Fiction vs Nonfiction

NON-FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.

Ironically, in today's market place successful nonfiction has to be unbelievable, while successful fiction must be believable.
- Jerry B Jenkins

Words are a lens to focus one's mind.
Any Rand

There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.
- Brian Aldiss

I get up in the morning, torture a typewriter until it screams, then stop.
- Clarence Budkington Kelland

Words are the most powerful drug used by mankind.
- Rudyard Kipling

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
- Mary Heaton Vorse

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry.  Writers are like dancers, like athletes.  Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.
- Jane Yolen

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.  Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors.  Every stroke you put down you have to go with.  Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.
- Joan Didion

In fiction, when you paint yourself into a corner, you can write a pair of suction cups into the bottoms of your shoes and walk up the wall and out the skylight and see the sun breaking through the clouds.  In nonfiction, you don't have that luxury.
- Tim Robbins

Fiction vs Nonfiction

by Shashank Nakate @ Buzzle.com

The fiction vs nonfiction comparison presented in the following article should help understand the basic differences between these types of literary works.

The different types of artworks viz., literature, films, theatrical performances and in short, all the narratives can be broadly divided into two groups i.e., fiction and nonfiction. To start with, fiction is a narrative which tells a story with imaginary characters and events. The very foundation of fictional stories is based on imagination. Nonfiction, on the other hand deals with facts/real information. Authenticity of the facts presented by authors can be challenged and it is a completely different topic of discussion. However, the person who writes nonfiction claims the content presented in his work to be factual. It would be interesting to note that, literary works which review fictional narratives are categorized under nonfictional creations. This is because, the real/true/factual representation of the actual content in the work of fiction is kept before the audience.

… read more

What is Characterization?

FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.  Find what you want to know.

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn them into monsters.
- Stephen King

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't ask, the answer is always no.  If you don]'t step forward, you're always in the same place.
- Nora  Roberts

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
- Louis L'Amour

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell and interesting story entertainingly.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.  The last page sells your next book.
- Mickey Spillane

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.
- Neil Gaiman

Men always want to be a wonan's first love.  Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.
- Oscar Wilde

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
- Virginia Woolf

You can fix anything but a blank page.
- Nora  Roberts

I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
- Anne Rice

What is Characterization?

author unknown

There are many ways to show character: exposition; description; action; gestures and mannerisms; setting, tastes, interests; dialogue; thoughts; and narrative voice.

You reveal your character by what he sees, not by what you see.

Example: A young boy would not notice his mother has on a shell-pink dress by Halston, he would see she has on her rich-lady clothes, and within two hours she would be “griping at him” for every little thing because she was grumpy “from wearing high heels.”

Inner thoughts set the scene, advance the plot and show characterization.

Example: Betsy stuck to the edges of the huge ballroom, away from the glowing candles and glittery chandeliers. Mama had outdone herself on this dress, and sure enough the stitches were so tiny a gnat wouldn’t be able to crawl between them. But still, Betsy was sure these beautiful people with their dazzling smiles and twinkling jewelry would be able to spot homemade at fifty paces.

When she was sure no one was looking, she ran a cautious finger up along her ribcage, making sure the safety pin that held the seam there didn’t show. She felt as out of place a mustard stain on a white tuxedo shirt.

Physical characteristics are another way to show characterization. Pick one or two major mannerisms (cracking knuckles or flipping hair out of eyes when nervous) that allow the reader’s imagination to view your characters. Props such as tattoos or body piercing are visual characteristics for a character.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips, best-selling author of Glitter Baby, Fancy Pants, HotShot, and Honey Moon has developed a very good hand-out entitled “Creating Memorable Characters.” The following Character Interview sheet will help you know your character better and allow you to portray their strengths and weaknesses to make them real and believable. You may not know the answers to all these questions when you first start writing, but make a form for each character (in pencil or on the computer) so that you can change it as you learn new things about them.

