I don’t write romance novels, but most of my mystery and suspense books have romantic subplots. This shouldn’t be surprising since I love Jane Austen’s novels, which always centre on romance. A few years ago, while visiting my friend Barb in the UK, we went to Jane Austen’s home in Chawton and dressed in costumes of the times.
Jane Austen had the romance formula down pat – keep the lovers in conflict and separated through the story until the end, when they realize they are right for each other. Their conflict and separation can be caused by external problems (family objections, war, geography) and/or internal flaws.
In my first novel, A Deadly Fall, my heroine/sleuth Paula struggles with both types of problems. She falls for a man who is a suspect and she’s committed to a boyfriend (two external impediments). Internally, she’s burned from her recent divorce. As the story progresses, Paula learns she must take risks to find love again.
In book # 4 of the series, Paula and her current boyfriend are stranded on different continents due to the COVID-19 world shutdown. Their separation challenges their relationship. But the novel’s greater romantic subplot belongs to Detective Mike Vincelli, a secondary narrator. Mike is attracted to a coworker, but his fear of failure and reluctance to shake up his comfortable life conflict with his desire to make their involvement personal.
Typically the romantic subplot reflects the protagonist’s personal journey in stories that are primarily about other things–finding the treasure, defeating an enemy army, solving a murder. While navigating romantic entanglements, heroes and heroines learn the lessons they need to resolve their problems.
My current mystery-novel-in-progress, A Killer Whisky, has two romantic subplots. The main one features my two story narrators, Katharine, who witnesses a suspicious death, and Bertram, the detective investigating the case. The story is set in 1918, during the last days of WWI.
Katharine’s loyalty to her husband fighting in France clashes with her attraction to the attentive detective. Bertram’s obstacles are largely internal–he can’t move past the deaths of his wife and son. Through the story events, Katharine and Bertram must discover what they want in life after the war is over.
A Killer Whisky’s second romantic subplot involves two suspects, who are non-viewpoint narrators. Their romance fuels the murder investigation plotline. I find their relationship fun and am curious to see how it works out.
Or doesn’t work out.
When romance is merely a subplot, it doesn’t have to follow the romance novel tradition of bringing the lovers together in the end. Actually, my impression is that romance novels today don’t require this either. I can’t think of book example but a successful romantic comedy movie springs to mind ** spoiler alert ** My Best Friend’s Wedding.
Whatever your current romantic journey — Happy Valentine’s Day!
Me in Puerto Vallarta with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Their grand romance had numerous ups and downs that captured the world’s imagination.