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View Full Version : Do serial killers have a place in romance?



StoryG27
02-23-2006, 12:57 AM
There is no formula for romantic suspense. No rule saying, 60% should be romance, and 40% suspense/thriller/mystery. No rule saying it should be fifty, fifty. Nothing to gauge how to balance the two drastically different elements. If I had to gauge my story, I would say it's about fifty/fifty. Books similar to mine span the genres, some labeled simply 'fiction' or 'novel', others categorized as mystery/thrillers or suspense, and then other of course, classified as romantic suspense.

This questions comes as the result of a rejection. Here is what the agent said, "I don't believe the hard '*uck you' line taken for you serial killer blends well with the romance side of the novel. It is just too jarring to me."

In the part she is commenting on, there is no romance. None. My characters don't even like each other at this point. And the serial killer, though you get to experience his first murder early on and it is cruel, it is also sort of understandable, and this is not at all his '*uck you' attitude. He gets much, much worse.

I read tons of romantic suspense and it is jarring sometimes, but that's part of why I like it. It constantly keeps me off kilter. And many times in the beginning there are sort of two separate lines, the bad guy's happenings, and the MC's happenings. And that is how my story begins, but the reader obviously knows soon the two separate lines are going to merge. This isn't unusual for romantic suspense, so I don't think that is the problem.

I always thought of my books as romantic suspense. I mean, the relationship, which develops into a romantic one, is a fundamental element of the book and the ending, IMO, is a happy one. And my story also has mystery, suspense, action/thriller, and violence.

Now I have to wonder: Have I gotten myself stuck between a rock and a hard place, having too much suspense/action/mystery/violence for a romance novel and too much romance for a suspense/action/mystery/violence novel?

Cathy C
02-23-2006, 01:04 AM
First, is it the HERO that's the serial killer? While our hero is an assassin, that's not quite the same thing--to our (decidedly anti-) hero, it was just business. But even then, it's been a pretty close split on whether he's sympathetic to the readers. If the hero is a serial killer, it's going to be a hard sell.


Or is it just because there IS a serial killer (who is the villain) that the editor is having a hard time with?

More details please? :)

StoryG27
02-23-2006, 01:06 AM
No, no, no, the hero is NOT the serial killer.

She doesn't like the serial killer as a villain. I guess he's too cruel and cold which seems, in her opinion, too clash with the romance side of the novel.

Cathy C
02-23-2006, 01:32 AM
I will admit that it is difficult to have a very strong villain in a romance. However, it can be done. Most of our villains are serial killers of a sort. Human life is meaningless to them, and pain is fun. Now, this CAN make the romance all that more profound in contrast. What I've found that seems to work is to slowly soften the edges of the story before the romantic scenes without seeming too abrupt. A lot depends on whether the H/h are aware of the actions, or if the brutality is "off-screen" until after the romance scenes. Angst works nicely when the H/h have been engaging in letting their feelings show, only to later discover that someone died in the meantime. Or, they can be flirting or having sex and don't KNOW that the villain is actually watching, discovering their weakness. The reader knows and it doesn't take away from the romance. It adds to the suspense because the reader suddenly realizes that the characters now have a potentially fatal flaw--their emotions.


Would any of this work for your WIP?

StoryG27
02-23-2006, 01:42 AM
Yeah, at first the killer is sort of off screen, and I don't just throw gore and violence in there. It is only pivotal kills and the violence is actually toned down. The killer is calculating and cold because he feels justified in what he is doing. And the reader knows the killer knows h/H long before the h/H knows they know him, if that makes sense. The h/H actually realize separately that they each have a different connection to this killer, and that is when they really start working together to stop the killer.

Cathy C
02-23-2006, 01:50 AM
Is there any way that you can insert the h/H meeting earlier--even if only locking eyes in a deli or some such, or flirting in an elevator? Perhaps what's bothering the editor is that there isn't enough romance at the front to offset the violence. If the hero and heroine don't meet until later, it might be fighting you too much, simply because the reader doesn't get to know the parties as a potential "couple" until too deep in the book.

StoryG27
02-23-2006, 02:05 AM
Ok, I knew I didn't say that right.

The h/H meet within the first 15 pages. They just don't know much about the killings or that the killings will soon be connected to them. But their relationship starts well before they really become aware of any connection to the killer. The only violence near the beginning is the first incident that made SK (serial killer) start his path to being a serial killer.

The SK knows the h/H. The reader know that SK knows h/H but even in his POV, you don't know who SK is.

Something terrible happens and the Hero realizes that the killer must be one of his best friends, but he doesn't know which one.

The heroine actually has a connection to one of the victims which leads her to suspect a tight knit group of guys, which of course the Hero is part of (she doesn't suspect the Hero, BTW).

StoryG27
02-23-2006, 02:08 AM
Basically, the relationship between the H/h is separated from the SK until later in the book. It's almost two separate story lines (one being the relationship between hero and heroine, the other story line is what the killer is doing and experiencing) until about a quarter of the way through the book, which is why I'm guessing it was 'jarring' but the lines are intertwined.

veinglory
02-23-2006, 02:22 AM
I think that it is rare for romance to shift from the POV of h and/or H--perhaps this is your problem with a more 'romance genre' market? A strongly written villain of any sort breaks the primacy of the h/H dynmaic in driving the story.

StoryG27
02-23-2006, 02:25 AM
I agree with catagory romance, but romantic suspense is very different, at least many the ones I have read are.

Many romantic suspense books switch POVs quite often because you've got so much going on at once.

StoryG27
02-23-2006, 02:27 AM
But you make a great point. That's what I'm wondering. Romance is a driving force in my book, so is the suspense. Does it still fit in romantic suspense, or do I have a thriller/suspense with strong romantic elements? (but that seems to imply the romance isn't a driving force and it is).

