Tension (along with its sibling, Conflict) is my favorite part of any story. It’s also absolutely necessary to keep me engaged and reading (or writing) all the way to the end. I’ve read books with little or no tension in them before…or nearly read, I should say, as I get bored with them quickly.
In romantic suspense, there are generally two main tension threads throughout – the tension between the hero and heroine (internal), and the tension that carries the suspense element (external). I’ve read a lot of romantic suspense where the romantic thread is dropped, sometimes numerous times, in favor of the suspense thread. I’m not sure why, but I haven’t really seen much of the opposite happening – which is interesting, I think. Perhaps romance writers who can keep that romantic tension tight have an easier time carrying the suspense tension through as well?
For me, part of keeping the romantic tension high between the main characters is keeping them at the forefront of each other’s thoughts as much as possible. Even when they’re separated for whatever reason, they need to always be thinking about each other in some sense. Because tension is something you feel rather than read (in my opinion), this is something best done through emotional distress. The character shows distress/emotion in some way (introspection, action, dialogue, whatever), and we as readers are right there with them emotionally. A heroine gets kidnapped? Even if she’s going to save herself, she’s still thinking about the hero, wondering where he is, if he’s okay, if he’ll get there in time to help, etc. The hero isn’t around for any of this, of course, but when we jump to his perspective, he’s worrying (in a macho sort of way), trying to figure out how to help the heroine, feeling incompetent, etc.
I think just in writing this post I see why it’s easier to keep the suspense tension high if the romantic thread is tight – as long as there’s action and the chance of someone dying or getting seriously hurt, suspense will pretty much take care of itself, depending on the writing. If I, as the reader connect with the characters on an emotional level, the tension I feel when following the suspense thread will be that much greater by default. I don’t think for it works as well the other way, due to romance being an emotional thing by it’s very nature…
So what’s your take? Do you think that the romantic tension in a romantic suspense novel increases/enhances the tension of the main suspense plot? When you read a straight suspense novel, does the presence/absence of romantic tension affect your enjoyment of the story?
For a list of romantic suspense books I’ve read or want to read (plus my own), check out my Listmania list on Amazon. I’ll be adding to it occasionally.
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