Posted On December 10, 2014 by Print This Post

Essential Elements of Writing Romantic Suspense with P.A. DePaul

I love a great romantic suspense, so when P.A. said she’d come by and spill her secrets  . . . I jumped and booked her right away. Welcome P.A.!!

I absolutely love Romantic Suspense, both as a reader and as the author of the “SBG” romantic suspense series. Writing RomanticPA DePaul Author Photo Suspense is fun, but like any genre it has its own rules. In order to save time, I’ll stick with my top three and use examples from my new book, Exchange of Fire, SBG #1, and my upcoming book, Shadow of Doubt, SBG #2, to help explain.

Rule 1. Create A Strong Storyline Conflict By Using Villains.

In a typical romance, the Storyline Conflict is based on the relationship itself; the hero and heroine’s lives prevent them from forming the relationship. In Romantic Suspense, the Storyline Conflict happens outside of the hero and heroine’s relationship. To accomplish this, Romantic Suspense utilizes a villain (or in my case, multiple villains). These villains give the storyline intensity by raising the stakes and presenting consequences that affect more than just the hero and heroine. Examples include the hero and heroine stopping the bomber in time, or the hero and heroine getting that vital piece of intel back to command post before the military is deployed. You see what I’m getting at.

Having multiple villains makes the story more suspenseful, but, every villain must have a purpose and believable motivations. Always remember the adage, a villain is a hero in his/her own mind. When your readers understand the origin of your villains’ actions, it helps make them just as dimensional as your hero and heroine.

As I mentioned above, I like to incorporate multiple villains, so let’s define them. There are three types of villains an author’s arsenal: A Series Villain, a Storyline Villain, and a Personal Villain.

In a series set up like mine, where each novel focuses on a different member within a team, a Series Villain can tie the books in a series together. This villain could be a single person, a group (like Al Qaeda) or naughty corporation. But, if the series goes on for many books, then the Series Villain must evolve and change over the course of the series to keep the overall storyline fresh. In Exchange of Fire, we meet the Series Villain, Victor Dalmingo, CEO of the Black Ops agency, Sweetbriar Group (AKA SBG).

Like the Series Villain, a Storyline Villain also causes strife for our Hero and Heroine, but this villain is overcome by the end of the individual novel, defeated as part of our Hero and Heroine’s journey. If they are not, then the reader will not feel a sense of resolution which will undermine your entire story. In Shadow of Doubt, the Storyline Villain is an assassin named Griffin acting under Victor Dalmingo’s orders.

A Personal Villain is different from the other two villains. In most cases, this is a single individual intent on destroying the Hero or Heroine for a personal reason. This villain can be defeated by the end of the book or transitioned into a Series or Storyline Villain for the next book in the series. (Note: This must be done with much caution and plenty of warning, so the reader doesn’t feel cheated at not witnessing the villain’s defeat in that particular novel.) An example of a Personal Villain is Carlos Osvaldo, head of the Osvaldo Cartel in Exchange of Fire. Our heroine escapes Victor Dalmingo by sabotaging a meeting between Carlos and his supplier that scars Carlos’ face and destroys the cartel’s sex-slavery business. Carlos’s hold on the cartel weakens and he comes after her to reestablish his power-position and get revenge.

Rule 2. Develop Balanced Alpha Characters.

What do I mean by this? Simple, the Hero and Heroine should be equally matched. This does not mean the characters are perfect or they’ve suddenly become invincible. Rather, their strengths and weakness ‘fit’ together, allowing them to defeat the enemy and find their HEA together. No one wants to believe a gun-toting Special Ops hero falls for the mousy seamstress who never leaves her house and is afraid of her own shadow. Um, ew!

In Exchange of Fire, Wraith (our heroine) is a kick-butt sniper of SBG’s Delta Squad who is on the run and hiding in a small town. Her match is our hero Casper Grady, former marine, successful business owner and Wraith’s boss. These two complement each other with their skills and training and they work together as equals to defeat multiple enemies on their path to happy ever after.

