Subgenre Lecture 3:
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
By Cathy Clamp
Romance writers often get confused when writing subgenres, because the individual elements that would normally make the book an excellent romance or an exceptional suspense novel sometimes creates a . . . well, lackluster romantic suspense that is difficult to sell. “If only you’d concentrate more on the plot!” “If only you’d spent more time on the characters!” are comments often heard in judges comments or rejection letters. It’s extremely frustrating to both the editors and the writers that a book with promise didn’t live up to the plan.
So, how does a writer bridge that gap? What elements from each are the perfect marriage to create a stronger whole?
Traditional, contemporary romances are often a straight line plot. Unique boy meets unique girl, unique circumstances throw them together and they stick. The plot revolves around them working through their past or working through circumstances to come to the realization that they want to be together.
But subgenre romances become a braided plot. Unique boy meets unique girl, unique circumstances throw them together and they stick. But then the first curve in the road hits. The plot revolves around BOTH them coming to the realization that they want to be together, AND the resolution of a secondary plot that is taken from the “sub” in the subgenre. Whether that “sub” is suspense — the solving of a puzzle; chick-lit, where the advancement of wealth or self is critical; or even paranormal — where otherworldly things must be overcome before the HEA, subgenre can only stand when it’s a partnership.
In subgenre, the first question you have to ask yourself is “Why?” This is often a difficult question to ask when the story is burning a hole in your soul and struggling to come out your fingers. But you must ask it. Both parts must contribute to the whole. If you can remove the romance and have the plot stand, you need revisions. If you can remove the plot and the parties might still get together, you need revisions. The romance arc and the plot arc are two parts of a whole, whether it’s 50/50 or 60/40 or even 90/10. One must exist for the other to exist or you don't have a romantic suspense (fill in the sub for your own writing). Otherwise, you have a suspense with romantic elements. Or a paranormal with romantic elements, etc., etc.
So, how do you go about asking why and what things do you ask why about? Well, pretty much everything. Oftentimes, when I’m asked to critique samples, the thing I notice most is that there is a serious lack of reason. The conversation often goes like this:
“The heroine is in danger and the hero saves her. Why?”
“What do you mean, why? He’s the hero.”
“But why did the hero save her? Why didn’t she call the police? Why didn’t she walk out the back door and go to the neighbor’s? Heck, you’ve made her a karate expert; why didn’t she kick the villain’s butt?”
“Well, because otherwise how would they get together? He had to rescue her so they’d fall in love.”
“Uh, yeah but...”
“It’s just the way I wrote it, okay? Fine, then I’ll make him one of the police and she does call the police. Does that make you happy?”
“No, not really. But good luck with it.”
Do you see the logic gap here? This is where form fails to follow function. The romance has to be there and the suspense has to be there, but there’s a problem with blending so that each of the genres are interdependent on each other. There is nothing so difficult to write than a double arc book. Each has to perfectly mesh and logically work within the world you’re writing.
Knowing what your subgenre is means understanding the elements that make up the story and being able to ask yourself why the elements you’ve included create the subgenre. When there are many different elements, one must rule over the others for it to be part of that subgenre. That’s going to be today’s assignment. You’re going to be the ones asking the why on blending four genre bits to create a logical single genre. Let’s see how well you do!
Today, we're going to go ahead and include the assignment that was part of the original class. Participate if you want or just read along as others do! (Yes, I'll provide the correct solution --- there IS only one correct solution --- in a day or two.)
We’re going to turn a stand-alone mystery into a romantic suspense.
The first part of this bit is an existing mystery short story that appears in an anthology on the shelf (so no stealing! )
Dan is an assistant district attorney who has just been handed a case for prosecution. A woman (NOT the heroine) has admitted that she’s responsible for the death of her boyfriend, a married local pool shark who was cheating on his wife. But the woman didn’t know how he died (he was poisoned). She didn’t know where he died (under a bridge). She even has an unbreakable alibi, but she still confessed and is sitting in jail. Dan decides that she can’t have killed him, but probably knows who did. He happens to be taking his vacation in the location where the murder occurred, so he decides to poke around a little bit. He finds just the right people to talk to and discovers the murderer at the end (the former fiancé of the girl in jail who used to work at the same bar where the victim was a pool shark.)
The story stands alone and is fine as is. But we’re going to turn this mystery into a contemporary romantic suspense. Now, this was a “cozy” mystery, with no danger to anyone other than the deceased. We’re going to change it a bit so that the villain knows the hero is after him and wants to eliminate him.
Pick any three of the following elements that can all be added to the plot to create a viable partnership for a contemporary romantic suspense. The criteria will be based on the subgenre definitions in Lecture #2. Presume that the hero and heroine will be automatically attracted to each other and wind up with an HEA. Just select (for example) #1, 3, 5.
1. I think I’ll make the heroine work in the bank where he stops to cash a check before visiting the police station. They used to date in high school and haven’t seen each other in twenty years.
2. The hero talks to the villain without knowing it and gives away his plan to catch the murderer.
3. What if the heroine is a psychic?
4. Maybe the girl in jail used to be best friends with the heroine?
5. The setting is a hundred years in the future and they’re all trapped on board a spaceship.
6. The heroine is on the local police force and arrested the villain for assault at some time in the past?
7. How about if a ghost in the old hotel where he is staying witnessed the murder and tells him?
8. The heroine worked in the bar where the villain and hero talked and knows he was involved with the girl in jail but lied about it.
9. I think I’ll make the setting the 1800s in the California gold rush.
Go to Lecture #1 - Genres
Go to Lecture #2 - Romance Subgenres
Go to Lecture #3 - What's Love Got To Do With It?
Go to Lecture #4 - Master & Servant
Go to Lecture #5 - Lord & Overlords