Cathy C
02-23-2006, 03:06 AM
I just remembered---read "Night's Landing" by Carla Neggers. She pulls it off, both the villain POV and the romance. I read it for the RITA last year. :)

MMo
02-23-2006, 04:14 AM
This questions comes as the result of a rejection. Here is what the agent said, "I don't believe the hard '*uck you' line taken for you serial killer blends well with the romance side of the novel. It is just too jarring to me."

Snip

I read tons of romantic suspense and it is jarring sometimes, but that's part of why I like it. It constantly keeps me off kilter. And many times in the beginning there are sort of two separate lines, the bad guy's happenings, and the MC's happenings. And that is how my story begins, but the reader obviously knows soon the two separate lines are going to merge. This isn't unusual for romantic suspense, so I don't think that is the problem.


Is it possible that your writer's "voice" changes in each of these two separate threads? Do you perhaps write the SK's POV in a voice more suited for a hard-boiled suspense, and then go back to more of a romance tone for the segments with the h/h? If so, that may be what the agent is picking up on, instead of the content. I can see where that kind of change could be jarring. If so, that can be moderated without changing the essential elements of your story.

(Says she who has gotten away with a lot of bad things, in women's fiction and in series romance.)

Mo

trumancoyote
02-23-2006, 04:56 AM
You should read Hannibal... and once you're done w/ that, Exquisite Corpse.

StoryG27
02-23-2006, 05:50 AM
Ok, so I'm not necessarily stepping over the bounds of romantic suspense, which is good IMO. Thank you for helping me as I struggled with wondering if I should recategorize my novel.

You know, I'll have to reread a few scenes from the SK's POV and see if I do change voice. I don't know if I do though because I'm never conscious of my voice. I've tried to be, but I write the way I write and I can't detect my voice, though I can detect voice for others.

Thanks again. I love romance forum. Everyone is so helpful (and nice to boot) around here.

Crinklish
02-24-2006, 01:34 AM
You're definitely not violating some "rule" of romantic suspense (the way leaving off the HEA disqualifies something from being a romance), but I, too, would guess that the agent was reacting more to tone than to the switches in POV. I've seen lots of manuscripts that use this multiple POV to varying effect, and I think it's especially frequent in rom. susp./thrillers because you can get inside the villain's head that way.

But I sometimes find, especially if the killer's crimes are particularly brutal, that I'm unable to "reset" my reading eye when we move to the investigating heroine/couple. The horror of watching a particularly vicious killer in action (for example, a ritual torturer) doesn't allow me to shift my emotions to invest in the developing relationship between heroine and hero. And working in multiple POVs actually exacerbates the abruptness of that shift, because I don't have an omniscient narrator to let me down easy.

Obviously, just my editorial two cents, but that might be what the agent's responding to.

Jenny
02-28-2006, 04:16 AM
I got a few chapters into writing a romantic suspense novel with serial killer. I knew pretty much the plot, definitely who the bad guy was, the "other" guy to add a suspect and the hero, but I had to abandon it. I couldn't get it to gel for me. The SK was closing in on the heroine, but I couldn't get her to do anything to challenge and stop him - she wanted to, but she was too dratted nice and normal. Thinking about your question, I now wonder whether I under-drew the heroine. By that I mean I'm wondering whether in setting a serial killer I overdrew the evil and didn't have a strong enough heroine to balance the story. I don't know if that makes sense, but Carla Neggers, for instance, draws very gutsy women. So I guess, my question is, how strong is your heroine? And does that strength (or the possibility of it) come across early enough in the story to engage the reader?

StoryG27
02-28-2006, 04:59 AM
The very first page displays my heroine's personal strength. And that is actually one thing the agent liked, the immediate discovery of this character's quiet determination and strength. She is strong, so very strong. But in her own mind, she thinks she is normal, normal problems, no better or worse than anyone else. She thinks she is an average person put in an extraordinarily bad situation. She is a very deliberate person, so you know each action she takes, every word she speaks, it has meaning. She doesn't think that her courage, her analysis, and her personal strength are unique or heroic characteristics. She believes she is acting the way most anyone would in her situation. But she is incredibly strong, incredibly independent, which actually ends up being her problem later in the book. She's too strong, too independent, but that's not until later.

Linda Adams
02-28-2006, 07:00 AM
There is a subgenre of thriller where that might fit. It's called Romantic Thriller. Those almost always have a serial killer in them, along with a romance between the two characters. The stories are often very violent. Try looking in the mystery section, rather than the romance section. There's The Halo Effect by M.J. Rose and Last Girl Dancing by Holly Lisle. Romantic Times should list them in their mystery/suspense/thriller sections as Romantic Thriller.

There's also a subgenre of suspense that also deals with serial killers. These tend to be less violent, and are often paranormals like Kay Hooper's books.

StoryG27
02-28-2006, 07:11 AM
Mine really isn't all that violent IMO. A few times, yeah, but not that much. And it also has paranormal in it. Thanks for the info.

dragonjax
02-28-2006, 03:54 PM
Does it still fit in romantic suspense, or do I have a thriller/suspense with strong romantic elements? (but that seems to imply the romance isn't a driving force and it is).

I think you may have a better time pushing this as thriller/suspence. Do you read any of Kay Hooper's later work? That seems to be in line with your story, and even though her work is technically romance, I've found her books usually in the Mystery/Crime/Thriller section of bookstores.

dragonjax
02-28-2006, 03:56 PM
Heh, and that will teach me to post a reply before I read everyone else's replies... ((sheepish grin here))