Saturday, August 15, 2009

Welcome: Stephanie Newton

Five DON’Ts of Romantic Suspense

In the dedication to Moving Target, I thank my mom, who loves romance, and my dad, who loves a good thriller, for getting me started on a path that really could lead nowhere else than romantic suspense. I love when the characters have a common goal, when the danger mounts, and every scene pushes them closer to their enemy…and closer to each other.

In reading a lot of romantic suspense, and now writing it, I’ve come up with a basic “Don’t” list. Things that I try to remember as I plan and write.


1. Let one character have more at stake. Each character’s goals should be tied to the suspense plot. Don’t give one character more to lose than another. The characters can have different reasons for getting involved—and probably do—but the emotional stakes should be high for both hero and heroine if the villain comes out ahead.

2. Let your heroine make stupid decisions. If your heroine is being stalked and goes into the basement to check out the noise she just heard and ends up in a situation where she has to be rescued, readers are going to throw the book against the wall. If the hero goes into the same scenario, he’s macho and courageous. Not fair, but that’s the way it is.

3. Give your hero and heroine a weak antagonist. Your hero and heroine are not the only ones who should have goals, motivation, and conflict. Your villain should have them, too. When you’re planning your characters, think about why the villain chooses to do what he does. It might be greed, anger, loss, or revenge motivating your bad guy. If the motivation is strong and your villain smart, it heightens the tension in every scene and ultimately makes your hero and heroine look better.

4. Forget that setting plays a crucial part in suspense. The heavy thunderstorm, the seedy bar with threatening patrons, the chattering woods that suddenly go still. Whatever your setting, you can use the details to enhance the tension—or romance.

5. Resolve the romantic conflict before the suspense conflict. This one is straight from the editors. Ultimately we’re writing romance and the last thing that happens in a romance is the happily ever after. We’re going for the big sigh, where we see that this couple who has been through so many trials has finally realized what they have and we believe that they would do anything to keep it. They’ve found each other and now they can start their forever.

Stephanie Newton wrote her first suspense story, complete with illustrations, when she was twelve. A teaching degree, a pastor husband, two kids, and six moves later, she's still writing. She lives in Northwest Florida and gains lots of inspiration from the sugar white sand, aqua blue-green water of the Gulf of Mexico and the many, many unusual things you see when you live on the beach. When she's not in her chair with her laptop, she can most often be found enjoying the water with her family, or at church, where she makes the coffee and her husband preaches the sermons.

Stephanie's debut book, Perfect Target garnered 4 1/2 stars from Romantic Times Review.

Her 2nd book, Moving Target Love Inspired Suspense, is in stores now.

Find out more at


Helena said...

Glad to have you with us on the Prairie today, Stephanie!

I don't write suspense novels, but as I read your series of tips, I couldn't help thinking that at least some of what you say can be applied to other romance sub-genres, as well. Most novels have an element of mystery in the plot, otherwise why do we keep reading, if not to find out how some issue or concealed situation is going to turn out?

The higher the stakes for the hero and heroine, the more satisfying the resolution when reached. I agree it is essential to solve the "mystery" or get rid of the obstacles, whether caused by a clever antagonist or not, before the romantic elements are resolved.

Thanks for sharing your list of basics with us!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Steph, excellent post. I hadn't considered some of the 'Don't' you listed. However, I loved Perfect Target and the way you kept the suspense throughout the book. I actually went through about 3 guesses before picking the right antagonist so as far as I'm concerned, you had your red herrings in order, too.

Welcome to the prairies.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Great list, Stephanie, and I'm so glad to see you emphasize villains. Villains and antagonists are some of my favourite aspects of a good story, and although not every style of romance needs them to the same extent, they are immensely critical when they're included.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Stephanie and welcome today. Enjoyed your post today and I will definitely be looking at my romantic suspense wip to make sure I haven't committed any don'ts. My favorite don't had to do with the heroine making stupid, unrealistic decisions which is a problem I struggle with and try hard to avoid but they somehow slip in there. Great post today!

Stephanie Newton said...

Hey y'all!

Helena, you are absolutely right that every manuscript must have rising stakes, whether romantic suspense or straight romance. Good call!

Anita, thanks so much for having me today! I'm so glad you liked PT!


Stephanie Newton said...

Hi Hayley,
My CP Brenda Minton writes romance for LI and I find that even in her straight romances, though she doesn't have "villains," she definitely has antagonists who create problems and raise the stakes for her hero and heroine. So a good antagonist can be a tool in the writer's toolbox, no matter the type of fiction.

Stephanie Newton said...

Hi Karyn,
Sometimes it helps to have someone else read the ms. My critique partners, bless them, are always willing to call me on it when my characters make dumb decisions! LOL!


Sierra Donovan said...


I agree with the rest -- your 5 do's and don'ts are definitely a great checklist for any kind of strong fiction! (Must make things harder for my characters ... must, must ...)


Jana Richards said...

Hi Stephanie,
Sorry I didn't get a chance to welcome you yesterday. Thanks for joining us on the Prairies.

I love romantic suspense. I've only written one so far and I'd love to do more. They are so much fun to write, almost like putting together a puzzle. Thanks for all the good advice.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Steph, on behalf of the Chicks I'd like to thank you for taking time to blog with us on Sat. I hadn't realized until late in the day that you were suffering a tooh abcess at the same time. Me too. And I was feeling crummy. To think you came and shared time with us even in the midst of your pain shows your professionalism. I appreciate you doing so. Thank you. And hoping all the best as you (and me) go to the dentist today.

Stephanie Newton said...

Hey Anita,
I love reading your blog, so it was my pleasure to be here with the Chicks!

Glad your toothache is better...maybe my next visit will be pain-free(for both of us)! :)