  1. Physical appearance as it affects personality.
  2. Educational background as it affects personality.
  3. Family background as it affects personality.
  4. What drives him/her? What does he/she want from life?
  5. What are his/her strengths and how are they shown?
  6. Why does he/she have these particular strengths?
  7. What are his/her flaws and how are they manifested?
  8. Why does he/she have these particular flaws?
  9. What aspects of your own personality (strengths/weaknesses/likes/dislikes) can you bring to this character?
  10. What is he/she going to learn throughout the course of the book? How is he/she going to grow? (i.e. What is he/she capable of doing at the end of the book that he/she couldn’t have done at the beginning?)
  11. What external force puts him/her in conflict with the heroine/hero?
  12. What internal force puts him/her in conflict with the hero/heroine?
  13. What will make him/her beloved by the reader?
  14. Describe your character’s “spine” (central elements of personality) in three or four words.

After answering all these questions, write or rewrite the scene that introduces your hero/heroine to the reader. Make it active and not passive. Show don’t tell. Include vivid details that make your character come alive. Try to include some element that gains reader sympathy for your character. Do not tell the reader everything you know about the character in one scene.

Kim gave an example from Ray Midge’s, The Dog of the South.

“I ordered a glass of beer and arranged my coins before me on the bar in columns according to value. When the beer came, I dipped a finger in it and wet down each corner of the paper napkin to anchor it, so it would not come up with the mug each time and make me appear ridiculous. I drank from the side of the mug that a left-handed person would use, in the belief that fewer mouths had been on that side.”

That was a truly great characterization paragraph. You can see immediately that he is a meticulous, cautious person who doesn’t want to appear foolish.

___________

This article appeared in Passion on the Plains, the Romance Writers of the Texas Panhandle’s newsletter. The author is unknown at this time, however if anyone knows who wrote this article, please email the information to editor@writingingcorner.com so we can give credit.

The Sticky Story

FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.  Find what you want to know.

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn them into monsters.
- Stephen King

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't ask, the answer is always no.  If you don]'t step forward, you're always in the same place.
- Nora  Roberts

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
- Louis L'Amour

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell and interesting story entertainingly.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.  The last page sells your next book.
- Mickey Spillane

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.
- Neil Gaiman

Men always want to be a wonan's first love.  Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.
- Oscar Wilde

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
- Virginia Woolf

You can fix anything but a blank page.
- Nora  Roberts

I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
- Anne Rice

The Sticky Story

by Emily Jean Carroll

What is a sticky story? A sticky story is the kind you want to write. I can think of three kinds.

You want your readers–beginning with the editor or publisher you send the story to–to turn page after page of your short story, chapter after chapter of your novel. You want it to be so exciting, so moving, so engrossing, so well written that your readers find it so sticky they can’t put it down.

Writing a sticky story is easy. You begin with a terrific hook, one that grabs the readers and holds their attention through the first few pages. You introduce your well-drawn, likable characters, you lay your plot, you place your setting and you let your readers know they are in for a great read.

You work the middle of your story so expertly that the tale unfolds as perfectly as an expensive paper fan. You include all the elements. You present conflict, and put in stumbling blocks for your characters to overcome. You build tension, you show your characters grow and mature, and you include minor characters and their problems as a bonus. You put in surprises, twists and turns that startle, amaze and delight you readers.

You build your sticky story through to an exciting ending. You tie up all the loose ends, stop writing when the story is told, and leave your readers wanting more.

That is the way one sticky story is written. It is a story so sticky the reader can’t put it down.

Another sticky story is one that presents characters of such qualities, be they good or bad, that they are remembered for years to come. They are vivid, full-bodied, endearing, or so dastardly that they are never forgotten.

This story has characters that stick in the minds of your readers.

We can picture characters in sticky stories so well that we’re often disappointed if a movie is made of the story and the movie version character is not the character we envisioned.

One sticky character I remember is one E. Annie Proulx created simply to give directions to her main characters in her book, THE SHIPPING NEWS. Her description of this very minor character was so complete and so vivid that I remember him today. Proulx created a character that stuck.

When you complete you own work, be it a short story or a novel length manuscript, try to put yourself in your reader’s place. Would the story capture you and hold your attention to the end? Would your characters seem real to you? Would they stick in your mind as if they were actual people you have met and are concerned about? Are they characters you would remember for years?

Ask yourself what you could do to strengthen your plot. Play around with “what if” scenarios. What if my character didn’t get the call about the accident until later? What if Susan didn’t want to marry Mark? What if there was a detour on their way that took them to . .? What if the baby turned out to be twins? What if . . .

Build your characters from birth on. Where did Susan grow up? What did Mark think of his father? Why does Susan chew her fingernails? Why can’t Mark make a commitment?

Your characters must have lived a complete life to be three-dimensional. Know who your characters are so they can be true to their background, to come to life in your story, to live on after the book is closed.

Take an old manuscript that didn’t quite turn out right, one that you gave up on, and try to make it a sticky story.

Oh. The third kind of sticky story? You probably have no trouble with that one. It’s the one you worked on while munching on that peanut butter sandwich . . . or was it that jelly doughnut?

Painting With A Character’s Brush

FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.  Find what you want to know.

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn them into monsters.
- Stephen King

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't ask, the answer is always no.  If you don]'t step forward, you're always in the same place.
- Nora  Roberts

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
- Louis L'Amour

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell and interesting story entertainingly.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.  The last page sells your next book.
- Mickey Spillane

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.
- Neil Gaiman

Men always want to be a wonan's first love.  Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.
- Oscar Wilde

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
- Virginia Woolf

You can fix anything but a blank page.
- Nora  Roberts

I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
- Anne Rice

Painting With A Character’s Brush

By Janell Looney

Every aspect of our own personal history colors the way we experience the world around us. The same must be true for the story world as experienced by our characters. Effective use of point of view (POV) means far more than staying in one character’s head, describing events through her eyes. Her personality, her history, her view of the world, must affect every aspect of the way she narrates those events.

Let’s create two Janes. Socialite Jane, the daughter of a Fortune 500 CEO, grew up in Manhattan and attended boarding school in Europe. Farmer Jane grew up in Iowa and has never ventured past her state borders. Both Janes meet Johns.

Which meeting does the following passage describe?

Jane heard a sound behind her. She turned around. A man–a big man, with shoulders nearly as wide as the doorway–blocked the sunlight from outside. His features hid in shadows, except for his firm jaw. His hair was the color of butter.

Which Jane? We don’t know, because nothing in that passage was specific to either of the characters we created. It was generic, a passage that could’ve been used in nearly any story with any characters.

How about these two paragraphs?

When she heard the door open, Jane dropped her shovel and spun around. Yowza! The man in the doorway was built like a bull. Even from a stall away, the energy harnessed in his broad shoulders made her palms itch. His hair was the color of the hay she’d spent half her life baling.

Jane glanced back over her shoulder. Well, well. The man in the doorway was definitely worth standing up for, in spite of his off-the-rack suit. His hair was the buttery color of her favorite leather jacket, the one she bought at an open-air market in Madrid. No–Florence, beside the river.

Pretty easy to determine which Jane met John in each of those passages, because each meeting was shown through the filter of its Jane. Only Socialite Jane would recognize immediately the poor quality of his suit. Only Farmer Jane would compare the color of his hair to that of hay.

Keep this idea in mind as you pick up a novel by one of your favorite authors. JD Robb (aka Nora Roberts) does a great job with her In Death series. Eve Dallas is a police detective in the year 2058. When she sees commuter buses flying past her apartment window, she doesn’t act surprised. This is a normal, everyday element of her world. The only reason she thinks of the bus is that the bored commuters might be trying to sneak a peek of her in her bathrobe.

By filtering the setting through Eve’s eyes, the author manages to enrich the story world for us twofold. She tells us a detail that we think is pretty neat (flying buses) and reveals the world weariness of her viewpoint character.

Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, the heroine of the alphabet mysteries (A is for Alibi…), loves tiny houses. The smaller, the better. So when she walks into a small house, she describes it as “neat and cozy.” Another person would label the same space “constricting.”

Part of the creative joy of being a writer comes from being able to live inside another person’s skin for a while. Don’t take that experience lightly. Go all the way. Use the words your character would use. Notice the things she would notice, ignore the things she would ignore. Every word, every thought expressed in your story should be expressed through the experiences and the history of your viewpoint character.

Paint the story world with the character’s own brush, and you’ll give your readers the chance to live inside her skin, too. Believe me, they’ll thank you for it.

Dynamic Characters

FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.  Find what you want to know.

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn them into monsters.
- Stephen King

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't ask, the answer is always no.  If you don]'t step forward, you're always in the same place.
- Nora  Roberts

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
- Louis L'Amour

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell and interesting story entertainingly.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.  The last page sells your next book.
- Mickey Spillane

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.
- Neil Gaiman

Men always want to be a wonan's first love.  Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.
- Oscar Wilde

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
- Virginia Woolf

You can fix anything but a blank page.
- Nora  Roberts

I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
- Anne Rice

Dynamic Characters

By: Nancy Kress

Characters, they are the life of your story. Literally. As a long time reader it has always been my opinion that the greatest books are the ones with full, believable characters. You know what I mean? They make finishing a book bittersweet, you are happy to know the end and yet, sad to leave the book behind. It’s these kinds of characters that every fiction writer dreams of making. It’s these kinds of characters Nancy Kress will help you to find if you read Dynamic Characters.

Initially, buying this book was a hard choice for me. There are so many fiction techniques that I want to find out more about, dialogue, plotting, the list goes on. In the end I choose Dynamic Characters because I felt it they were the most essential technique to master. Now I doubt I’ll need the other books. The book may be called Dynamic Characters but a more apt description of it’s contents would be Dynamic Fiction.

Nancy has divided the creation of characters into three parts. Creating Strong and Believable Characters: The Externals includes chapters on Names, Setting, Dialogue, Jobs and more. This first part didn’t just teach me how to start planning my characters but how to write realistic dialogue, the importance of setting choices and cultural effects.

The second part, The Internals, delves deep into your character, and your writing too. How do you decide what elements to leave out? What to include? How do you make a villain that’s as exciting to read about as your hero? When assumptions really do make an a** out of you and me and so much more than you would expect.

The final part is Character and Plot, with chapters that touch on conflict, point of view, and adaptations of plot. Of course, it also has a strong emphasis on the relationship between plot and character and how to make the plot naturally evolve from your character. When you finally finish this book you will not only have learned how to make Dynamic Characters but you will have completed all the sketching out of your complete novel, including setting, conflict and plot.

Though it’s a wealth of information, Nancy Kress never lets you feel like you are reading a textbook. She manages to squeeze it all in with a light conversational tone that educates and befriends the reader. I really enjoyed spending my time in this book and recommend it to all you fiction writers who are looking to make your work just that little bit better. Whether you write shorts, or novels and no matter the genre, this versatile book will soon become your best friend and adviser.

Visit the website: http://www.sff.net/people/nankress/

Crafting Romantic Suspense

FICTION:  For writers of all genre who want to write, and the readers who love them.  Find what you want to know.

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn them into monsters.
- Stephen King

If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.  If you don't ask, the answer is always no.  If you don]'t step forward, you're always in the same place.
- Nora  Roberts

For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.
- Louis L'Amour

I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell and interesting story entertainingly.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle.  They read it to get to the end.  If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore.  The first page sells that book.  The last page sells your next book.
- Mickey Spillane

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new.
- Neil Gaiman

Men always want to be a wonan's first love.  Women have a more subtle instinct: What they like is to be a man's last romance.
- Oscar Wilde

Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.
- Virginia Woolf

You can fix anything but a blank page.
- Nora  Roberts

I loved words.  I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
- Anne Rice

Crafting Romantic Suspense

By Nora Roberts

Construction is tone of the key words in creating romantic suspense. In a romance novel, the love story is built step by step on the emotions, needs, doubts and personalities of the protagonists. In a suspense, the mystery, intrigue, secret or tension is built state by state with facts, innuendo, atmosphere and action.

