search the Internet. It is an almost endless
source of information - you will be amazed at what you
can find. The reference section at your local library
will also be helpful. Librarians at state libraries are a
wealth of information, and will help you track down
whatever you need.
Methods used by Private Investigators
The best way to obtain this information is firsthand,
that is, by talking to a private investigator. (It's not
as hard as it sounds - just ask!) Otherwise, contact your
local investigators' association.
You've probably heard it a millions times before, but I'm
going to tell you again - one of the most important tools
an author can have is an outline. Cram as much as you can
into that outline. For authors of romantic suspense, it's
easy to get carried away, to go off track, but if you've
got an outline, you're more likely to keep the focus you
Make sure your heroine is fiesty - most publishers of
romantic suspense like the heroine to take an active part
in solving the crime. Let your hero/heroine work together
in bringing about a satisfactory result. Ensure your hero
doesn't overpower her - she needs to stand on her own two
feet. She also needs to be strong, and smart. Her
deductive skills as an amateur sleuth will see her
through to the final page.
Drop some subtle clues along the way, but don't tell all,
and make sure you add a few red herrings - just to keep
them guessing. There are some excellent books available
on this method of mystery writing.
Working with multiple viewpoints adds extra tension. At
all times, the reader knows exactly what is going on, but
the heroine may not. Perhaps the hero is acting without
her knowledge, trying to help her, trying to loosen the
chains that are dragging her down. But because the
heroine isn't aware of what he's up to behind her back,
she becomes suspicious of him, and that adds to the
Another important ingredient is the presence of a
villain. The villain may only lurk in the background, and
only be onstage for a few chapters near the end of the
book, but he's there, larger than life, and making his
It's vital for your readers to know what he's thinking,
how he intends to eliminate/kidnap/terrify/stalk the
heroine. Again, you are creating added tension. Make him
real, believable, even likeable. (Gone are the days of
the 'nasty' villain.) Get inside his head, show us what
he's thinking, and let us know what drives him.
Motivation is crucial.
Readers love surprises. Don't give them the opportunity
to predict the outcome. Challenge yourself to do
something different, the opposite of what would be
expected: use the 'what if' scenario. This works well in
a brainstorming session, either alone or with one or more
friends. Try this quick exercise: The villain has
cornered your heroine. Does she meekly take whatever he
dishes out? Does she run? Perhaps she pulls a gun and
shoots him? I'll let you decide which option I would
for writing romantic suspense:
-· Connect your reader emotionally to your heroine
-· Show her fear, her trepidation - let her be afraid
-· Create a tough and realistic, but sensitive hero
-· Plot must be strong and plausible, not weak and
-· Have plenty of twists and turns
-· Use the 'what if' scenario and surprise the reader
-· Villains must be believable, convincing, and
-· Research thoroughly - make your content credible
-· An unlimited and unstifled imagination
Copyright Cheryl Wright. All rights reserved
Cheryl Wright (also writing as Andrea Higgins-Wright) is
an Australian author and freelance journalist. In
addition to juggling an array of other writing projects,
also publishes "Writer to Writer" a monthly
ezine for writers of fiction and non-fiction. Visit
Cheryl's website: www.writer2writer.com
You should also take a look at Cheryl's new
ebook "Think Outside the Square:
Writing Publishable (Short) Stories". Cheryl is a
Multi-published author, and takes you through the process
of creating a great short story, through to getting it
published! Don't miss it!