Blending Romance and Mystery

Mystery fans enjoy a romantic subplot that is slow and subtle. In a series, you don’t want to resolve the relationship by the end of book one. You’ll want to build it step-by-step, advancing or retreating with each story. Especially in a cozy mystery, any graphic sex scenes must take place behind closed doors. Sexual tension is welcome, but it’s not an essential element.

Romance Mystery

As for the heroine juggling multiple boyfriends, this gets old after a few installments. Have her make a decision after the first few titles. It doesn’t have to be the right one, but it’s less frustrating for readers than to keep stringing two suitors along.

The key is to have complications so the main couple can overcome the issues that keep them apart. Once one complication is solved, you need to bring in another. Life is never smooth and always has problems.

Keep in mind that you are writing a murder mystery, and the romance takes second place to the puzzle of solving the crime. If you include a strong romantic subplot, your story may be termed a romantic mystery.

How to Blend Romance and Murder

Give your characters conflicts to keep them from making a commitment. The external conflict is your mystery. The internal conflict is the reason why the protagonists are hesitant to get deeply involved in a relationship.

Conflict

Maybe your heroine was hurt by a former lover and fears getting burned again. Or she has a fierce need for independence because she has to prove herself worthy of respect. Why? What happened in her past to produce this need? Keep asking questions to deepen the motivation. Maybe your hero doesn’t want a family because his own parents went through a bitter divorce. Secretly he feels he isn’t worthy of being loved. Or maybe he suppresses his emotions and doesn’t know how to give affection. Whatever the opposite sex character does seems to deepen or challenge this inner torment.

Your characters are immediately attracted to each other through physical chemistry. This pulls them together while the inner conflicts tear them apart. Yet the benefits of being a couple begin to outweigh the risks. As the characters become emotionally closer, they’ll progress through the stages of intimacy.

Six Stages of Intimacy

1. Physical awareness: Your characters notice each other with heightened sensitivity. For example, the heroine is aware of the man’s physical attributes. She detects his personal scent and has a physical response to his presence. They steal looks at each other when together.
2. Intrusion of thoughts: Your character begins thinking of this other person often. The love interest invades your character’s mind.
3. Touching: First, it may be an arm around the shoulder, lifting a chin, touching an elbow. The couple comes closer until the desire to kiss is almost palpable. Have them lean in toward each other for a kiss and then interrupt them, so when they get to the next stage, it’s highly anticipated. Use the five senses as much as possible to enhance the sexual tension. Flirtatious banter can add to this mounting desire.
4. Kissing
5. Touching in more intimate places
6. Coupling: In a cozy, these scenes are off the page. But if you’re writing romantic suspense, you can include them. Here it’s important to focus on the emotional reactions of your characters rather than the act itself. This is lovemaking, not just sex.

Throw a wrench into the relationship when all seems to be going well. His former spouse appears on the scene. Her on-again, off-again other boyfriend shows up. The heroine does something thoughtless and alienates the guy she likes. He feels pressured and backs off. Finally, they both change and compromise to resolve their differences. Let’s see how this works.

The Bad Hair Day Mysteries

PERMED TO DEATH: Hairstylist Marla Shore meets Detective Dalton Vail. [girl meets boy]. While instantly attracted to each other, they share a mutual distrust. Marla is the prime suspect in her client’s murder [external conflict]. Dalton is suspicious of her, and rightfully so. Marla hides a secret that gives her a motive. Meanwhile, Marla is suspicious of Dalton’s interest because she thinks it’s a pretense to interrogate her. At the story’s end, he asks her for a date and she accepts [relationship moves forward].

HAIR RAISER: Marla meets Dalton’s daughter [forward]. She dates a handsome accountant who earns her family’s approval but may be a murder suspect [relationship moves backward]. Marla and Dalton share their First Kiss [forward].

MURDER BY MANICURE: Marla takes Dalton’s daughter, Brianna, to dance class [forward]. Marla pretends to be her friend Arnie’s fiancée so he can rid himself of an amorous old flame. They coax Dalton to date the woman instead. Marla gets jealous of Dalton when he pays the woman more attention [backward]. Marla earns his daughter’s regard [forward].

BODY WAVE: Marla’s ex-spouse, Stan, enters the picture when his third wife is murdered. Marla and Dalton work together to solve the case [forward]. Stan stirs up feelings Marla would rather forget. Dalton is jealous. Marla accuses him of wanting to pin the murder on Stan [backward].

HIGHLIGHTS TO HEAVEN: Marla and Dalton argue over his restrictive rules for Brianna, and Marla feels she has no place in his life if he won’t listen to her advice [backward].

