It is Not a Breeze: Writing Romantic Suspense by Karen Harper


In the years I have written my 25 romantic suspense novels, I’ve learned a lot of things, including that writing a face-paced, scary but touching romantic book is not a breeze. A lot of hard work and agonizing goes into it.
Of course, the more I write, especially with my new SOUTH SHORES series (book #4 is out late Feb.) the easier it gets—I think. Let me admit where my challenges are, where the breeze of loving to write gets hit with a big headwind of challenges.

Where to start: a grabber beginning.

I was once told that a suspense/thriller writer has to grab the reader’s attention by page 1. Nice work if you can do it, but with rom/sus, I think you need to introduce the characters a bit first, or the reader doesn’t know or care about them. If the hero/heroine know who the person is who is harmed or dead, or if these key characters themselves are in jeopardy, the reader will care so much more. So, I need to balance some character development—tension between the two leads is fine—with a scary or shocking start.

The ‘muddle’ of the book: the middle.

I can usually get a good start but by the time I’m in the middle of the plot, I have a fear of bogging down. So many characters at that point, unless the hero/heroine are on a desert island or trapped in the wilds. I’m juggling several secondary characters and several subplots. How to keep everything straight for myself and the reader?

The middle of the book is a great place to (1) increase the tension or the love between the hero and heroine. (2) possibly add a second murder or some shocking crime. (3) have a happening that points the finger for the first crime at a character no one suspected.

To cliff hang or not: the end

I have always ended my stories with a victory or rescue or reunion. The hero and heroine know they are made for each other; the danger is resolved. But in a series, like my South Shores books, CHASING SHADOWS, DROWNING TIDES, FALLING DARKNESS and SHALLOW GRAVE, with SILENT SCREAM being written right now, I have done a bit of hinting at the end what’s coming in the next book. Things are resolved and yet, there is still trouble on the horizon. Some readers like the challenge of this; some hate it. I’ve done both kinds of endings in this series with the leads of a forensic psychologist and a criminal lawyer.

Settings and Topics:

I love settings that are unusual or that at least sweep the reader away. In the SOUTH SHORES books, I’ve used South Florida, the Caribbean, including Cuba, and Mackinac Island in northern Michigan. Great escapes for the reader!

The English teacher in me also likes to present something new in each novel besides an exciting setting. SHALLOW GRAVE delves into the problems caused by small ‘family’ zoos and animal rights. I’m just completing a novel that explores the ‘bog bodies’ found in Florida: prehistoric people being discovered in archaeological digs where humans are amazingly well-preserved. Despite the extra research time for each book, it makes the stories more compelling.

I love writing novels, but they can be a continual challenge, even more for the author than for a clever reader looking for clues. Sometimes the writing goes like a breeze and other times, it seems I’m up against hurricane force winds. Hopefully, the readers feel a bit like that too when they get lost in a romantic yet scary book.

[Besides rom/sus, Harper writes historical novels about real British women. THE IT GIRLS was released in October.]

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