Workshop 14: Romantic Suspense: Suspense So Good It Hurts
In her workshop, Romantic Suspense: The Vise, the Ratchet and the Hammer—Suspense so Good it Hurts, Kristen Heitzmann (right), bestselling author of historical and contemporary romantic and psychological suspense novels, first noted every contemporary romantic suspense needs to have immediate concern and apprehension about danger.
“Know your limits,” Heitzmann said, so you can tell the best story you can. She also reminded writers to commit to their story and set the stakes because it needs a level of anxiety.
“The love story and the danger have equal weight,” Heitzmann said. “It’s a balancing act in which the readers want the characters to be together as much as they want them to survive. We’re threading together the struggles of the situation with the emotional struggles of relationship. And we’re pitting the love against the danger.”
There are five ways to set the vise:
- Give hints of trouble and hints of sparks
- Reveal or foreshadow the threat
- Introduce the villain
- Initiate the disaster
- Set the tone with an ominous opening or a light opening gone bad.
In suspense writing, Heitzmann reminded that the pace cannot plod. The writer should:
- Use strong, active verbs and carefully chose modifiers that empower the verb.
- Use short, tight, and believable dialogue.
- Use a purposeful setting that has details to further the plot.
- Use effectively interwoven backstory.
- Use the fewest words possible.
- Use shorter sentences and shorter paragraphs for quicker action.
She also mentioned to taking the reader by surprise by allowing sudden U-turns and having lead characters acting out of character. You can keep the readers guessing with an unexpected interplay between characters. She said that humor is a great tool to break the tension without slowing the pace.
Keep the stakes high
No matter how bad, it can always get worse. “Insurmountable obstacles challenge the leads beyond their strength where love and faith are all that keep them going,” Heitzmann said. Knock the wind out of your hero’s sails with a crisis of faith—could everything he believes be wrong? Don’t forget your “antagonist needs challenges of his own—what threatens his motivation?”
The hammer: A clincher ending
Heitzmann reminded writers to drive the ending home. The readers know what’s coming, but not how. “The reader knows they’ll be together, but the reader wants to see it,” she said. “You’ve held the readers in suspense now leave them breathless.”