Love at First Sight & Why Must We Fight?

I write Romantic Suspense. I love the genre. Who wouldn’t? At its best, it combines spine-tingling suspense with hot romance. However, I believe two accepted “conventions” associated with the Romantic Suspense genre are overworked by authors in their efforts to earn acceptance from agents/editors, who say these elements are key.

Convention #1: When the hero first appears on the scene (preferable in the first couple of pages), the heroine must find him so sexy and exciting her heart goes into overdrive—even if she’s in shock and initially thinks he’s a despicable human being with the personality of Attila the Hun.

Convention #2: For the romantic arc to succeed, Convention #2 argues that each time it looks as if the hero and heroine will find bliss in each other’s arms an internal conflict must arise to pull them apart. This push-pull aspect of the relationship is credited with building tension and keeping the reader flipping pages to see if the star-crossed lovers will overcome these roadblocks. Of course, all these horrendous conflicts disappear like magic at the end of the book with the happy-ever-after ending.

Okay, what’s my problem with Convention #1? In Romantic Suspense, the book often opens with the heroine in great danger and/or scared out of her wits. Someone’s just tried to murder her…or kidnap her child…or rape her. You get the picture.

Now I ask you would a woman who’s just been used for target practice by a madman with a sniper rifle waste any brain cells cataloguing the physical assets of the hunky policeman interviewing her? I don’t think so.

She might find the cop’s size frightening or his brusque tone intimidating, but I doubt her frazzled mind would let her notice the officer had chocolate brown eyes, a strong jaw or a firm butt.

I’m much more apt to buy into a story premise if the author doesn’t stretch/abuse the heroine’s point of view in order to establish that the man who’s just come on stage is, in fact, the hero. Let the reader discover the man’s heroic qualities when it’s logical that the heroine would start to appreciate his physical and/or mental attributes.

Convention #2: I get it. Internal conflicts up the stakes and build tension. Yet I find it difficult to swallow that a heroine and hero will squander time squabbling if they’re fighting for their lives. Once the hero and heroine join forces and begin working as a team against the exterior threat, I think all their energies would be directed toward eliminating the threat not nitpicking their relationship.

Yes, the couple might be allowed to have private reservations about their long-term relationship because (fill in the blank). However, too often it seems that stupid misunderstandings are used to pry the heroine and hero apart at a crucial moment simply because it’s “time” for a breakup.

I think author J.D. Robb has aptly demonstrated that a couple (Eve and Rourke) can have a hot romance, fight bad guys and treat the reader to lots of tension without wasting time on quarrels that make a reader want to scream “You idiot!” at the hero or heroine or both.

What do you think? Let’s hear it from you readers of Romantic Suspense. How do you feel about these conventions? Are they overdone?

About the Author

Linda Lovely is the author of DEAR KILLER, a mystery with strong romantic elements that’s set in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The heroine is a 52-year-old retired military intelligence officer who works part-time as a security officer on a private island.

Despite the author’s objections to Convention #1, Lovely freely admits that Marley Clark, DEAR KILLER’s heroine, notices plenty of appealing aspects about the hero—Braden Mann, a 40-year-old homicide detective—the minute she meets him. However, Marley has just discovered a body and she’s not in personal danger.

Once the duo forms a partnership, Marley and Braden may debate tactics and strategies but they don’t waste a lot of mental energy on imaginary slights. When they’re not chasing the killer, Marley and Braden savor the opportunity to rediscover the joy that comes with a new romance.



12 responses to “Love at First Sight & Why Must We Fight?

  1. Linda, wonderful blog! You really picked two great conventions to pick on! Particularly #1. Of course, unless the hero is a vampire with some kind of astonishing otherworldly beauty, I find first meets are often overdone across the board in romance. I like a strong first impression, but I prefer if the author fives us a global impression (his height or size, maybe an attitude of watchfulness, etc.) rather than cataloging physical features.
    Again, great blog.

  2. Bravo, and well said. I totally agree. I have found myself going through all sorts of contortions trying to please an editor or agent on both points you mention.

  3. Heather McGovern

    I agree that the conventions you listed are over used. Sometimes it works, other times it feels so forced that it takes away from the natural arc of the story. I think balance is key and if your hero and heroine are argumentative by nature, fine, but don’t force it or your readers will know. And my heroine doesn’t notice just how hot the hunky bartender boss is until her third day of work. She’s got men issues, so it doesn’t make sense for her to drool on day one. 😉

  4. Linda, I’m right there with you, GF. I call the kind of books you describe wall slammers. A little an author can get away with, over the top and it gives the genre a bad rap in my opinion. I think that’s why some romantic suspense authors have veered away to write straight mystery. There can be a romantic thread flowing through it, but it doesn’t have to be so unrealistic. I still love a dynamite romantic suspense, but I also don’t believe the heroine has to be in her twenties, overly hormonal in a suspense scene and if the couple is fighting all the time, I’ll put the book down. (Do I hear an Amen, or am I one of the few?) Great post!

  5. LInda, I absolutely agree with you! I’ve read so many books where I picture the author trying desperately to come up with some conflict, and it just seems stupid. I’ve done it, trying to please an agent. I tried to make it believable, but I still have doubts. It’s worse in romantic suspense, where the heroine, in a snit over something dumb, is usually putting herself in more danger by walking away from the hero. I think Nora Roberts handles it very well, but she doesn’t have to listen to agents or editors now.
    You make some excellent observations.

  6. I agree, Linda. I write erotic romance, and it seems to be a given that the heroine will drool on first sight at the hero. In my first book, it was the hero who drooled over the heroine. Okay, she drooled a little too, but the point was they had an instant attraction. I’ve always found the bickering contrived, but that seems to be the formula, which in my opinion makes the story cliche, not to mention irritating. So I agree with you on that too. Since the theme running through my books is usually trust, I hope I’ve avoided that element. The bottom line is to write a good story and make it believable within the confines of the genre.

  7. Hi Linda,
    Another fantastic post. I’m also a fan of Linda Howard, Sharon Sala, Cindy Gerard.

  8. Wow. I’m glad there are others out there who agree–and we’re all readers as well as authors. I’m hoping more agents and editors will see that insisting too much on these conventions can push a really good book toward cliche. Thanks for sharing your comments!

  9. Maryanne Romano

    Linda: Hurrah for you. I get so weary of the silly squabbles–or worse yet–the contrived situations intended to keep the lovers apart. I’d much rather the two decide they’re right for each other for right now and then discover that maybe they have something worth keeping.

    I love the fact that your heroine falls for a younger hero. You go, girl!!

  10. Great post, Linda! Even though I don’t write romantic suspense, I do have a little romance in my mysteries. I’m working on one now where it’s the man who’s in love with my gal, and she can hardly bear working with him on an investigation. I want you to continue to write, because your first book, Dear Killer, was excellent. I’m looking forward to more from you.

  11. Both conventions are fine with me if they are subtle. Keep hitting me over the head with either and you lose me for sure. Remember the old TV show: Moonlighting? I found it delieghtful that the main characters kept bickering and seemingly everyone but them knew there was something going on sexually. It was riveting and funny at the same time.

  12. I agree with you, Linda. And let’s not forget that no one has stepped forward as the author of those conventions, or rules.

    In fact, each time I attended a RWA convention, editors and agents alike said they wanted fresh stories with a strong voice. Not a story that follows all the “rules”.

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