Romance suspense is a blending of the two. There must be a relationship — that ongoing, developing relationship we expect between the covers of a romance novel. There must be an unknown — a suspicion, a mystery, a danger that we expect between the covers of a suspense novel. Therefore, the outside tension is just as vital as the emotional and sexual tension and its construction must be just as meticulous.

The mystery and its ultimate conclusion must be just as visible, just as believable and just as important as the romance and its final consummation. There are not two separate stores with a common link. It is one full, complex story where separate elements merge and affect each other. Two levels where the writer is in charge of setting the balance and keeping the reader involved.

Any novel contains basic elements such as plot, character, setting, dialogue and narrative. Both mysteries and romance are build on a certain framework. Romance novels celebrate relationships. By their very nature they represent the standards and values of society. Seeking a mate, starting a family. Mysteries are our morality plays where evil is ultimately found out and punished by good.

The mixing of the two results in a variety of genres and sub genres. Romantic suspense, mysteries with a dash of romance, romance with a dash of mystery. Women in jeopardy, the hard boiled or soft boiled detective novel that flirts with a relationship, the gothic, the cozy.

Any Mary Steward novel is an excellent example of romantic suspense at its best.

From Nine Coaches Waiting, written in the first person from the heroine’s POV: “The side of the room where we had been sitting was in deep shadow, lit warmly by the now fading fire. Behind us the while shaft from the moonlit windows had slowly wheeled nearer. The bed lay now full in the sharp diagonal of light. Raoul carried the sleeping child across the room. He was just about to step into the path of light — a step as definite as a chessman’s from black to white — when a new shadow stabbed across the carpet, cutting the light in two. Someone had come to the window and stopped dead in the path of the moon.”

This involves you immediately. It makes the reader wonder who came to the window and why. What effect will they have on the protagonists? The atmosphere, in using moonlight, shadows, evokes both romance and suspense. I don’t know anyone who uses atmosphere better than Ms. Steward, and in blending romance and suspense she is unsurpassed. There is always a balance of tension in her work that is essential to a successful romantic suspense novel. The characters and their relationships are as finely developed as the twists and turns of the mystery. Invariable one element enhances and moves the other.

For mystery with a dash of romance, we can read any one of a dozen Agatha Christies or Ngaio March. These are puzzle books, deftly constructed mysteries, but often contain a hint of romance.

For romance with a hint of mystery, you can check out the back cover copy of any number of category romances. Some may fall into romantic suspense, but there are many that employ a dollop of mystery to enhance the plot and add tension to the relationship.

In the hard boiled league, try the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. This is first and foremost a detective novel, one of the best film noirs ever produced. But there is a whiff of romance as Sam Spade falls for the mystery woman — a woman, who in the end he must not only give up, but turn in. One of Sam’s last lines to his love — and naturally I hear Bogart speaking to Mary Astor — goes like this: “I’m going to send you over. The chances are you’d get off with life. That means you’ll be out in 27 years. You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you. If they hand you, I’ll always remember you.” That’s romance.

Another favorite of mine is Sue Grafton. Her Kinsey Milhone is a tough, sharp, savvy heroine who plays with the big boys while maintaining a touching feminine side. She’s a woman, but she isn’t weak or naive as so many females characters were portrayed in mysteries in the past.

On the soft boiled side, give Nancy Picard a try. For dark and delightful British mysteries with solid relationships, there’s Elizabeth George.

If you want Gothics, you can’t do better than going for the classics of Victoria Hold. Her Mistress of Mellyn, has unease and suspense and romance that kick off almost from page one and carry right through, brilliantly.

