Saturday morning I’ll be in Grand Rapids giving a talk on writing the mystery. (If you’re at the Grand Rapids Region Writers Conference: I’ve Always Wanted to Write a Book do say hello.) Later that morning, award winning author Lisa Childs will be speaking on writing the romance. Two separate genres that, in my opinion, have much in common. (Which may be why I’ve written in both genres.)
Both mysteries and romances have many sub-genres, each defined by the emphasis of the story. That is, will the mystery be a thriller where the stakes are high; or a cozy where an amateur will solve the crime, perhaps with the help of her dog or cat or while baking or making something wonderful; or will it be a police procedural where the reader learns a bit more about law enforcement procedures? As for romances, you can find anything from an historical to a futurist time period; real-life situations to fantasy; inspirational to erotic.
In each case we have a protagonist (be it a he or a she) who has a goal and a good reason to reach that goal, but something (with a mystery it’s usually the villain) is keeping the main character from reaching that goal.
With both genres a successful story ends with a satisfying ending. In mysteries the bad guy is caught, the disaster is averted, or the crime has been solved (even if no one goes to jail). In romances the happy ending may or may not end in a proposal or marriage, but we know the main character has conquered whatever was holding her (or him) back from true happiness. (The HEA ending.)
Most mysteries actually include a romance, be it overt (as in romantic suspense) or merely a minor subplot. The romance, however, is rarely the driving force in a mystery. It’s there to add tension or help define the main protagonist. It may even be included to add conflict and diversion. It’s not the center of the story, but it may complicate the plot and make the protagonist’s life more difficult. With series mysteries, if there is a romance it may continue from book to book and be a relationship between the same two people, or maybe she’s trying to decide between two different men, or he’s going from one woman to another and another.
Whereas the characters and their emotional growth are the main focus in a romance, this is rarely true (again, except for romantic suspense) in a mystery. Some continuing characters don’t change at all or only slightly from book to book, and in many cases, once the relationship is consummated, the tension is gone and the series loses much of its appeal. TV examples of this would be Moonlighting and Remmington Steele. It will be
interesting to see what happens to the TV show Castle if Beckett and Castle do get together (and if you watch Castle on Monday nights and aren’t reading Lee Lofland’s blog review of the show on Tuesdays, you’re missing some good pointers on how TV can screw up the realities of law enforcement, along with his comments on the Beckett and Castle relationship.)
My two mysteries, The Crows and As the Crow Flies, include a romance between P.J. Benson (who’s never quite sure how she’s gotten involved in a mystery) and Homicide Detective Wade Kingsley, but the romance is not the driving force of the stories, and I
like it that way. Maybe it’s my age, but I’m having more fun having my characters dodge bullets and get into danger rather than crawl into bed.