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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Writing Romantic Suspense: Blooming Love and Looming Danger

Do you love crime shows where the protagonists begrudgingly come together to solve a crime? Do you enjoy when those two protagonists grow to not only accept each other's company but enjoy it, perhaps even more than they expected? What's even better than that? Protagonists who fall in love while working together to fend off potentially life-threatening danger, keep each other safe, and reign victorious against their antagonist in the end. Did we mention there's almost always a happy ending?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you might just be a sucker for a romantic suspense story. How should you go about writing successful romantic suspense? That's a great question, but let's first define romantic suspense.

Definition of Romantic Suspense

Romantic suspense features a blooming romance between the protagonists as they work together to solve a mystery or complete a dangerous mission. The constant threat of danger is evident throughout the story as at least one of the protagonists is in direct danger. Lives of family members and friends may also be at stake. Much of the suspense comes from the antagonist who threatens the couple's love and lives simultaneously. The antagonist may or may not be revealed, adding another layer of suspense.

Writing a romantic suspense story is not as simple as writing a romance story and a suspense or mystery story side by side. To write a successful romantic suspense story, you must weave these two genres together seemingly effortlessly, but we all know this will be anything but effortless. To simplify the process, we've compiled some of the essential characteristics of a romantic suspense story. Follow these rules and you'll be one step closer to having that romantic suspense you've been dying to write.

Crafting the couple characters

weak versus muscled arm
You should avoid stereotypes such as the weak woman and the strong man. Photo by Yevhen.

In any genre or subgenre, characters are equally as important as the plot, but this is especially true for romantic suspense. Although the conflict drives the characters forward, it is the characters, themselves, that carry the story through their budding romance and complicated feelings while fighting off danger. Here are some things to keep in mind while crafting your characters:

  • Be active, not passive: There is nothing worse than a passive character. You know the ones. The characters who just let everything happen to them, refusing to do anything about it, remaining uncaring or painfully neutral. Yeah, we never want those characters, especially in a romantic suspense story. It is essential for both characters to be active. This means one character can't be doing all the work while the other slacks off. In a romantic suspense, the protagonists are falling in love while working together to solve a crime, and at least one of them is in danger. This means both characters need to act because a romance can't be one-sided (unless you're writing that kind of story), and no character can just let their lives remain in danger. So, remember: act, act, act!
  • Avoid stereotypes: Since at least one of the characters is in danger throughout the story, it is easy to fall into gender stereotypes while writing your characters. For example, you might characterize the woman as the one in danger, thus creating a damsel in distress. As a result, the male protagonist is strong and powerful, taking the lead to protect the woman. Boring! Instead of falling into this trap, you should craft interesting characters that go against this model. Both protagonists should be strong characters, whether that be through physical strength or intelligence, wit, or creativity. Notice how we automatically assumed the protagonists would be a male/female pair. This is a stereotype too! You can and should explore alternate options such as LGBTQIA+ protagonists, if you desire. You don't need your characters to fit inside a box.
  • Partnership: Speaking of debunking stereotypes, your characters should be in a partnership. To some degree, they should be codependent. This speaks to the lack of passive protagonists. To write a successful romantic suspense story, both characters must significantly contribute to the plot. Although the characters may be reluctant to rely on each other at the beginning, they will build a solid foundation of trust and realize they need each other to successfully solve the crime and end the danger throughout the story.
  • Emotional characterization: We can't forget that romances require intense emotions. This is especially true when the protagonists' lives are at stake. Emotions will run high. It is important you spend time on the emotional characterization of your characters because this will explain how the characters fall into each other. Perhaps they are reluctant to work together but, as time progresses, their feelings for each other intensify. Then, instead of outright denying their feelings, they begin to see each other for who they really are, something others cannot or have failed to do in the past. This is what makes their dynamic unique.

A worthy opponent

man in hood
Your opponents should be worthy of an interesting plot and justified ending. Photo by jinga80.

In romantic suspense, your antagonist is just as important as your two main protagonists. It is important that you devote time to writing an opponent worthy of your protagonists and, quite frankly, worthy of a romantic suspense. After all, there would be no suspense in a romantic suspense if there was no good antagonist. Here are a couple things to keep in mind when writing your antagonist:

  • Make them equal to your protagonists: Nobody likes a boring, lame antagonist. There would be immense disappointment reading a romantic suspense story just to find out the antagonist has no dimension. If that was the case, then the crime wouldn't make sense and it would seem like your main couple went through a whole lot of trouble for a whole lot of nothing. To prevent this, make your antagonist equal in intelligence, power, and confidence to your main protagonists. Their motivation needs to be worthy of a crime and chase, worthy of the couple's time. Their defeat also has to be worthy of a battle.
  • Limit your suspect list: While it's certainly thrilling to leave your readers in suspense, wondering who the antagonist could possibly be, you don't want to overwhelm them by introducing countless suspects. Therefore, you shouldn't make every single character a suspect, even if it's tempting. This will take away from the plot and the actual antagonist's characterization. Instead, we recommend introducing up to three suspects with potential motives.

And…action! (literally!)

