A Writer’s Dilemma


And what dilemma would that be? — you ask.  I mean there could be so many.  But this one is when you have the book almost two-thirds written (circa 65 K words) and you know where you want to end up, and you have a fricking cover ! (Sneak preview of draft cover)

But, lo and behold — the characters stop talking to you, and don’t tell you why.

Now I have to admit, this is not usually my dilemma.

Normally,  I have characters talking to me in my head all the damn time.  Characters from my current work. Characters from past books who didn’t get everything said and think they need a novella or a short story to finish up an issue or two.  And characters who want their books to come next in one of my series — or worse yet, want me to write them a stand-alone. My head is a noisy, chaotic place.

And I have all those other wanna-be characters still talking to me, but my current book’s characters have gone dumb.

“Ah,” you say, “Monette has hit the proverbial wall.  Writer’s block.”

Nope, not my problem.  Had that problem once, way back in the book called Death Benefits — and it was more of a short stoop than a wall.  All it took to climb over it was a glass of scotch and a lawyer friend who told me to pin the murders on a relative rather than a serial killer stranger.  The “aha” moment was clear and the flood dams opened —  and I never looked back.

So, nope, not writer’s block.  I know where I need to go next in my current book to get to the end — and I know the ending.  BTW, I am not a pantser per se — I also don’t do extreme outlines.  I plot point.  I have certain plot points I need to hit along the way and between those points, I just let my characters lead me.

“Then,” you say, “it has to be a sagging middle. You’re writing in circles.”

Nope and even if that were so, I’d write my way out of it eventually and then trash most of the circuitous crap in my first revision.

“So,” you ask, “if  you aren’t blocked and your middle isn’t meandering, what the f**k is wrong?  Why aren’t you finishing the blasted book?”

Because I lost track of the genre I was writing in.  My characters realized  it before I did and so they stopped talking — sort of a silent intervention. The characters’ version of tough love.

My Security Specialists International series is romantic adventure/suspense/thriller. I was having so much fun writing evil bad guys with all sort of plots and plans that my book began to sound more like a men’s action story than a romantic adventure.  Yeah, I needed the external conflict to throw my H/H into a pressure cooker and boost their sexual attraction into trust and love, but I should be able to do that without resorting to writing a Bourne type thriller.

I think I would’ve figured the problem out eventually. But it took an early reading by two of my beta-readers (love you, KaLyn and Cherise) to hammer it into my head.  Both agreed my alpha hero (Vanko) is yummy. Both thought the heroine (Elana) is his perfect match. Both of them thought, in general, the story works, BUT that the romance needed to be at least an equal player along with the suspense/thriller/action part of the plot.

And after a lot of whining and moaning and kicking at balls of kitty fur (my cat is shedding like crazy) all over the house — I agree.

So, I will be slashing and hacking and moving scenes around, tightening up my villains’ presence on the scene, and bumping up the internal conflict of the H/H to make Weather the Storm the best book it can be for my loyal fans.

By the way, this dilemma over the balance between romance and suspense/action in the RS area has been discussed and debated —  often hotly — for a long time.  The RWA Kiss of Death chapter used to discuss it frequently.  Different publishers and lines had their own take on the issue.  And romantic suspense authors have been, and still are, all over the place about the perfect balance.

My favorite romantic suspense author, Elizabeth Lowell, teeters between 50/50 (with not that much overt sexual activity, but more romantic and sexual tension than anything else) and 40% romance and 60% suspense/action. But her books are always satisfying, because she is just that damn good.

So, my question to you readers is — what is the perfect balance of romance to suspense/action in the romantic suspense sub-genre? 50/50? 60/40 (romance/suspense)? 40/60 (romance/suspense)? And who are some of your favorite romantic action/adventure/suspense authors?

18 thoughts on “A Writer’s Dilemma

  1. I’d say 40% romance and 60% suspense provided the romance portion is intense and passion-filled, something that wouldn’t leave me hanging and wishing that the H/H got more quality time together. I think it’s difficult to skimp on the suspense portion because that might result in the author/s resorting to shortcuts just to get the mystery solved and I don’t want that in the Romantic suspense novels I read.


    • You are my kind of woman, Diana. I tend to like the suspense/action more than too much romance. And my romance is sort of spread out and delayed at times because it is hard to have a nice romantic moment when you’re on the run for your life. I try to give them a place where it is safe to be romantic and into each other, literally and figuratively.


  2. I’m more of a 60% romance and 40% suspense. I’ve always been strictly a romance reader and like it to be the focus of the book I am reading.


    • I hear you, Lisa. This is why I use a lot of tension and try to engage all the senses even while my h/h are on the run. I use internal monologue to show the hero is concerned about the heroine and vice-versa and that the external conflict is adding to their attraction to one another.


  3. That’s not an easy answer as each author is different – which you would want – wouldnt want to read a set formula all the time.

    Karen Rose – great suspense author. She puts a lot of time into the killer part of the story – the who/what/where and when. Starts off in the killer’s head, then the victims, then follow along in the whole police/FBI, etc investigation from beginning to end and during this two people connect (the romance) but the romance is secondary to the story. This works because she puts so much effort into the story, into the details, a lot of effort of getting us into the head of the killer – which sometimes is a creepy place to be but its a fun ride 🙂 But I wouldn’t put Karen in the same category as you or Lori Foster or Lora Leigh or Christie Reece.. Romantic suspense in itself has different genre’s. Each author has there own unique style of writing of the suspense and romance and even the heat level. I dont want to read romantic suspense books that the heat level is always a 2 or 3 nor do I always want to read one where its a 9 or 10. I like both kinds equal and as long as the “story” is captivating the amount of romance/sex should take away from that.

