Thursday, August 3, 2017

It’s All About the Tension

Congratulations to "Erin F.", the winner in Emily's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated!

I always thought a great plot made the story. An unsolvable crime. A robbery. Dirty cops. Fraud. Tangle these scenarios up with romance and now we have some heat. The storyline deepens and expands, opening up possibilities for the characters to not only survive, but to fall hard into love. Except—romance and plot aren’t enough to take the reader from the beginning to the page-turning end. The real hero of romantic suspense is the tension. That alone drives the story.

I’m sorry to break it to you, but tension is a major tease. No different from flirting and attraction. Writers use this tool to string the reader along, building expectations and hopes along the way. Tension is powerful. And it must be created intentionally.

The groundwork for intensity begins with a dilemma. The character wants something, but can’t have it. Whenever I think about ideas for a story, I ask myself two questions:

What does the heroine want?

What is the consequence if she doesn’t get it?

The answers will vary from tragedy to heartbreak or death. There are literally hundreds of things that can go wrong (the more the better) and to the character, the unwanted outcome is real. The situations a character is written into must bring about the potential for danger, pain, and loss. The idea that a character will not be okay moves the storyline like an arrow shooting to its target.

In Inclusions, hero Luke Harrison, owner of a high-end jewelry store, is annoyed that his ex-girlfriend, Melanie Cahill has reentered his life after seven years. Instead of sending her away, he uses the situation to his advantage. He had suspected her of stealing a bag of rare gemstones during their break-up and he wants them back. A simple problem, yes? Never mind his startling attraction to her. Forget that he used to adore her. She has something he wants. Information? Secrets? Are there more to these gems? Shouldn’t he just ask her for what he wants? There. Easy. End of book.  

Except…another setback is added. Melanie’s motive for dropping into his life is more personal. The favor she needs from him makes their agendas no longer similar. They each have something the other can’t live without. Luke wants the gems. Melanie insists she doesn’t know what happened to them. Now the problem is elevated.

Getting what they want has become muddled with years of ignoring each other. They haven’t solved the underlying issues of why they stopped talking in the first place. But they’ve noticed each other. And once attraction settles in, it’s bad news for them. Temptation and desire, distract from solving the problem. When characters develop romantic feelings for each other, their level of vulnerability skyrockets.

Emotional weakness compliments the conflict—don’t disregard the importance. It is a necessary ingredient to the romantic suspense trope. There are also external sources adding to the stress found in the environment, the location, a situation or internal struggles the character faces. Grief, anguish, anxiety, a moral dilemma, are examples of what a heroine might experience. As the plot moves forward, these factors can embellish what should be a problem with a straightforward solution.

The way I look at a character is through the lens of stress. The situation she is most afraid of is also the one she must face. Take the vulnerability and the conflict and put them together. Even the strongest character has a weak spot, and, if pushed hard enough, sets her up for failure. Exposing what a character struggles with is a subtle and powerful way to strain the story. It is through these experiences that characters become human. They are no longer a hero or a heroine but someone’s story that we can identify with their longings, disappointments, and fears. As a reader, I want to know that a character will survive, but I want them to have to work for it. ~

Emily is giving away two signed books. Inclusions and Cut (Books 1 and 2 in the Flawless Series, romantic suspense about three brothers who own a jewelry store) to one reader leaving a comment or email entry.

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST August 4th. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email with a subject title of JRS GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway. 


  1. I agree completely about the importance of tension in a story. Without it, it is a rather plain, short trip from Point A to THE END. Tension adds to the story and the relationship. It reveals much about the situation and the character of the individuals involved.

    library pat AT com cast DOT net

  2. I found your insight very informative. It made me stop and think about books I've read in the past and the tension involved between the heroes and heroines. By the way, the book sounds really good. Thanks for the giveaway. debbiemac73 at yahoo dot com.

  3. Great article. You're right about the importance of tension and vulnerability. My email sherristewart2 at

  4. Sounds like 2 good read. cheetahthecat1986ATyahooDOTcom

  5. My favorite genre is romantic suspense...for all the reasons you talked about in your article. I would love these books!

  6. interesting post

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  7. A perfect recipe for a great read.


  8. Enjoyed the post, adding books to my TBR list.

    jtcgc at yahoo dot com

  9. LOL... you make it sound so easy... this is what sucks me into a story and half the time, I don't even realize :) thanks for sharing and congrats on the series! Sounds fabulous!


Sign up to receive our newsletter