Ticking Clock, Romance Locks, and Screwing With The Formula…There’s Fun In Them Thar Tropes!

romance31I make a habit of going against the grain.  Most of the time I do it quite unconsciously, but I usually end up doing things very much the opposite of the way most other people do it.

As a consequence, my kids have grown up being able to tell their friends that their dad is a professional wrestler and their mum (never “mom”) is a romance writer, that their accents are Australian, and they moved here when they were five and eight, because I met my husband on the Internet before most people were really sure what the Internet was (that was in 1996).  When they were still in school, and depending on the context and my kids’ moods, that was sometimes a good thing or a bad thing.  These days, they just find it all hilarious.

When it came to Dead Again, I also screwed with the formula there, too, and again, it wasn’t intentional.

Most romantic suspense derives its tension from the immediacy of the problems harassing the hero and heroine.   They’ve captured the heroine’s baby sister, so naturally the hero and heroine must act immediately before the bad guy does nasty and unspeakable things to her.  Or the bad guy is going to blow up the city in twelve hours.   This second example is what is called a “ticking clock” in the movie trade – a device that sets a countdown going in the storyline.  The ship is going to sink in 90 minutes:  Titanic.    When both suns are eclipsed in twenty minutes, the carnivorous, unstoppable creatures are going to take over the planet and eat everything that moves: Pitch Black.  The bad guys are coming to town at high noon to kill the sherriff:  High Noon.  If Marty doesn’t get back to the future before the picture of himself fades away he’ll be erased from existence:  Back To The Future.

In all these movies and in a high proportion of all thrillers, suspense and romantic suspense movies, there are two factors that make them work apart from the ticking clock factor, which is not essential to the plot (although it always helps!).

1)    The story takes places over a fairly short space of time.  A couple of days, if not a few hours.  The more tightly compacted the timeline, the tighter the tension can be ratchetted up.  The movie Angels & Demons took place over four hours once the initial set-up was finished, and you felt like you barely had time to draw breath.  Nor did the main characters.

2)   Particularly in romantic suspense, the hero and heroine should be thrown together and kept together in tightly enclosed, intimate conditions, whether they like it or not, for as long as possible.  North by Northwest is a good example of how even a non-romantic suspense managed to squeeze in at least twelve hours of intimacy for the hero and heroine in the midst of some of the best and classic suspense/thriller action of the last fifty years.

Dead Again did neither.  First, the story is spread over nearly nine years in time.  And during that time, the hero and heroine spend years and weeks apart.  There is no enforced intimacy anywhere in the book at all, except at the beginning, and there’s a factor that prevents that intimacy from being anything but romantic.

But it is still a romantic suspense, and judging by the reviews I received from the first edition of the book, a damned good one.  The dictionary defines suspense as “apprehension about what is going to happen,” and Dead Again must deliver on that score, for the first edition reviews said, and I quote: “The suspense is beautifully dragged out… so full of suspense… a suspense-filled book.”

So I feel fairly certain that once again I’ve managed to do the complete opposite of what I’m supposed to, but still deliver the goods.

Have you ever read a book that was so totally against type and something you wouldn’t normally read, but still a damned good read, all the same?


Dead Again is on promotion at the moment.  You can get your copy free.  Click here to download.

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