    One of the things I loved about Eye of the Storm was the beginning. How often do you start a book in a heroine’s head as she is on her way to save her brother’s (who dont know they are in trouble). She kicked ass and took no names. Now the men were still Alpha – way Alpha 🙂 but nothing wrong with having a strong female lead too. And I have no problem with the woman being an alpha outside of the bedroom but submissive to her alpha man in the bedroom. That’s what made the first book stand out/capture my attention. It comes back to the balance things for me. I dont mind reading some rom/suspense where the heroine is always needing to be rescued but its also great to read about a heroine who has no problem saving herself or can get herself out of a situation by “thinking”. Like the heroine in the 2nd book – she’s a supermodel – yes in my head I would typically think of a supermodel as a diva not wanting to break a nail but Calista found herself in a situation and was smart enough to call for help but she could also think for herself and shoot a gun.

    For me – an author needs to stand out on her own and you’ve done that with the SSI series. Kickass heroines, lots of smoking hot lovin and plenty of action, You manage to blend all of those perfectly.

    Hang in there. 🙂


    • You know I love you, Cindy. You have always been one of my biggest cheerleaders and somehow, even on my darkest days, I think of you and don’t want to let you down. Or let any of my readers down. So, THANK YOU. You get me and what I am trying to do. And yes, each RS author has their own way of handling the balance of romance and suspense. I am glad that mind has found an audience.

      BTW I think you’ll like Elana — she is not a kick ass heroine like Keely, and she can’t shoot like Callie, but she is smart and brave in the face of danger and Vanko falls in love with her because of that. She’s a librarian — and I think of Rachel Weisz’s character in The Mummy every time I type that. 🙂

      I’ll try not to let you and my other fans down,


  4. I would say 50/50. You do this so well. Story pulls you in and the interaction btwn the H/h hold you to the story.
    Besides you, the authors I love are: Maya Banks, Bianca d’Arc, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Eliza Knight, Lauren Dane, J. R. Ward, Catherine Mann, Marisa Chenery, just to name a few.


  5. I think 40/60 – 50/50 with the romance sometimes taking a back seat to the action. And honestly, if some of the *cough* bedroom scenes need to be skimmed or dropped to keep the story moving, that’s find with me. I hate it when you realize the author must be thinking ‘time for another sex scene’ and the action stops to accommodate it. NOT that that happens with Monette! Just saying…
    Love that Vanko and Elana’s keeping you ‘honest’ 😀


    • LOL Peggy. No, I try not to drop a bedroom scene in for the heck of it. My one beta sort of complained and said she is like over half way into the part of Weather the Storm I have done and she wondered if they would ever get it on. Um, the heroine is wounded and Vanko is caring for her. So, the sex necessarily has to be more gentle. Not saying that is the way it will be once I am done – but for now, no balls to the wall, head-banging sex. I had to get creative. 😉


  6. Echoing Peggy here…with the 1st SSI story I LOVED the action scenes. The romance was hot too, but what totally grabbed me was the action and the worldbuilding and the detail given to the novel. I say keep on doing what you’re doing, Moni. But then again, I’m one of the ones who like a plot a lot better if there’s less sex. (ducking)


    • I love plots. I am the plotting queen. I love teaching plotting. But I also love romance in my stories. I love and adore building the world and doing the research.

      For Cold Day in Hell I watched U-Tube videos of a trip through the Darien Gap on a river boat. I used that U-Tube video to describe the village. I then used Google Earth to find the river and how it wound through the jungle and where it emptied into the Atlantic.

      For Weather the Storm I studied the layout of the Georgetown Univ library and how to get from there to get on the Metro (take a shuttle to a Metro stop) and which lines Elana would have to take to get to the National Mall (she has to make a change in lines while running from her pursuers). Since I have been on the Metro many a time — it was a quick refresher and fun. I could see it in my head.

      My ideal book would be a Clive Cussler, Preston/Child, Jim Rollins, Jack Dubrul, Matthew Reilly and/or Alistair MacLean novel with more romance. Yes, I like action/military/thriller books and none of them have enough romance. I need to approach one of these guys and offer to help him up the romance in his books, yes?


  7. Hey Moni – you know how I love your books! And for me you always suceed in finding the right balance between suspence and romance. The first of yours I read was Prime Obsession, and it clearly hooked me up on your unique style of writing.
    I love that your female lead characters are not the simpering-damsel-in-distress kind of girls: yes, they sometimes need rescuing but they know how to take charge of a situation. And it helps that your heroes are the strong alpha types we can fantasied about!
    I agree with the other comments here, I like a strong romance but it has to be relevant in the story. I mean sometimes, never with you BTW, the book is mainly suspense and suddenly without cause the H/H engaged in a hot scene… it does NOT suit me at all!
    I love when the plot is well built, when the background is clear, when the suspense and romance scenes are coherent and the relationships, friendship or romantic ones, are realistic, you know what I mean? In other words, I love your kind of books…
    And between us, I can’t wait for Vanko’s story, he’s always been my favorite from the first SSI book.


  8. Pingback: Darker Side of Writing | Susan Sheehey

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