What I'm reading: Trust Me, by Brenda Novak
Another RWA scheduling choice I made was to attend Brenda Novak's workshop on Romantic Suspense. It seemed like a smart thing to do, considering she won the Daphne du Maurier award (instead of me!). Highlight? She gave me a plug during her introduction.
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.
What hit home for me? First, that I already "know" a lot of this, but need to work a lot more at keeping it in the front of my brain during plotting, writing, and revising. That I shouldn't expect the first (or second) trip through a chapter to be 'right'. That I need to pay more attention to the way I'm connecting the relationship with the mystery. And that can be the rub, because I write mystery, not suspense. I rarely have a "villain." And I have yet to delve into more than two POVs. I thought about it for my current WIP, but haven't been able to bring myself to do it. Goes against what I like in a book.