Some time back, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop given by best-selling author Brenda Novak. The topic was Romantic Suspense, and since that's what I like to read and write, I figured I could pick up some good tips from one of the masters of the genre. Here's what I learned:
A romantic suspense must be ONE story, not a romance and a suspense. They have to be dependent on each other, and the outside tensions have to be equal for both the suspense and the romance. One cannot exist without the other. Things that affect the suspense plot will also impact the relationship.
In a suspense, the timeline is usually short. Building the relationship over a short time has to feel plausible.
There's usually a lot of research involved, and you have to do enough to write with confidence about your subject. However (and this point was reiterated in the FBI workshop I took later), she said it's better to go with a widely held belief rather than confuse readers even though you're "right." This is problematic, because so many readers watch the CSI type shows and believe what happens there is the truth. They'll assume you're wrong, even if you're right.
Conflict: you need a lot. Constantly up the stakes, both for the suspense and relationship. You also need to vary the emotions. Escalating fear throughout the book without any other emotions, or breaks, will leave a reader exhausted, and likely unsatisfied. Conflicts can't be static.
She gave a lot of good writing advice that works regardless of genre. Start on a hook, leave the back story for later, create questions. End scenes in the middle. Tell the boring stuff, show the emotional. Use description sparingly. Use interesting, unique details in descriptive passages.
Revisions: she provided some exercises to move the first draft from ordinary to compelling. Use riskier language, have your character say something outrageous. Challenge reader expectations. Use subtext to add layers. Make dialog work on more than one level. Blend narrative with dialog.
Pacing needs to be quick and tight. Don't repeat information (one of my pet peeves).
Characters must behave in a manner that holds true for the nature of their situation.
Don't forget the villain.
Hold the tone of the book to a sense of mystery.
Brenda definitely provided a lot to think about. I write mystery-based stories, not suspense. I rarely have a "villain" as a POV character. That goes against what I like in a book. My Five Star romantic suspense, When Danger Calls, follows the 'no villain on the page' model. The secret behind the inciting incident is revealed little by little, so the reader doesn't see anything beyond what the characters see.
For more about me, and my writing, visit my website, and my personal blog, Terry's Place. And if you're looking for a bargain, I have autographed copies of When Danger Calls at a 50% discount off the cover price.