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Shattering Romantic Suspense
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:~: Monday, February 13, 2006 :~:

Romance? Suspense?

Wow! The first "real" post. I have chills.

Welcome to Romance Worth Killing For! Before I start, I have to toss out big kudos to Joan for designing this wonderful site. J, you are truly talented! It looks maaaahhhvelous, darling.

Okay, on to the meat of the post.

I think it's safe to say I struggled with the topic of this first post. I mean, ugh, the pressure of being first. It's like that scene from Pretty Woman where Kit (Laura San Giacomo) is chatting with Vivian (Julia Roberts), and she's trying to come up with the name of someone who's gotten their happily-ever-after. I feel just like that, pounding my fingers against my forehead . . . "Argh. The pressure. Of a . . . topic."

Actually, it wasn't that bad, but I did toss around a bunch of different ideas and only finally decided on one after chatting with Joan last night. The conversation went something like this:

Joan: You know, I'm beginning to think I write suspense romance, not romantic suspense.

Elisabeth: Why?

Joan: I keep reading how the romance has to be the focus, how the external plot only comes into play as it affects the romance, but that's not how my books work. The external plot typically throws my hero/heroine together. It's typically the instigator and the driver to get these two to look deeper into themselves.

Elisabeth: That means they're interconnected. In a good romantic suspense, it's the external plot that throws them together. A romantic suspense is supposed to be woven...meaning without the romance, the suspense doesn't work, and without the suspense the romance doesn't work.

And that got me thinking, and remembering. At Nationals last summer I took a fantastic workshop by Roxanne St. Claire about plot braiding a romantic suspense. (If you have the chance to take it this summer in Atlanta, I highly recommend it. Even if you don't write RS.) A lot of the course detailed how she plots out a book - which, if any of you know me, you know I'm not a big plotter - but the one part that struck a cord with me was this whole idea of braiding your romance and suspense together. From her article, "The Twists and Turns of Romantic Suspense Or What I Learned From Playing Barbies", St. Claire writes:

Romantic suspense is exactly like braiding. With every scene, the writer must interweave three or four strands of story lines so neatly that the reader never even realizes that she is moving from one to the next. As she journeys from murderous suspense to developing romance to family reconciliation to light subplot, she should be lost in the beauty, simplicity and utter elegance of the braid. One that starts with three or four disparate strands but ends with a neat twist, tied up with the perfect bow. In essence, it should be impossible to pull out one strand and maintain the overall effect. All along its flowing length, the lines twirl and loop with no stray hairs sticking out at odd angles and no single strand ending too far in advance of the others.

And isn't that our goal . . . in any book? Weaving subplots with the main plot is a struggle for all writers. Making sure your subplots add depth and impact your main plot in a way that pushes the story forward. Doing that without pulling your reader out of the main plot is the ultimate goal. And while this makes perfect sense to me, it was the next part of her article and lecture that stuck with me:

Once I applied that braiding concept to my manuscript, I no longer wrote scenes that didn't take the story forward. I no longer felt that I was "stuck in the romance" and nothing was happening to propel the suspense. And I realized with tremendous clarity that romance and suspense alone are not enough. If they were, all you would have is two overlapping and twisting strands, not the beautiful intermingling that results from the weaving of three or more separate threads.

How simple is that? Reading that, hearing it from her was like a Bingo! Light Bulb! moment for me. How many of us know it, but haven't actually put it into words? Each subplot is dependent on the main plot. The suspense plot is interwoven with the romance. Without one, the other doesn't exist. Readers keep reading because they want to see how all those little threads tie together in the end with that one perfect bow. If you could extricate one simple plot element, you wouldn't have a romantic suspense, you'd have a mystery or thriller or a straight romance. If that's what you're writing (or reading), then great, but if romantic suspense is your goal, then braiding your subplots and main plot together is what will ultimately hold your book together.

Joan: I never thought of it that way, and it's a great way to make sure you're staying on track. I think there's a lot of that rumbling around in my head...stuff I know but I'm not conscious of.

Well said, J. As with most craft "aha" moments, it's there, we just haven't thought about it in that one special way that turns the light bulb on for us. Anytime that happens, be it in a packed room at Nationals, or in chat, it's a good thing.

Go read all of Roxanne's article. It's a good one.

How many of you use plot braiding in your writing?


Blogger Joan Swan said...

Wow, E, does this count as my post too? Great insight, one of those things you can't remind yourself of too often!

5:36 PM  
Blogger Carol B. said...

Things like this... Augh! I love the concept, but they make my head hurt. I'm becoming more and more afraid I'll never be a good plotter, which is scary. Instinct is such a nebulous thing.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

Carol, Roxanne isn't a big plotter either. I mean, she is, but she plots in phases. In her workshop, she said she can plot out about 4-5 chapters in detail, then the rest of the book is hidden in the mist. She might know the black moment and the resolution, maybe a few turning points, but the rest comes to her as she writes. When she reaches the end of what she can "see", she replots and moves forward.

That's sort of what I do, although I don't do the whole intricate plot board thing with sticky notes she references in the article. I started doing one of those (LOL) with this wip, then reverted back to my bullet points. Plotting is an issue for me too. But for every multi-pubbed intricate plotter, there's another multi-pubbed NONplotter out there who's done just as well.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth Naughton said...

No such luck, J.

(And remind me not to chat with you Tues. night so you don't retaliate and use me in your post. LOL)

8:20 PM  
Blogger Jerrdren said...

I've read that article by Roxanne. I'm not sure if a light bulb went on in my head or not when I did. I write romantic suspense, love the genre, but not sure how good I am at weaving the subplots into the main plot.

Love your blog!

3:24 AM  

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