Some thoughts on Romantic Suspense

Saturday, May 07, 2005

These two posts, here at Mrs. Giggles and also at
riemannia’s sort of touch upon something that’s been bugging me about some Romantic suspense. Some writers, for some unknown reason, switch to ‘romance-write/speak’ when they focus on the sexual tension/attraction between the hero/heroine. It’s like night and day. Like there are two different authors and one is writing the suspense/action stuff, while the other writes the sexy emotional stuff. You’ll have this concise hard hitting prose, then suddenly: The scent of her was intoxicating and he fought to catch his breath as sensations *he’d never EVER before experienced* rolled over him like a pheromone laden fog. (The only thing rolling are my eyeballs.)

People, please.

Watch your language. You can still *do* emotion and sexual tension without *doing this*. It’s like throwing a handful multi color sprinkles and maraschino cherries on top of a sublime slice of Tiramisu, or pouring crème anglaise all over a big honking slice of Baskin Robin’s chocolate ice cream cake. Yes, you want the phrasing to suit the mood and heighten the emotion/sensation, but what language did you use to infer the anger and fear your protagonist was feeling in previous scenes? How did you convey the heart-stopping action and forgot-to-breathe moments of tension? Use that same language. Use the language that suits the story/book overall. Please.

**Update/Addition -- I started a reply to some of the comments posted, but it got really long, so (with a little editing) I'm just going to add it to the original blog post:

My concern is not just a matter of the pacing being off -- fast or slow. A suspenseful moment could be written so it's drawn out (slow), yet the tension not only holds, but tightens. And a sensual moment could be written to show the dizzy, whirlwind of emotion/sensation the characters are experiencing (fast). And if making use of metaphors, you *could* use the same tone to describe a kiss and a car crash. In any case, you want your 'tone' to fully service the scene/characters requirements.

What I'm speaking of, though, is a complete 'flip of the switch'. The language/descriptions become more "flowery"(?)--for want of a better word--a change that's even more striking because it doesn't match the language/tone/voice used for other moments of introspection, or in the emotionally fraught scenes with other characters. The 'romance speak' only makes an appearance when the romance thread becomes the focus of the story.

So, if, in the hypothetical car crash, the heroine experiences-- “past moments of her life spun away in a macabre dance, while death reached out to embrace her like a lover, long lost”, then fine, using flowery phrasing will work just dandy in the romantic moments. But if the writer is not waxing poetic with the crash scene, then maybe s/he should distill the moments of sexual/emotional tension with more straight forward language as well(?)

Another analogy? It's like reading a Harlan Coben narrative, then you hit the love scene and it's Judith Ivory all the way (or vice versa). Nothing wrong with either voice, but (and this is strictly my opinion) a transition like that is jarring.

*I'm not saying don't* make your love/romance scenes evocative and moving, I'm just saying watch the language you use. Make sure it jives with the rest of the book.
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Sasha said...

Some peopel have pet phrases or words that can ruib a scene when used to much. Even if they;re not explicit ones.

One omy good writing buddies (I wonder WHO) pointed out mine...and now she calls it my "signature" phrase cuz I still use it, only once in every story though! :)

Lynn said...

Damn. Now I'm craving a good Tiramisu. *g

I wonder if writers who do this aren't falling back or taking the easy way out. Or those portions have been edited, commented up on CPs or editors? Is it it just outright laziness?

Food for thought. Thanks.

Jaye said...

Geez, Sash, I dunno. But some of those pet phrases can make a reader kinda twitchy, ya know? ;-)

Lyn, I don't know if I'd call it lazy writing, but I see this mostly when the RS author has a history as a romance writer. It's like they fall back on what worked in their romance novels of those moments, when clearly they've been able to adapt or cultivate another voice for their suspence. That suspense voice needs to be tweaked for the sexual/emotional tension moments too. But you do have a point, it could be outside input that has influenced them. Like you said, food for thought. I've seen complaints that a lot of RS books seem to *stop* when they get to the romance moments, I think this is (partly) why-- the voice changes and throws the pacing off.

Linda Winfree said...

Oh, my God! Now I have something else to fixate on. (smacks forehead) Thanks, Jaye. ;-D Off to read the first seven chapters of my RS WIP to see if my voice shifts from gritty and real to soft-focused and flowery. LOL.

And that Tiramisu sounds heavenly . . .

danica said...

Alrighty then... thanks for that cold water on the MS. LOL. I think this may be why I was told by the agent about shoot, I can't remember now, but I'm thinking that maybe I sounded more romance-y than suspense-y. :)Must review my MS for this. :)

Anna Lucia said...

Hmmm. Interesting. I think I have a *fast* voice and a *slow* voice, but I've used both in romantic/sensual moments, depending on what else is going on, and just how it fits, you know?

I don't *think* I go all romancey for the softer stuff. But I hope I DO have a slightly different tone between describing a car crash, and a kiss....


Jaye said...

Yikes! Didn’t mean to start a panic. :-P It's just something that happened with two books I'd read lately. Different authors, but interestingly enough, same publisher. TOR. This is an imprint I'm interested in submitting to, and it's very obvious they're trying something new here. While the books so far haven't worked 100% for me, I do see what they're trying to accomplish, and I like the chances they're taking with characterization and plot. I think the line will only get better. I’ve read some reviews where there was dissatisfaction because the books didn’t seem to know if they were romances are not. I think this issue I’ve posted about is partly to blame.

Jaye said...

I looove Tiramisu. There are two times in particular is dessert has stood out for me. Once, a coworker/friend made some authentic homemade stuff--her mother's mother's recipe kind of thing--for a potluck get together. You could literally smell the alcohol fumes coming off of this thing. It was soo darn rich, and absolutely delish. And, yeah, I felt a little tipsy after. lol. The second time, we went to this lovely little Italian/family run place. They baked their own Lady Fingers biscuits (daily), which was served with an AMAZING cream sauce (crème anglaiseor fraiche?) poured all over it and topped it with freshly grated chocolate and a light dusting of icing sugar. Heaven.

Danica said...

Not a panic, but a good thing to think about and look at when you're trying to figure out how to make your writing "work". :)

Amie Stuart said...

I LURVEEEEEEe Tiramisu!!!!!

LOL Great post and that's why I like Lisa Gardner. She handles the romance in her suspense very well. Interestingly enough, I think Mary Kay Andrews kinda fell flat in Little Bitty Lies with the romance (its a chick lit mystery)

Jordan Summers said...

I think if it's jarring you out of the scene then there is a problem...a big problem.

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