by Lea Griffith
I wrote and wrote and wrote in the beginning; not really stopping to study my craft just gallantly persevering over my doubts as I put word upon word down, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt what I was writing was FABULOUS.
Until I gave my very first book to another author and let her read it. She was gentle with me. Kind to a fault. And the first question she asked me was, “What’s your hook?” It stopped me in my tracks. What did she mean? It was a military romance with some paranormal elements. What could she possibly mean by, “What was my hook?” It took me approximately a week to set aside my pride and ask her.
This is what she asked me in return:
“What are you hoping to accomplish with this book, Lea? Where is it going? What are you using to hook your reader and not let them go? The romance? The suspense? The military aspect? Quite simply—what is this book?”
I remember her words verbatim. I’d read her and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt she knew what she was talking about. She was successful and established. I trusted her. She’d already talked with me about learning my craft—deep POV, past/present tense, how to set your margins and title page. We’d been through what I thought the hard stuff entailed.
Then she asked me that question and it derailed me. You mean I had to think to be a writer? I couldn’t just throw my words down and walk away with a masterpiece?
Nope. She wanted my hook and I had to figure out what that was. So I tunneled deep into my writing and my own mind and I found some answers to her questions.
I wanted to tell my characters’ stories. It was going wherever they led me because I’m a pantser by nature. I had the romance down pat. I needed to use the suspense to hook my reader and not let them go. And my story was a military romantic suspense. My book was all of those things collectively. But my hook relied on the element of suspense.
I was shell-shocked. She’d led me what seemed like around the world to get me to understand a single aspect—SUSPENSE is the hook, especially in a romance. Defined as “a state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen”, suspense makes the romantic literary world go ‘round. What is romance if not a state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty?
Some may tell you the “black moment” is your hook. But how do you get to your “black moment” without suspense leading the way? Some may disagree with me but the simple truth is, each and every story must have that certain something that keeps a reader engaged. It must be some type of suspenseful element that ties your characters together and keeps the story moving forward. It can’t be all love twenty-four seven. That’s not realistic. But you’re writing romantic fantasy, you say. And still I say, you’ve got to keep that anxiety and excitement going or your romance is going to fall suspiciously flat.
It doesn’t have to be deep, dark mystery suspense, it can be humorous. It doesn’t have to be military-themed suspense, it can be about chefs cooking in a five-star restaurant. But there must be anticipation, indeed a certain amount of apprehension, to move the story forward. Otherwise, your plot becomes stagnant and your characters become one-dimensional.
Again, keeping in mind again that the suspense doesn’t have be broad in scope, you must engage the reader to get them thinking, “I’ve got to keep turning these pages because I’ve got to know what happens next!” It can be as simple as ‘will she wear underwear or not’? Or it can be as complex as ‘is he the real killer and will the love of her life save her?’ You can several threads of suspense throughout your story as long as they serve the overall story arc. But what your story must always have is the uncertainty about what may happen next until you, as the author, are good and ready to reveal it.
Good romance requires suspense. So keep them guessing, yeah? And when someone next asks you what your romantic hook is—tell them you’re keeping them in suspense. And then prove it to them with your words.
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Lea's Newest Romantic Suspense: Flash of Fury
Kingston McNally lost men when someone betrayed his team, and now he’s out for retribution. His quest for the enemy’s courier leads him to Cameroon and Allie Redding, a petite Peace Corps volunteer as stubborn as she is brave. Their attraction is immediate, but Allie has secrets of her own…and she’s not giving them up easily.
But their secrets could burn them both.
Allie’s life has been spent hiding in plain sight, but she’s had enough of her cloak-and-dagger existence. On her way home, her plane is hijacked—and King saves her life. But that doesn’t mean she owes him anything…even if he is the most damnably sexy man she’s ever laid eyes on. He’s got black ops and secrets written all over him, and trust is a two-way street.
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