DIED BLONDE: Dalton acknowledges his need for Marla, and he proposes [forward].

DEAD ROOTS: Dalton meets Marla’s extended family. He presents her with an engagement ring [forward].

PERISH BY PEDICURE: Marla meets the parents of Dalton’s dead wife. Dalton takes their side [backward].

KILLER KNOTS: Marla meets Dalton’s parents on a cruise. She and Dalton set a wedding date [forward].

SHEAR MURDER: Marla and Dalton tie the knot.

If your people get hitched, it doesn’t mean their problems are over. Keep throwing roadblocks in their way. Life is never perfect. In reality, married couples still have conflicts as they learn to face life’s challenges together. If you keep your sleuth single, make sure to motivate her choices to show why this path is right for her. Either way, keep things changing and evolving between your characters. It’s this personal thread that compels readers to come back for more.

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Are you a fan of a romantic subplot in a mystery?

Facials Can Be Fatal Guest Post

Hi, today I have a guest post “The Story Behind the Story – Facials Can Be Fatal” at Suite T, and I urge you to take a look. I discuss part of the plotting process for Facials Can Be Fatal and the research that helped me write the book. So go on over to https://southernwritersmagazine.blogspot.com/2020/07/facials-can-be-fatal-story-behind-story.html for a behind-the-scenes glimpse and leave a comment to let me know you were there.

 

 

Plotting Questions For Mystery Writers

Your main goal in writing a mystery, or any kind of fictional work, is to create story questions in the reader’s mind. This creates suspense that you need to propel the story forward. Even as you are plotting the book, assuming you’re a plotter like me and not a pantser (figuring it out as you go), you need to keep asking yourself ongoing questions.

Plotting Questions for Mystery Writers

Let’s take a story I have in mind as an example. The setting is a historic house. Suspects may include the head docent, the owner or owner’s children, a board of trustees if they own the place, the gardener, café manager, and gift shop lady. Objects are being stolen from this house one at a time so the theft won’t be noticed. So here we come to several questions.

Why is someone stealing valuable objects?

The thief needs money. What for?

Gambling debts (a bingo addict? Horse races? Jai A’lai games? Illegal online gambling?)
Medical care (expensive medications for a hidden disease? Medical treatment for a loved one? Nursing home care for an aged relative?)
To pay back a loan or to pay blackmail money
Greed (he’s not getting paid enough)
To hide financial losses

Or the thief is stealing out of a sense of entitlement. The culprit feels these items should be rightfully his because the former owner (a distant relative?) swindled his father out of his inheritance. Or was his father cheated by a business partner, the former owner of the estate?

Note that you can assign one of these motives to each suspect without deciding which one is the killer. It’ll make them all seem guilty.

Next question would be: Who has access to the house? This could be any of the above named suspects, plus the cleaning staff, repairmen, or other minor players.

So the thief steals these items. How does he sell them? Does he go through a person acting as fence? If so, how did he gain this criminal connection? Has he been incarcerated, which is where he got the idea for thievery and learned these skills? Or maybe the culprit is a woman lonely for attention who’s been seduced by a bad boy?

What about security? Are the valuable items in locked display cases? Is there video monitoring, motion detectors, glass-break alarms? Or are the objects in plain sight in various rooms guarded by security personnel until closing time?

Now we come to the next big question. Who is killed and why? Did the victim witness the thief in action? Maybe he saw the crook hand off the item to his fence in exchange for a wad of cash. Or he stumbled into the culprit and the stolen object tumbled from the thief’s jacket onto the ground. Either way, this appears to be a crime of opportunity.

The sleuth finds the body. What is the means of murder? Where does she find the victim? Let’s say the sleuth also discovers one of the stolen items on the estate grounds. How does it get there? Did the thief mean to get rid of the evidence, or did the item fall from his pocket accidentally?

Now let’s turn everything around. Thefts have been taking place at this estate, and the suspects all seem to be hiding these secret motives we’ve discussed. But what if the victim’s death was premeditated? The autopsy reveals that this act was set in motion even before the day’s events began. He died from poison, not the knife wound. Plot twist! Now your sleuth has to reexamine all the motives, the access to the victim, and the specialized knowledge needed to commit the murder.

If you’re a mystery writer who likes to plan things out in advance, you need to answer all these questions before you begin writing the novel. You might be a pantser who starts with a story crisis and keeps writing, being surprised along the way. But as you can see, a plotter can be surprised as well when these plot twists pop up. I call this process story magic coming into play. The point is to keep asking questions. These same questions will plague your readers, and that creates suspense. When one issue is settled, you’ll need to raise more questions to keep the tension going throughout the book.

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