Exploring Romantic Suspense: What is “Romantic Suspense?”

According to Romance Writers of America , Romantic Suspense as a subgenre is defined as:

Romance novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.

If you read romantic suspense regularly, you’ll know that like every genre, there’s room for wide interpretation of what that means, and often even readers won’t all categorize a story in the same way. I’m kind of surprised though that a more literal definition isn’t adopted, as “romantic” is an adjective that describes the noun, “suspense”. In that vein, a romantic suspense novel would be a “suspense novel with romantic elements”, which is ultimately where I think my books fit at this point. Of course many readers hone in on the fact that my novels have some rather spicy scenes in them, which I think tends to swing popular perspective back into the romance camp. I did have one reader compare Tempest to an Indiana Jones movie, which was both amusing and flattering – but also apt, I think.

I’ve also seen romantic suspense described as having equal parts romance and suspense – which is what I try to do with mine, though again, some readers have a different perspective. And really that’s the thing about genres – readers are all approaching stories through their own filters and experiences, so while some readers have tagged Tempest as “erotic romance”, others have tagged it “literary”. I don’t really consider it either personally, but that doesn’t make those tags any less valid, it just brings home the point that every reader sees things differently. I find that fascinating and wonderful.

So why label books at all? In my mind, it’s simply a starting point that tells the reader what basic, overreaching elements the story contains that might appeal to them. By calling my books romantic suspense, readers know that there will be some sort of adventure with high tension involved, and there will also be romance involved, so if they like those two things, they might like my books. The lovely thing about publishing on Amazon and other etailers is that books don’t have to be just one thing – Tempest is tagged with several descriptors that fall outside the boundaries of romantic suspense.

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be deconstructing romantic suspense and discussing popular elements in the genre, along with different types and styles of books included therein.

Do you read romantic suspense regularly? What does “romantic suspense” mean to you when you see a book labeled as such?  

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8 comments on “Exploring Romantic Suspense: What is “Romantic Suspense?”

  1. Brooklyn Ann

    Romance has got to have the most subgenres and sub categories out of any class of fiction. That’s what I love about it. There’s so much room to flex your creativity!

  2. Carol

    I think in some respects you could call all romance suspenseful. There’s always the question of will they or won’t they have their HEA, and the suspense of the answer to that question is what keeps the reader reading.

    As a category, I think Romantic Suspense needs to have an equal part of thriller, mystery, or suspsense twined with the romance.

  3. Ruth Ann Nordin

    To me, romantic suspence is 50% romance and 50% thriller (also what I term suspense). I don’t read them often, and to be honest, I prefer a straight thriller with a minor romantic subplot, should there be a romance in it. Like with horror, I prefer straight horror instead of throwing a vampire who longs for his perfect mate or such into the mix.

    This is a personal preference, and just like your post says, we all have our own definitions of what romantic suspense (and other genres) mean. What threw me for a loop one time, however, was a romance with a necking scene where the reviewer called it ‘erotic’ garbage. There are some weird extremes out there in how people think, but overall, the classification of genres give people is a good umbrella of what they can expect from a book when they pick it up so I appreciate the divisions out there.

  4. Bigwords88

    Having railed against the labeling of books for some time (mostly out of frustration at misleading advertising), I tend to look at the publisher (if it’s a traditional publisher), the author, the blurb and the comments about the book. “Genre” is becoming an increasingly tricky morass of sub-genres, side-genres and mixes, and any attempt to confine a text within the parameters of a single genre seems doomed to incompleteness.

    There used to be simple determinators for placement within a single genre – if the novel exhibits properties of a primary genre, then it would be placed into the general area of that genre, though with the increasing reliance on marketing to sub-genres (and the useless “literary” tag, which tells me nothing of what to expect) it’s more difficult to say that the title would be of interest to a reader.

    The old researcher trick of looking up library classifications to see where a title has been placed on shelves is also under threat, as more and more libraries are coming under financial pressure – meaning their online presence is shrinking.

    There was a line which read online a while ago (and I paraphrase): “The genre of a book is of no importance. What matters is the characters and the story – if the story is well told, then it transcends genre.” That really sums up (for me, anyway) the limitations of applying a genre tag to a novel. Readers will find (and hopefully fall in love with) good books irrespective of whatever genres it is labeled under.

  5. Jamie D.

    It’s kind of crazy, but I think it’s because romance is more than a genre, it’s a prevailing theme of humanity (not to get too cheesy, but still). It’s hard to divorce romance from any aspect of life – and hence fiction…

  6. Jamie D.

    I agree Carol – it’s weird how we know that at the end in a romance, the characters *have* to get together, but we never quite believe it until they actually do.

    Your definition is the most common one, I think – and I agree, though that puts me in a quandary as I’ve been told that my books don’t have enough romance to be “romantic suspense” in that sense. Maybe I need my own genre – romantic adventure?

  7. Jamie D.

    Absolutely, Ruth – we all have our own filters when it comes to genres. And are useful in a broad sense, to give us an idea of what a book might include. It’s just so murky, it seems like maybe we’d be better off leaving things more vague, or at least having a specific set of points to categorize by.

    I’d still have issues trying to figure out where my work fits though. LOL But that’s not necessarily a bad thing either…

  8. Jamie D.

    I actually do the same thing for the most part – I take genre organization with a grain of salt when I’m looking for something to read. And I totally agree – trying to decide which genres and sub-genres my books fit in isn’t really as easy as it seems like it should be. It affects everything too – my covers are geared toward rom. suspense, but what if they were more action/adventure? I risk false advertising the other way. It doesn’t seem like there’s any way to win, really.

    For me, “literary” is more a stylistic thing than a genre, though literary writers might disagree. When I see “literary”, I expect far more…artistic prose than the average “disappearing” narrative of mainstream fiction. Normally if I review something as literary, I add a mainstream genre tag to it (ie, literary erotica, literary sci-fi, etc).

    That line is fabulous – and true too, I hope. How cool would it be if people would choose books based on descriptions and excerpts, rather than genre labels? As someone who reads widely across most genres, I really don’t think it would be that hard if people would let go of preconceptions…