Today, we welcome our first guest blogger of 2017, Alison Morton, author of the acclaimed Roma Nova series. Her novels are set in the alternate reality of a breakaway Roman state that survived the fall of the rest of the Empire — and it’s run by women! There are six novels in the series, all edge-of-the-seat thrillers, but all involving at least one love story as well. So Alison is well qualified to blog here on the subject of…
Love among the Thrillers
Love. Ah, love! Nothing like a breathless heroine falling into the arms of her strong, yet conquered hero.
Yes, heroes are conquered by that heart-pounding, visceral but tender feeling as much as heroines are. But that’s just in romances, isn’t it? The classic “happy ever after” ending?
Very few novels have no emotional bonding between characters. Even the toughest thrillers, conspiracy adventures or sci-fi space opera include some frisson between protagonist and a secondary character. Sometimes it goes well beyond that frisson into full-on passion; other times it stays at the level of a Meaningful Look.
How to insert romance into taut thrillers
Writing romance in the middle of a revolution, a Roman civil war or a hard-boiled thriller is a challenge.
The classic technique is where a head honcho and side-kick on a mission together cross the professional boundary. All it needs is one look, a touch a little too long on an otherwise innocent place like a forearm, hand or back of waist. And if they kiss or nearly kiss and draw away, aghast yet secretly thrilled they’ve crossed a line, the conflict and tension in the book ramps up extraordinarily. We all love watching or reading this sort of development. Who doesn’t like the “Will they? Won’t they?” storyline?
Will they? Won’t they? From the Gladiator film
The other classic technique is one character on a mission and the other outside the circle of the first. Sometimes the attraction, emotion and/or love, although strong, are the only things that bind the two of them. Plenty of fertile space there for the writer to exploit the world of misunderstanding, sacrifice and choosing priorities.
But thrillers focus on Action, don’t they?
A thriller is foremost a thriller and readers expect action, tension, conflict, danger and a tough objective, often military.
In a crime novel, the murderer must be found.
In space, the federation must save the universe.
The temptation for a writer is often to dunk in chunks of romantic interlude to soften the action. I’m afraid this won’t do.
However tough, a character in a loving relationship sees everything through that lens. I don’t mean they mope around, dreaming constantly of their beloved while hefting a rifle. But after the action and the debrief, they will allow their concern for their partner to flow back into their consciousness.
A character may have “put relationships behind them” — or say they have. If the character is then attracted to a colleague, witness, or somebody on the other side of the law, they will have mixed feelings, conflict, a desire both to embrace and repel the object of their attraction.
How that works out is up to the writer!
Thrillers need pace
In a thriller, time is short as the story should go along at a smart pace, so romantic feelings must be written succinctly and conveyed in short, powerful scenes. Dialogue must carry a weight of feeling. Actions between the lovers, whether touches, kisses or lovemaking, must be in context with the plot. The best writers weave the two in, so that the relationship affects and is affected by the story, but not at the expense of the main (thriller) plot.
Oh, and one more thing —
If you’re thinking the main character I’ve mentioned above is a hunky hero, consider the scenario where the lead is female — a resolute, competent and experienced woman — and the love interest is a man…
Alison Morton and her Books
Having read all six Roma Nova books (and edited five of them), I can vouch for both the competence of the female protagonists and the pull of the love interest. In order to avoid spoilers, I shan’t say any more here, except to thank Alison for her fascinating, and stimulating, post and to recommend the Roma Nova thrillers to anyone who hasn’t read them.
The first five Roma Nova books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award.
The sixth Roma Nova thriller, RETALIO, is just out and is available here
You can even watch the RETALIO book trailer
Early 1980s Vienna.
Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century.
Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable.
But without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.
Connecting with Alison Morton
Alison’s backstory appears tailor-made for writing thrillers featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction. A “Roman nut” since age 11, she has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds an MA in History, and blogs about Romans and writing. While she continues to write, she cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.
You can connect with Alison on her Roma Nova website, on Facebook, Twitter @alison_morton and you can read her writing blog here. She’s also on Amazon and Goodreads.
What an interesting blog and a fascinating insight into the writing of thrillers. I’ve some experience of this in my mysteries. Far less room to develop the romance and it has to interweave and become part of the plot. So agree with this. Mine are not thrillers so the pace is not as fast, but the concentration still has to be on the mystery rather than the lovers. I run the sleuth and husband developing relationship alongside a new romance in each book. That’s because I personally can’t bear these mystery series where the two main characters are forever in a will they, won’t they scenario! So a secondary romance handles that problem.
But you’ve made me want to read your Roman thrillers, Alison!
A novel without an emotional relationship is a dull novel, I reckon. My first three feature the same heroine and her relationship with her love interest is an essential part of the plot. Over three books she has a rocky ride on that front so the relationship is renewing in different ways.
In the second trilogy with a different heroine, the core relationship is entirely different.
I hope you enjoy the Roma Nova books, Elizabeth!
Ah, but it sounds as though they make it in the end, so that works. Some of these detective pairings shilly-shally for years and it drives me nuts!
Sometimes it’s better to get on with it, then you can develop the relationship, have break-ups (will it be permanent, will they get back together, will she choose the other man?) and reconciliations, plus deepen and change feelings over time.