What, Exactly, Is Romantic Suspense?

If a romance is the story of a relationship developing between two people, what is romantic suspense?

It’s a romance with an added element–the couple is falling in love against a backdrop of suspense and danger. I used to say, a man and a woman, but today the lovers could be a variety of combinations, two men or a woman and a lizard creature from the planet Alpha Lasagna.

But it’s not a story where one person is solving a crime–and has a love interest on the side. Think of it like pie a la mode–the ice cream melts into the pie and you can’t separate them. Both people have to be in the middle of the mystery, suspense and danger.

The author must keep the focus as much on the danger elements of the story as on the romance.

Often the heroine is in trouble first and drags the hero into danger with her. In my Decorah Security novel, Fire on the Moon, the heroine goes in search of her father’s brother who lives in Florida. Her father is dying, and she wants him to repair the relationship between the brothers before it’s too late. But after she gets to her uncle’s house, gangsters break in, kill him, and set the place on fire. She escapes, and the hero finds her running down the beach, fleeing the burning structure. Because he’s sheltering her, the bad guys come after both of them. As they hide out together and try to figure out who is after them, they fall in love. But he’s worried about what will happen when she finds out here’s a werewolf.


Sometimes both characters share a mutual goal. In Gawain Unbound, my latest novella for Changeling Press, the magician Madrin cruelly enchanted Gawain’s brother and killed Catrin’s father. She enlists Gawain on a journey of revenge. Posing as troubadours, they travel toward the magician’s castle. Along the way, they fall in love. Yet neither wants to give up their dangerous mission.

Some readers complain about the instant love aspect of romantic suspense. To heighten the tension, the writer has to keep the plot clicking along and bring the story to a conclusion before the bad guys can kill the h/h. This means their relationship must develop quickly. One way around this problem is to give them a mutual backstory.

Maybe they were antagonists in the past. Or perhaps they were in love, but it didn’t work out. Now they are thrown together into a dangerous situation. If you can’t give them a shared background, just use the danger to heighten their emotions

How much romance and how much suspense? I try for fifty-fifty although I might tip more to the suspense.

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About Rebecca York

NY Times & USA Today best-seller, Rebecca York, is the author of over 150 books. She has written paranormal romantic thrillers for Berkley and romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue. Her romantic-suspense series, Decorah Security, is set at a detective agency where agents have paranormal powers or work paranormal cases. She also writes an Off-World series where each story is a science fiction romance taking place on a distant planet in the far future.  She also writes the Unbound series for Changeling Press.  View website

2 Replies to “What, Exactly, Is Romantic Suspense?”

  1. Rebecca –

    Thanks for your post on romantic suspense. It’s just about my favorite genre, no matter who the h/h are, whether they are both human or not, no matter the setting or century.

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