What are the Best Elements of a Great Romance Novel?
Murder, mayhem… love? It all goes hand-in-hand. Jane Heller (Three Blonde Mice) has combined the three when she puts together three best friends (and the men in their lives) and a murder mystery—for them to solve, naturally! Jane is here today to talk about how a murder plot helps to spice up any romance… at least of the fictional variety! Thanks, Jane!
Way back in the late 1970s, I read a hilarious novel called Compromising Positions by Susan Isaacs. Set in a suburb of Long Island, it was the story of Judith Singer, a bored housewife who becomes obsessed with the murder of a local dentist. Her husband’s been neglecting her and her kids are busy with their own lives, so she decides she absolutely has to solve the dentist’s murder herself–only to fall madly in love with Nelson Sharpe, the detective working the case. The publisher of Compromising Positions didn’t categorize it as a romance, but I thought it was one of the sexiest, most romantic novels I’d ever read, not to mention screamingly funny.
What made the romance between Judith and Nelson so hot? Danger. The closer they got to finding the dentist’s killer, the more intimate they became with each other, and their relationship made me determined to add a healthy dose of suspense to my own romantic novels when I started writing years later.
When three friends in my Three Blonde Mice series take a vacation, they don’t have to worry about their vacation romances, but a murder instead! There is a steamy shipboard romance in my first book and it’s made all the steamier when the couple joins forces to solve the murder plot.
A good romance needs more than the threat of danger to keep a reader’s pulse racing. Here are some other elements I view as essentials:
1. Smart, snappy dialogue
Elaine and Simon, my on-again-off-again couple, are drawn to each other while they’re playing crime fighters, but they’re also firing one-liners at each other, sparring every chance they get, creating lots of sexual tension. If you’ve ever seen the old movie, “Key Largo,” the noir classic in which Bogart and Bacall met and fell in love in real life, you’ll remember Bacall’s famous line that made their relationship sizzle: “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”
With a killer on the loose, a story can quickly veer off into a deadly serious mystery or thriller meant to make readers bite their nails until the killer is caught. I’m not interested in writing that kind of book. I need to break up the suspense with jokes, laughs, lighthearted misunderstandings and farcical situations that make the story fun! My goal is to entertain–always.
3. A Couple with Chemistry
What good is a suspenseful romance if you don’t really want to spend time with the hero and heroine? As a reader, you don’t even have to find them extremely likable. But you do have to root for them as a couple, find them a compelling duo and care deeply that they not only survive the threat of danger but keep their romance going into another book.
Bottom line: when you put all these elements together–the danger, the humor, the dialogue, the chemistry–you get a novel that puts the romance first and the suspense second, which is my kind of book.
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After nearly a decade of promoting writers for New York publishing houses, Jane Heller launched her own career as a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. Her thirteen breezy, witty novels of romantic comedy and suspense are now entertaining millions of readers around the world, along with her two books of nonfiction.
One of six children, Jane grew up in Scarsdale, New York, attended Scarsdale High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in classics from the University of Rochester, where she received Summa Cum Laude honors and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society. The following year, she completed one year of a master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications.