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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Guest Blog: Christine M. Fairchild: Creating Suspense That Keeps You Guessing

As an author AND an editor who can predict most storylines (you don't want to see a movie with me, because I'll guess the ending), I crave to be surprised by a story.

One reason I love reading Romantic Suspense is that the genre often includes mystery and action that propels characters into tense situations, where you never know what they will do, but you're on the tip of your toes waiting to find out.

That's the reason why I love writing Romantic Suspense as well. In my heart, I'm a love-story author. But I also love the action and mystery aspects of film, so I embed that into my plots. And I like the tension created by hovering danger and conspiring villains and getaway plans that fly out the window because the car exploded... anything to get my heart racing. Okay, anything to get my heart racing besides the sexy hero's smoldering kisses!

Anyway, back to my need to be surprised even as the author... I try very hard to keep readers guessing about my story's characters and plot by using unpredictable dialogue and behavior, new character "reveals" (about their past or beliefs or fears) in nearly every scene, and unexpected external events that shock the characters into action.

Sam and Jules, my two heroes in An Eye For Danger, have complicated backgrounds with lots of emotional, career and relationship baggage that comes back to haunt them at the worst moments. Jules is a former war photographer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The day she decides to jog past her five-block "safety zone" she runs right into a murder scene and must stem a panic attack to save her skin and the life of one of the thugs who's about to be killed. While Sam, an undercover cop posing as one of the thugs, has to save Jules' life by blowing his cover and later save his own skin by taking her hostage to escape the cops. Both act like half-crazed, half-heroic people, so that makes them unpredictable.

Even their upbringings are a contest of opposites. Jules comes from money, has a respectable degree, is a renowned artist, and used to travel the world. Now she's a recluse who can't stand crowds or going beyond five blocks of her apartment. While Sam comes from the hard-knock life of a much tougher New York, a street kid who ran off to join the Army as a way to get to college and get a ticket out of the slums, gangs, drugs, and violence. Then he becomes a cop who goes undercover, back to those same streets to fight those very issues. And he's been stabbed in the back by every person closest to him. A man who wants to save the world despite feeling betrayed by it.

These characters are fun to write because they surprise me. When I'm writing a scene, they'll pop up and tell me "no, I wouldn't do that. That's the safe way. I don't do safe well. I'd rather do dangerous/crazy/menacing/jealous/vengeful/loving/heroic instead." So they keep me on my toes!


Because I write in first person point of view (POV), it's easier to make these feel real, because we only see life from Jules' limited perspective. Much is truly unknown to her. So the reader finds out information at the same time she does.

Unfortunately, I have to work much harder to help the reader see/hear/guess what is going on in Sam's head, since we are never in his POV. But that makes him more mysterious and unpredictable. Sometimes we even see his intentions before Jules does. Readers have written to tell me they want to smack Jules upside the head because it's obvious to them what Sam is doing/feeling and she's still clueless. My explanation: she still has emotional blind spots that the reader doesn't.

Like most romance authors, I use misunderstandings and secrets, so my characters are not always on the same page and there's more tension. And not just between the two love birds, such as when Sam sends Jules on a date with his nemesis, but between Sam and his team, or between Jules and her handlers.

Many suspense authors write a few chapters in the POV of their villain. I purposefully do not do this. How can that character's actions or motivations create surprise when we already know what he/she is thinking?

My preference is for bad guys to show up at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. And I want the bad guys to hide in plain sight as the good guy. Nothing like a good turncoat character to keep readers guessing! From the cranky doctor to the surly FBI Team Lead to NYPD's Detective Stone McCarthy, the reader never knows who is friend or foe and what their motivations are until it's too late. Heck, even the bad guys do good turns once in a while.

Another favorite aspect to writing suspense is the action, and a lot of action in my books is driven by events that are unpredictable, especially to my heroes.

Things that explode, witnesses who disappear, or snipers who ambush the good guys... Basically, I like fast, rich, complicated plots with multiple subplots and a cache of villains (why settle for just one?). In other words, a roller coaster ride to make the book feel like a James Bond movie with a Happily Ever After For Now ending... until the next book, when all hell breaks loose again!

Just when the hero/heroine think they are safe, the villain is at their heels, so they have to be quick on their feet and toss aside their loner ways to work as a team. Mainly, I want to see my two heroes in untenable situations to find out their true grit, their true character, and their true love. Because when a situation goes belly up, your strength and character and love are all you have left. So, frankly, I want to see if my characters can finally learn that when the bad guys are closing in, love is all they really have to live for.

After all, I'm a love-story author at heart!

Christine M. Fairchild, aka the Editor Devil, is a former journalist with 25 years' experience as a writer/editor, from technical to marketing to exec communications to entertainment. She specializes in "tactical" editing and storytelling techniques for authors, offering writing tips and tricks at and through her Editor Devil Guides. Her debut romantic suspense novel, An Eye For Danger, is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and KOBO.

When former war photographer Jules Larson braves a PTSD attack to jog beyond her five-block safety zone in Central Park, she runs right into a murder scene.

Taken hostage, Jules provides escape for Sam Fields, an undercover cop desperate to avoid capture by his nemesis and former mentor, Detective Stone McCarthy. Sam can’t afford to blow his two-year investigation of Goliath, a band of crooked cops who clean up New York City streets vigilante style. Especially if Stone is one of them.

Fighting for underdogs is old habit for Jules, and Sam’s rough-around-the-edges charm has a way of roping her into helping with his investigation. Though Jules fears Sam's violent world will land her in a psych ward--again--three years of self-imposed isolation since her fiancĂ©’s death is a long time to be lonely.

And then there's Stone. His park murder investigation keeps leading to Jules' door, and he's on the verge of discovering her involvement. Not only might he be crooked, Jules is just the kind of uptown girl Stone covets. Especially if she belongs to Sam.

As Goliath closes in on the only surviving witness, Sam and Stone must work together to protect Jules. But Jules can’t grow too close to Sam, even when his touch melts her armor, or accept Stone’s increasing advances, even though he's twice the gentleman Sam is, for fear either man might discover the truth about her fiancĂ©’s accident.


jean hart stewart said...

Wow, talk about a complicated blot. Good for you. I'm sure you keep the reader on their toes. Much love with this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jean, for your comment. Yes, I guess I don't do simple well. My stories are always layered. Let's just say I like to tantilize the senses as well as the mind :) In fact, I always thought a man who could turn on my mind was the guy I'd marry. And I found him!

Kim Hornsby said...

Having read this novel, I can tell you that just when you think you know what's happening, you don't. And Ms. Fairchild takes us on a wild ride of thrilling proportions! Sexy too!
Good tips. I enjoyed the blog and learned a few things in the process.

Cara Marsi said...

I love reading and writing romantic suspense too. The suspense and mystery gives any story an edge. I agree your story has a very intriguing plot.

Christine M. Fairchild said...

Thanks, Cara, for your comment! I'm like you, I love a dash of mystery in my romantic suspense :)

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