Construction, again. A house of cards or a complex arrangement of dominoes. Each step, each stage depends on the whole to make it stand. In romantic suspense there is an interlinking, so that when each card, each tile, each piece of the jigsaw puzzle is set into place, it changes and affects the whole. It isn’t fair, to yourself or the read, to force the pieces of the puzzle together. Just as it isn’t fair to shoehorn our lovers into bed. The pieces must fit, the lovers must be ready. And each new stage of the puzzle, and the relationship should affect or build on one another.

We know a love story isn’t satisfying if lose ends are left dangling . . . if the hero and heroine haven’t come to terms with each other and whatever was keeping them apart. All of us would be furious if we turned the last page of a mystery and were left ignorant of the villain’s name. Just as annoying is to discover at the end of the book that the writer held back vital clues, both to the relationship and to the mystery. Years ago our hero spent nine and a half chapters being a total jerk, often an emotionally abusive jerk, then confessed that he’d made her life hell because he loved her. We don’t want that today, just as we don’t want those impossible red herrings at the end of a mystery. The murder was done by the hero’s twin brother, separated at birth and raised by gypsies — and the twin handily appears in the last two pages to confess all.

The fun of reading romantic suspense is to play along, and at the end when the solution is revealed, to be able to say — yeah, of course, I should have guessed. And to say, when the relationship is resolved — they belong together. I’m glad they worked it out.

You must give the reader these two levels of entertainment so they are satisfied with the romance and its outcome, satisfied with the mystery and its outcome. And there should probably be a connection between the two.

Involvement is another key work. You must involve the reader in the blend of elements. Your hope is that they will care just as much about the love story as the mystery. That means you, as the writer, must care equally. You set the stage for a romance, to draw the reader in. Moonlight, candlelight, music, a rainy afternoon. This same stage can be used to develop the suspense as well — even if it’s used to give the protagonists a moment’s respite from the outside tension.

You set the scene for a murder — a dark room, a scream, a vacant lot. How does this event affect the relationship between the protagonists? This action must send out ripples of reaction that involves the characters.

In suspense, the reader need to hear the door creak, the wind howl, footsteps echo. They should feel the danger and care if a character is in jeopardy — as much as they care if the heroine and hero make love. How these two people become involved in a mystery must make sense. How they react to the danger has to suit their personalities. And how they react should probably have an effect on how their relationship progresses.

There’s a natural connection between romance and mystery. A man and a woman fall in love — they have to learn about each other, clues are dropped, false steps are taken. There is risk. There has to be motivation. There is usually suspicion before there is trust.

What do we use to create romance in a book. Back to atmosphere. We use lighting and shadows, sounds and scents. Emotions. Precisely the same elements we use to create suspense.

I strongly believe the build of writing is intuitive. You just know. You just feel. There’s a danger always of becoming over analytical and hedging back from your instincts. If you’re writing a romantic suspense, nothing will bog the creative flow more than sitting there worrying if you’re put in enough of this or too much of that. I don’t think we should take it to the level of measuring out the proper ingredients for a cake. It it’s really right, I think you’ll hear it click.

That doesn’t help when an editor sends the manuscript back saying it’s not romantic enough, or suspenseful enough, or that it lacks focus. Romantic suspense isn’t an easy genre to get into. We can probably count on one hand the truly recognizable names in the genre.

But we have to get back to basics. If you want to write it, you have to read it. You have to understand it, enjoy and appreciate it. Ask yourself why a particular book satisfied your need on both levels. Or why it didn’t. At the risk of being analytical again, follow the steps and the structure. Do they balance? Does the romance add to the suspense and vice versa?

Remember when readers settle back with this kind of novel, they are looking for a wonderful love story, a tense mystery, a heist or a chase, sexual tension and romance. They want to be moved. They want to be baffled. And they want it all to come together in the end. You have to want that, too.

When you’re building your own personal house of cards with words, remember that every one counts. If it tumbles, it was misplaced. It’s up to you to find the right spot for it.
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This article first appeared in Northwest Houston RWA May 1995

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