I’ve noticed a trend in all of my romance novel “research” I’ve been doing in the past few years. Authors tend to start out writing a classical (as in somewhat formulaic and predictable but with enough twists and originality to make the story their own) romance: girl meets boy. Sparks fly. A series of unexpected events bond the characters together before obstacles get into their path. The question remains not IF but HOW they will overcome said obstacles to reach eternal bliss, usually ending with happily ever after, which may or may not included marriage and children. Yes. I too am formulaically guilty as charged.
Bad? Not necessarily; we romance reading types like to hear the same story over and over again, provided that it has enough twists to keep it interesting and that the ending brings happiness.
By book two or three, the romance author decides to grab another set of powder-filled bottles from the spice rack to heat up the formula. I’m not talking about going from slightly sexy to erotic. Although I have experienced this development in some writers, most romance authors seem to settle on a heat level for their sensual writing and stay within a few degrees of sizzle both for their own comfort level and for that of their audience.
The new dash of spice I’m talking about is the mixing of two genres; going from romance to romantic suspense (e.g. thriller). Call it a mix of deadly night shade and Habanero pepper, but the romantic thriller adds a level of tension to a story that a typical romance seems to miss. It also calls for a stronger stomach, because suspense quite often means violence or the threat of violence, which can put an uncomfortable edge on the entire novel that keeps you moving forward. Thus the reader is now doubly motivated to turn the page: to see how the romance will progress and to see how the characters will escape the danger looming over their heads.
I recently discovered author Lisa Clark O’Neill’s “Southern Comfort” series. A gripping mix of crime and romance, I found myself outside my comfort zone as she explored the dark topics of sex trade, child abduction and more mixed with attraction between hot, heroic detective types and feisty civilian types. It is an intriguing mix, but not a mix for everyone. I enjoyed her ability to lace humor, attraction and love into these darker settings.
I must be following some sort of path, because I too am delving into romantic suspense as I embark on novel two. But my twist to the apparent path? Eco-romantic suspense!