Building Suspense in Your Romance

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Whether you’re writing children’s fantasy or erotic romance, suspense is a necessary element of your novel. Suspense is that state of mental uncertainty that causes anxiety in your reader. They might wonder what will happen next, or they might even know what will happen (such as romance’s HEA) but not how. It’s that state of suspense that keeps the reader reading.

Following are a few tips on writing suspense into your romances:

  • Internal Conflict

Well-written heroes and heroines will have internal conflict above and beyond what gets them involved with each other. This is what brings your characters to life, what makes them 3-dimensional. Reveal the internal conflict slowly throughout the novel in order to maintain suspense.

  • Make Things Worse

Things should go from bad to worse for your MCs. If they take one step forward, they should take two steps back. It’s this constant tug that creates tension and keeps readers enthralled.

  • Foreshadow

There should be clues in your writing that foreshadow things to come. This is especially effective if your clues are not too obvious. Consider including a few ‘false’ clues to throw your readers off.

  • Conflict over Complications

Complications are things that happen by fate, such as a freak thunderstorm. You can include complications in your story, but the real page-turning suspense comes from conflict between your characters.

For a good primer on writing suspense (where I got much of this information), check out “From the Basement to the Penthouse: The ABC’s of Building Suspense”, a workshop given by Sharon Sala during RWA’s 2009 Conference.

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9 thoughts on “Building Suspense in Your Romance

    Ciara Knight said:
    January 12, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Great post! You explained it well, Rosalie.

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    January 12, 2011 at 10:39 am

    As always, timely. I’m working on another romance suspense now. It’s slow going this time around – lots of details to keep straight – not so much for the reader, but for me. I’m standing in my heroine’s shoes and following her path, trying to stay as many steps ahead of the bad guys as possible. The good guy is trying to find her as well, but she doesn’t know whose side he’s on yet. Thanks for the post.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 12, 2011 at 2:39 pm

      You’re welcome, Julia, and good luck! I’m always amazed by how different each novel is. With my last one the words flew by as if I was possessed. The current one, which happens to feature my favorite hero of all time, is much slower going. It can get frustrating. 🙂

    Pamala Knight said:
    January 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks for the excellent post on building suspense. Timely and wise words indeed.

    Jory Strong said:
    January 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Good post. Do you have a link to Sharon Sala’s “From the Basement to the Penthouse: The ABC’s of Building Suspense”?

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