But I took this rule one step farther and applied it to my secondary characters, Delta Squad. A covert operator is only as good as the team s/he is surrounded with. In the SBG Series, we meet men and women who have sworn to protect each other as well as the unknowing citizens from an array of villains. The fun part is watching these hardened, lethal operators meet their “other halves” and how they react to falling in love.

Rule 3. Increase The Suspense Through The Use Of High Action.

This is the fun stuff. The heart-pounding, pulse-racing, page-turning situations the Hero and Heroine have to accomplish/escape/evade/stop/hurdle before something really bad happens. But, as the story progresses, the stakes must rise or the story may fall flat.

To illustrate, let’s consider the action setup for Exchange of Fire. I open the story with Wraith in the middle of an intense mission that culminates into a tragic event. This High Action scene sets the tone for the book, but I can’t stop there. In each High Action sequence that follows, (think car chases, assassins shooting up homes, steamy passion, and drug lord hostage-taking) I consistently increase the suspense by having the risk-level of the outcome affect a wider range of people if the Hero or Heroine were to fail. Putting more and more at stake in each action sequence will keep your readers hooked till the very end.

So, there you have it. My formula for drafting a thrill-ride that keeps readers glued to the pages and demanding more.


What can you add to the formula for the best romantic suspense?

On Friday, Diana Cosby gives us her tips for finding an agent.



9780698180949-ExchangeofFi_CVIf you enjoy military action, suspense, steamy romance, and a little danger, this is the series for you.” —Library Journal

First in a sexy new romantic suspense series for fans of Julie Ann Walker and Maya Banks

 Faking her death was easy, living with her past is harder, but nothing is more dangerous than falling in love…

Sandra Walsh was a deadly sniper for the Sweet Briar Group, a covert agency with assassins for hire, until her last mission went horribly wrong, accidentally killing an innocent girl. Knowing she’s a danger to her team, Sandra goes off the grid, becoming a Shade—an agent declared dead but secretly hiding among the living. She intends to honor her vow never to pull another trigger or have contact with the spy world again. Until she meets Casper Grady…

Grady is a former Marine with a troubled past and a debt to pay. His life mission has gone from protecting the nation to helping local children and their families. The moment he meets Sandra, he knows there’s more to her than meets the eye, but he can’t help but be drawn to the mysterious femme fatale. And when Sandra’s past suddenly catches up to her, Grady is determined to protect her at all costs, no matter how dark and dangerous her secrets are.

As the danger increases, so does their intense attraction. But when they’re forced to choose between each other and the people they’ve sworn to protect, their growing love might not be enough to keep them together—or alive…


P.A. DePaul is a multi-genre romance author including paranormal fantasy and romantic suspense. She originally hails from Carroll County and Baltimore County, Maryland, but also lived in Macon and Warner Robins, Georgia. She currently resides in a beautiful community just outside Philadelphia. Exchange of Fire is the first novel in the SBG series with the second novel, Shadow of Doubt, releasing April 2015. You can also find out more about her at,,,, and


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14 Responses to “Essential Elements of Writing Romantic Suspense with P.A. DePaul”

  1. Thanks for having me today! Looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts!!

    Do you have a rule you’d add? Cool! Can you share it me? This is one of my favorite topics.

    Posted by P.A. DePaul | December 10, 2014, 8:43 am
  2. I’m a huge fan of romantic suspense! I agree with all of your points. I might add one more: the suspense is most effective when people close to the hero and heroine are at risk. Saving the world is one thing, but saving the little sister, the best friend, the partners-in-arms raises the stakes (in my opinion).

    For example, I’m a big fan of series romantic suspense novels by Suzanne Brockmann, Tara Janzen and Roxanne St. Claire. When the villain puts the Troubleshooters at risk, or the Bulletcatchers, or others in the Steele Street crew, I’m almost – maybe equally – worried about their welfare as I am about the hero and heroine.

