Posted On November 2, 2016 by Print This Post

DEAD ON! Ten Secrets to Writing “Killer” Romantic Suspense by Brenda Novak

I’m excited to welcome back New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak! If you’ve only read Brenda’s romances, you’re missing out on some thrills and chills. I love mystery as much as romance, and I’m a longtime fan of Brenda’s romantic suspense novels. If Halloween has put you in the mood for even spookier fare, check out the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, HANOVER HOUSE and HER DARKEST NIGHTMARE. If you wonder how an author who writes the heartwarming Whiskey Creek series can also write stories that will make you check your door and window locks, read how she got started on her writing career.

What is romantic suspense? Many people believe any romance that includes a mystery or suspense subplot constitutes romantic suspense. According to Nora Roberts, however, a romantic suspense novel mixes both genres fairly equally. She says, “One strand (romance or suspense) does not significantly overwhelm the other. From the beginning of the story, the reader knows that the protagonists will fall in love and solve whatever mystery has been set up and one strand will depend on the other.”


  1. A great hook. These can be really fun to come up with. I got the idea for HER DARKEST NIGHTMARE, the first book in my new suspense series, when my agent began to press me for a darker suspense book. He knew I was fascinated by pyschopaths (the psychology behind their behavior, why they act as they do, how society can and should deal with them, etc.), so he thought I would be a good candidate to explore these things in fiction. Setting the series in Alaska made it even more intriguing to me, because the weather there essentially created yet another obstacle for my protagonists to face.
  2. Two types of tension. In almost any kind of book it’s tension, created from conflict, that propels a story forward. In a romantic suspense novel, there needs to be two types of tension: the tension found in an escalating romance, and the danger or “ticking time bomb” found between the covers of a good suspense novel. Nora Roberts has said, “The outside tension is just as vital as the emotional and sexual tension and its construction must be just as meticulous.”
  3. Believability. The timeline in a romantic suspense novel can create a real challenge for the author. Such stories often take place over a few days or weeks. Convincing the reader that the two main characters are falling in love in such a short timeframe (and while they are often focused on saving their own lives or solving a compelling mystery) isn’t easy. But people often grow close quickly while facing adversity, so allowing the characters a few precious moments to focus on each other can help build convincing emotion. This problem is probably why romantic suspense novels often include two characters who were already familiar with each other (maybe they even had a relationship in years past) coming back together to face whatever threat is present.
  4. Solid Research. A romantic suspense novel often involves police, FBI, bomb specialists, weapons specialists, forensic specialists, psychologists, medical examiners, private investigators, lawyers, etc. It requires a lot of research to be able to write about such characters with authority. A single error can throw the reader right out of the story with the thought, “That could never happen!”
  5. A fast pace. This is not a meandering novel. Often the stakes are high (usually life and death), so the characters are not taking time to smell the roses. They need to act quickly, which means the story needs to move quickly and not focus too much on long passages of description (as you might get in, say, a straight historical novel or a literary novel with more introspection).
  6. Chapter/scene hooks. An author who builds her chapters and scenes such that she ends on an an up beat, instead of a sense of denoument, propels her reader into the next chapter—and the next and the next and so on.
  7. Active writing. Avoiding passive verbs like had, has, was, seemed and looked, and using stronger verbs in their place, will help bring the story alive. We’ve all heard, “Show, don’t tell.” This is part of the same thing. You want your readers to actively experience the story, to live the story, and that won’t happen if you’re standing back, telling them what’s happening from a distance. You need to bring them close in order to ignite their imagination and emotions. Then they will be right there with you, participating in every event.
  8. Tone. Hold to a sense of mystery as your tale unfolds.  I never thought much about tone until I read a book that was light and funny at first (just like what was promised on the cover and blurb), but suddenly turned dark and angry. The change was so unexpected and so sudden it nearly gave me whiplash, and it made me slightly angry. I felt like the author had broken her contract with me, the reader, which made me realize that holding fast to the correct tone as a writer is important.
  9. Unanswered questions. Why is the heroine doing this or that? Will she escape? What will the hero do when he finds out? Are they going to make it? What’s going to happen next? Knowing how much information to convey—and when—is key. Posing such questions will build a sense of urgency that should escalate through the novel to the black moment, making the “big finish” that much more exciting and satisfying.
  10. Subtext. Sub-text makes everything richer, more intriguing. According to fellow author Alicia Rasley, “A layered  conversation is always more interesting than a simple one. Make it obvious that your characters are really saying more than what is on the page. That engages the reader’s thoughts and imagination as they try to puzzle out the subtleties.” I wholeheartedly agree with her!


Do you agree that romantic suspense should be a fairly equal mixing of both elements? What is your favorite romantic suspense title?

Author ANN WARNER returns on Friday, November 4.


All I Want For Christmas

Books for Charity–All proceeds go to diabetes research…

Release Date: 11/1/16

Novak’s latest “digital box set for a cure,” ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS, is a contemporary romance collection of stories featuring her own Rita-nominated novella “A Dundee Christmas” as well as stories by #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Debbie Macomber and romance favorites Bella Andre, Melody Anne, Violet Duke, Marie Force, Heather Graham, Laurelin Paige & Kayti McGee, Jane Porter, Melanie Shawn, RaeAnne Thayne, Melinda Curtis, Anna J. Stewart and Scarlett York. The set sells for only $9.99 (less than $1/story) and is up for pre-order now wherever e-books are sold. The box will be released November 1st and will only be available through December 31st. For more information, visit




New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author Brenda Novak is the author of more than fifty books. A five-time Rita nominee, she has won many awards, including the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Book Buyer’s Best, the Daphne, and the Silver Bullet. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised $2.5 million. For more about Brenda, please visit






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7 Responses to “DEAD ON! Ten Secrets to Writing “Killer” Romantic Suspense by Brenda Novak”

  1. Morning Brenda!

    Oooh..looking forward to your Christmas anthology! Looks awesome!

    I have to say I’ve read a lot of your Whiskey Creek series – love them! And your romantic suspense novels keep me on the edge of my seat!

    Do you have a preference for the type of story you write?

    Great having you back with us! You were the first guest we’ve ever had on RU! =)


    Posted by Carrie Peters | November 2, 2016, 9:45 am
  2. This post is wonderful. I’m sharing it on social media. Your 10 points are beautifully defined and spot on.

    And now I’m off to look into your Whiskey Creek series (based on Carrie Peters’ comment). Thanks for the great information, and best wishes!

    Posted by Staci Troilo | November 2, 2016, 9:54 am
  3. I’m not sure if Brenda is better known for her romances or romantic suspense – I love them both. I THINK I discovered Brenda’s romantic suspense books first, but my keeper shelves are stocked with both.

    Much as I love to read romantic suspense, I find it a lot harder to write. I’ve bookmarked this and I know I will be coming back to this post often for help.

    Thanks for a great post, Brenda!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | November 2, 2016, 12:16 pm
  4. Hi Brenda,

    I’m with you on the change of tone in a story, which makes me wonder if the author/editor didn’t notice or he/she didn’t do a thorough edit.

    I’m a big fan of rom suspense. The darker, the better.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 2, 2016, 8:41 pm
  5. Brenda,
    I like all the elements you mention for good storytelling. I think solid research is extremely important. If that part isn’t feasible, the story has no credibility. Those are excellent points for a writer to keep in mind as she formulates the story. Interesting……..

    Posted by Marsha | December 6, 2016, 10:14 pm


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