Now that you've got your focal characters down, let's talk about the action in the story. You're throwing your characters into emotional and physical turmoil, using life-threatening turmoil, but why? What sparked your plot and the characters' reactions? Consider the following questions when writing your story:

  • What is the crime? Your crime has to be just as worthy as your characters. What is the motivation behind the crime or inciting incident? It has to be something worth hurting one or both of the protagonists over. Is it a revenge plot? Does it involve a family secret? The stakes should be incredibly high. This typically means there is a personal connection between the antagonist and at least one of the protagonists to warrant such a story, but the connection usually grows to involve both protagonists and the antagonists.
  • What are your characters' greatest fears? In your characterization of your lead protagonists, you can and should explore their greatest fears. What do you do with their greatest fears? You make them come true. This heightens tension and motivates the protagonists to fight against their invisible antagonist. You can also use this to your advantage when weaving in the romance. Perhaps one of the protagonists has a fear of the other getting hurt, which may come true, leading to a realization of feelings.


Balance is essential to creating a romantic suspense story. You aren't writing one romance story and one suspense story. The two genres have to be perfectly intertwined. In a successful romantic suspense, one genre will immediately collapse if the other is removed. Just like the protagonists, the genres are codependent. Here are a couple things to keep in mind when trying to keep your story balanced:

  • Build tension simultaneously: You should build tension with the crime element of the story at the same time you build tension in the romance department. These should not feel like separate storylines that just so happen to be occurring side by side. Instead, the romance should be building over the course of the suspense. Think about how the crime or mystery brings the protagonists together.
  • Build roadblocks: Both the romance and crime should face roadblocks, and none of the roadblocks should be quick successes. A good way to think about this is to consider morals and emotions. Morals deal with the more suspenseful, crime side of the story and emotions pair well with the romantic element of the story. For example, the protagonists may have internal conflicts or obstacles that prevent them from falling in love or make them resistant to falling in love. Or, perhaps the crime itself prevents the couple from falling into each other, delaying the inevitable. You should think about how you can use plot twists and external conflicts to manipulate internal conflicts.

Timing is everything

sticky notes on a board
You should pace your story well to keep the plot interesting and suspenseful. Photo by methaphum.

Since you're combining two genres, the pacing of the story can seem a little daunting. Romances can be quick, which isn't very satisfying, or they can be too long, which also isn't very satisfying. Meanwhile, crimes tend to be quick enough to keep the attention of the readers but slow enough to build suspense and tension. Here is how we recommend organizing your content:

  • Start out strong: We cannot stress this enough. It is so important to immediately engage your readers in the story. We recommend you start your story with the cause of your suspense: the inciting incident. If not, you could lead with a tone that hints at danger or a fast-paced scene leading up to the introduction of the crime.
  • Introduce plot twists throughout: This should be a gradual process. You want to sprinkle plot twists and conflicts throughout the show, but take care to not include too many questions. The readers may end up lost, and you may even find yourself lost in your own writing. You should not include plot twists or questions that you don't intend to answer or solve by the end of the story. What's the point of including them if they go nowhere? For the twists, turns, and complications you do include, they should not be immediately answered or resolved. Where's the suspense in that? You should make your readers sit on the edge of their seats with suspense, but be sure to give them a break at some point. Good writers know when to increase the tension and when to pull back.
  • Don't muddle the middle:You want the middle to be just as engaging as the rest of the story. Opening with a bang and closing with a sense of satisfaction means nothing if the middle of your story is boring or worse, confusing. We say this because it can be easy to get lost in the plot of your own story. You may be juggling multiple characters, and you might have a few different plot points you're following. On top of all this, you're having to make sure that you are balancing the romance and suspense well, or else, what's the point of even writing a romantic suspense story? To spice it up, introduce a plot twist to the middle of the story or add in something unexpected. This will keep the reader engaged, making them say out loud, "Wait, what?!"
  • The climax better be worth it: No, seriously. Nobody wants all this tension and suspense to be built up throughout a story only to reach the climax, the pivotal moment in the story, and be utterly disappointed. It's like being at a restaurant, and you're extremely ravenous and can't wait for your food to come. Just as your waiter emerges from the kitchen with plates of what looks like your food, they veer off path to another table instead, and you're left hungry and disappointed. Don't be that person. Feed your readers, and feed them well.
  • Romantic resolution: Romantic suspense stories typically have happy endings. The crime should be resolved, exposing the antagonist and their motives. The couple should get justice, and there should be a feeling of fulfillment, like all the trouble they went through was worth it for the ending. The couple should not only get moral justice, but romantic justice. It is almost always the case that the protagonists end up as a couple by the end of the story, if not sooner. Although the couple faces roadblocks and conflicts throughout the story, perhaps making them question their feelings for each other or the possibility of their having a happy ending, they do usually get one. This brings about an emotional resolution that pairs well with the moral resolution.

Ready to write?

We know we threw a lot of information at you all at once, but that's kind of the nature of a romantic suspense, so it's good for you to get used to it, right? Writing a romantic suspense is a practice in balance. You should remain organized at all times. Have you ever seen one of those crime shows where the detective has a board full of pictures and newspaper clippings, different colored strings mapping out connections between people, places, and events? Yeah, you should try to do that as you plan your story.

Romance and suspense stories are great on their own but absolutely riveting when combined well. We hope you're feeling inspired to write some dynamic characters with a killer (perhaps an antagonist?) plot. Pace yourself like you do with your plot points, and you'll be just fine.

Header image by snaptitude.

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