    Thanks for a great post – I’ll be sure to check out your books!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 10, 2014, 12:32 pm
    • Hi Becke!!
      You make an excellent point! I’m a big fan of suspense in all kinds of formats and when it hits close to home, it does make a powerful impact.

      So glad you brought this up. 🙂

      Thanks for the support! I hope you enjoy the Black Ops world in the SBG books. 🙂

      Posted by P.A. DePaul | December 10, 2014, 12:36 pm
  3. I’ll put EXCHANGE OF POWER on my Christmas list!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 10, 2014, 12:52 pm
  4. Great article, P.A.!
    Loved all of your points and agreed with your “rules”. I adore RS but one thing that’s always bothered me is the “sex on the run” issue. If it’s handled well, I will read that author for life. LOL. But if it’s too unrealistic, such as having sex while horribly wounded and hungry and in the middle of a warlord’s prison (or some such thing), I will probably never read that author again.
    I know it’s a fine line with RS and that handling that aspect is a difficult balancing act. But if an author does it well, it just proves that the author knows her craft and her genre. Like you!
    Good luck with your next release!

    Posted by Sharon Wray | December 10, 2014, 2:29 pm
    • Thanks Sharon!

      You bring up another great point. I totally agree with you on unrealistic sex scenes (and I mean that on the timing! LOL). Turns me off. I don’t want to read a sex scene just to read one. I want it to mean something and have it move the hero/heroine’s journey forward (even if that means having them have sex too soon so it’s another hurdle for them to get over).

      Thanks for commenting! I appreciate the valid point and the support. 🙂

      Posted by P.A. DePaul | December 10, 2014, 2:36 pm
  5. Great points, P.A. I think my two biggest peeves with romantic suspense is an underdeveloped villain with murky or implausible motives and as Sharon stated above, the sex on the run. Would a heroine hop in bed with the hero right after her child has been kidnapped?

    Thanks for joining us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | December 10, 2014, 8:55 pm
    • Hi Jennifer!!

      I’m there with you on the underdeveloped villain. If I could’ve bolded the paragraph: “…every villain must have a purpose and believable motivations. Always remember the adage, a villain is a hero in his/her own mind. When your readers understand the origin of your villains’ actions, it helps make them just as dimensional as your hero and heroine.” I would have. It’s so important for the reader to feel the villains pain, injustice, insanity, or whatever’s driving him to act against the Hero/Heroine.

      Thank you so much for commenting! I truly appreciate your points on this discussion. 🙂

      Posted by P.A. DePaul | December 10, 2014, 9:17 pm
  6. Fantastic post, P.A.! Will be keeping these key rules in mind as I write. I once did write a villian who was just plain crazy and had to do lots of re-working to make that person have solid motivation and believability. Like your breakdown of villians too! Thanks!

    Posted by JB Schroeder | December 12, 2014, 8:22 am
    • Thanks so much JB Schroeder!! So glad you liked the breakdowns and my classifications of the villain. I like a crazy villain, but you’re right, as a reader, we do need to understand what made that person take a permanent trip to Crazyville.

      Good luck with your writing! 🙂

      Posted by P.A. DePaul | December 12, 2014, 8:37 am
  7. P.A.,
    Thank you for sharing, I’m a huge fan of reading romantic suspense, and enjoy writing it as well. Excellent points and insight, and I second your use of increasing suspense through the use of high action. Yes, it is the fun stuff! 🙂
    I’m so proud of you, and please know that I’m cheering you on and wish you every success!


    Posted by Diana Cosby | December 13, 2014, 11:21 am
  8. Thanks for commenting Diana!! I appreciate you stopping by and joining the discussion.

    I wish you every success as well! 🙂

    *Returning Hugs*
    PA DePaul

    Posted by P.A. DePaul | December 13, 2014, 11:28 am


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