Moving From Writing Romance to Suspense by K.A. Tucker
K.A. Tucker, bestselling author of the Ten Tiny Breaths and Burying Water series, makes her suspense debut with He Will Be My Ruin, a sexy, heart pounding story about a young woman determined to find justice after her best friend’s death. Tucker shares her experience transitioning from writing romance to suspense.
Moving from writing contemporary romance to suspense has been an unexpectedly smooth shift for me, which surprises many of my readers and fellow authors. It wasn’t until I sat down to consider why this transition seemed easy that I truly began to understand myself as a writer.
It all comes down to my love of characters and research.
When I’m struck with an idea for a book, it’s very much just that: an idea. A glimpse, a feeling, a scene. I have no idea where that story will go but I grab hold of that thread and see where the characters will take it. Sometimes I can peg my genre immediately, but other times I can’t be certain until well into the story (this was the case for He Will Be My Ruin, which we originally thought would be romantic suspense but ended up being much more of a thriller). What I try to do in all cases is not limit the story based on a checklist of genre must-haves.
Instead, I focus on the characters and let them tell their own story.
I adore complex, flawed, realistic characters, and I invest much of my focus on developing them, no matter the genre that I’m writing. While plot is equally important, my characters will always be the driving force behind the plot. I spend most of my first and second drafts banging my head against a figurative brick wall, trying to get their psychology and narrative arcs right, because without those in place, the plot feels forced.
From there, it’s a matter of deciding what the protagonist’s main motivation is. Is it a romantic relationship, as is the case in my Ten Tiny Breaths series? Is it solving the riddle of a best friend’s untimely death, as is the case for my upcoming suspense, He Will Be My Ruin? Or is it both a romantic happily-ever-after and the resolution of a deeper, high-stakes mystery, as is the case for my Burying Water series?
What do I see as the main difference between writing romance and suspense? In a word: research. Writing a great romance involves delving into human nature and truly understanding emotional motivations in order to spin a story. Most writers have a tendency to do this organically because they are, after all, human beings. Sure, there is still some research involved (understanding psychological conditions such as PTSD, depression, or alcoholism; Google searches to nail down the details of a setting) but I don’t find it nearly as intensive as the research required with writing a suspense novel.
Writing suspense makes me feel like I’m back in school: reading nonfiction, watching documentaries, interrogating my police friends with hundreds of random and likely eyebrow-raising “what if” questions. Each suspense book requires a staggering amount of hard research in order to write the world and develop the plot accurately. I can see now why many suspense writers have backgrounds in law, law enforcement, and medicine (and create main characters and entire series based on that specialized knowledge.) It’s a very fortunate thing that I enjoy this level of detailed research, and have the kind of adventurous imagination that leads me to explore topics I previously knew nothing about, otherwise this genre shift would not have been smooth. In fact, it may have been impossible.
Will I stick with suspense? I’ll definitely write more suspense. I’ll also write more romantic suspense, and contemporary romance. Like I said, I’ll go wherever the characters take me.
K.A. Tucker is the author of the Ten Tiny Breaths and the Burying Water series. She currently resides outside of Toronto with her husband, two beautiful girls, and an exhausting brood of four-legged creatures.
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