In 2017, the Romance Writers of America commissioned a study on the romance book buyer and discovered that half of romance readers read romantic suspense.
What is romantic suspense?
The RWA defines romantic suspense as “romance novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.”
Author Terry Odell considers romantic suspense as “mysteries with relationships”. A romantic suspense is not a romance novel with a suspense sub plot, nor is it a suspense novel with a romance sub plot.
“The two elements are entwined, so you cannot remove any of the mystery/suspense elements without the book collapsing,” she says at the Kill Zone blog. “Likewise for the romance. If you can remove either of those elements, you don’t have a romantic suspense.”
Then, what is suspense?
On Oprah Daily, editorial assistant McKenzie Jean Phillipe defines a suspense or thriller as “the hero attempt to stop and defeat the villain to save their own life rather than uncover a specific crime.”
The Library Service Centre of Canada thinks it’s about the intense emotions and compares it to cranking the handle on a jack-in-the-box. They post that “Suspense novels are about the build-up and the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you know something is about to happen.”
What’s the difference between romantic suspense and a gothic romance?
A gothic romance is a type of romantic suspense. On the New York Public Library blog, Amanda Pagan explains that the gothic romance features “female protagonists battling through terrifying ordeals while struggling to be with their true loves.” Familiar tropes include isolated and creepy settings, cursed families and possible supernatural phenomena.
Why is it called gothic? According to the Toledo Library, “the Gothic genre takes its name from Gothic architecture” which was “associated with feelings of creepiness and anxiety, as no one had seen in buildings like this before.”
What is a romantic thriller and how is different than romantic suspense?
Nathan Bransford, author and former literary agent, acknowledges on his blog that mysteries, suspense and thrillers “are to a certain extent interchangeable and there is overlap”, but there are a few differences. Thrillers have action while suspense “has danger, but not necessarily action.”
Victoria Shore, a college student majoring in journalism, thinks it’s deeper than that. In her article at Pen and the Pad, she says that in romantic suspense, “the suspense comes from danger or intrigue that is directly related to the protagonist or other central characters.” An example she gives in the 1987 movie Fatal Attraction when Dan’s lover begins stalking him.
However, in a romantic thriller, “the danger against which the romance develops is larger than the characters involved.” The example she gives is the 1997 movie Titanic. The sinking ship is the threat to the romance between Jack and Rose.
(The Romance Writers of America would probably disagree with these examples because neither have optimistic endings for the couples.)
What is a romantic mystery?
A mystery has a different goal than suspense or thriller. “A mystery,” according to Genreflecting, A Guide to Popular Reading Interest, “can be defined as a work of fiction in which the character is asked to solve a puzzle. Mysteries combine crime and detection, in a story in which a fictional detective tries to solve the puzzle before the reader does.”
And a romantic mystery has a different reading experience than a romantic suspense. In her blog post at Buried Under Books, author and writing teacher Jacqueline Seewald explains that the love interest is secondary in a romantic mystery. “The romantic aspect usually serves to provide added depth to the main character(s) and make them more real to the reader.” She also states that the happily-ever-after is not required in a romantic mystery.
So which romantic story should you read?
- If you want a puzzle, go for the romantic mystery.
- Want a story that gives you a sense of dread and moments of wondering how it’s all going to work out? Gothic romance is the answer.
- Prefer action-packed stories about two lovers battling a villain or forces of nature? Pick up a romantic thriller.
- And for those who want to read about a couple falling in love as they face danger, then look for a romantic suspense novel.
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