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Tracey S. Phillips Asks Is Romantic Thriller Really a Subgenre?

Tracey S. Phillips is the founder of the Blackbird Writers, as well as the author of Best Kept Secrets and other thrillers. You can find out more about her on website,, or by clicking here, read her last post here, and buy her books here and here.

On a perfectly sunny day, waves gently roll onto the sandy shore as soothing music wafts along the breeze. Fragrant pink and white flowers decorate the altar, and all eyes are on the bride and groom. This is not exactly the setup for an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Or is it?

A happy couple moments after saying, “I do,” in Honolulu.

This week I had the pleasure of attending a destination wedding in Hawai’i. In a place where surfers appear to walk on water and tourists wear plumeria in their hair and around their necks, my niece and her forever love tied the knot in this tropical destination. While we sank our toes into sand and salt water or hiked to the top of volcanoes and waterfalls, I could only think, I do…think the setting is perfect for romance combined with heart pounding thriller.

Not all stories are built on a romance. If you’re a romance reader, you know that the emotional arc of the story is about the couple’s relationship. Will they or won’t they get together? But even if you write thriller or suspense, romantic relationships can add an emotional component and create layers of complexity for your protagonist. It can add layers of endearment and  tenderness. It can even add a subplot and tension to the story.

But before you say, “I do,” to adding a romantic element to your next book, you may want to ask yourself and your character these questions: What kind of relationship does my character want? Is he actively seeking someone? What kind of relationship does she need? Is the answer the same as above? Who is this new character and why are they drawn to their partner? Is it a relationship of convenience? Or was it a conscious choice to be with the man or woman of your character’s dreams? Perhaps a chance encounter threw your characters together, they met and fell in love.

In the first book in my romantic suspense series, The Client, my character meets the man of her dreams when he hires her for legal assistance. However, she is a criminal lawyer, and he is a person of interest in a murder investigation. Their professional relationship is the first of many obstacles to overcome. Later, she recalls that they briefly met a year ago in Dubrovnik. He has chosen her because of that meeting and that fact will become another point of contention in their relationship later on. After all, love at first sight doesn’t necessarily mean everything comes up roses.

Emotional layers in your character can also create layers of tension. On one hand, a character can express compassion, love, and empathy with their partner. On the other hand, complex emotions can arise with jealousy, fear of infidelity, and possessiveness. How will they feel when their partner is in danger? How will they feel if the partner inadvertently or directly puts your character in danger?

In terms of action, what complexities can arise within these layers? I also like to consider how my character will respond to her emotions. Strong emotions, like those of new lovers and of couples whose relationship has weathered storms, can propel a character into action. Put a partner in extreme peril and see how your protagonist reacts. Will your character rise to the occasion? Will they fight for their true love? I think so. And what are the consequences for him? For the partner? What are the stakes?

In The Contract, book two of the Mina’s Choice series, my protagonist Mina is the one in peril. Though she feels betrayed by her lover, Jonathon, he tries hard to protect her and keep her safe. The stakes rise exponentially when the bad guy mistakenly abducts Mina’s best friend in broad daylight. Issues of loyalty, trust and commitment come into play in this book.

Questions to ask your character include these: Where is your loyalty? Are you willing to risk your life for this person? What are the consequences if he does or does not follow through? What are you willing to do for love?

In the third book, The Cliff Diver, Jonathon is the one in danger. By this point in their relationship, Mina is head over heels in love. She doesn’t hesitate to stage a rescue from his nemesis, the daughter of a Russian mob boss. The stakes are higher in this story because both Mina’s and Jonathon’s lives hang in the balance.

Determined to protect Mina at all costs, Jonathon ventures to Greece, into the heart of danger to stop his enemy and ex-lover, Rory Bradford. Using his unlimited resources, he orchestrates the interception of a fentanyl shipment destined for the streets. When he disappears without a trace, Mina refuses to sit idly by as the man she loves faces peril.

Mina races to Greece, where she embarks on a relentless quest to find Jonathon. With unwavering determination, she delves into Rory’s dark past, and uncovers her secret identity. Rory is the daughter of a transnational crime leader, and she has captured Jonathon. As Mina navigates the treacherous waters of international crime, she joins forces with a team of Jonathon’s highly trained, and resourceful friends. Together they fight against weaponized drones, guerilla attacks and time to rescue Jonathon from Rory’s prison.

In a perilous quest to secure a future with the man she loves, Mina discovers that she has the strength and fortitude to face her demons and bring Jonathon home.

Looking for more Romantic Suspense books? I strongly recommend Sharon Michalove’s second chance romantic suspense series, Global Security Unlimited. Joy Ribar’s cozy mystery, Deep Wedded Blues staring Frankie Champagne, has an introspective romantic theme throughout. In fact, other Blackbird Writers, Christine DeSmet, Anne Louise Bannon, Laurie Buchanan, Margaret Mizushima, Jeff Nania, and Saralyn Richard, all have nice romantic themes in their books as well.

Thanks so much for reading! Email /">Karissa Knight for a free copy of The Client.

Tracey S. Phillips

Tracey S. Phillips is the founder of Blackbird Writers and the author of Best Kept Secret. You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Tracey — I’m looking forward to the third book, The Cliff Diver. If it’s anything like the first two, it’s a doozie! And yes, in my experience, romantic thriller IS a subgenre. The opening pages of Impervious, the third book in the Sean McPherson series, start with a wedding. The bride, the groom, the toast, the explosion—what should be a joyous occasion turns lethal.

    1. tracey64p

      I love your books, Laurie! You are a master at combining elements of a story.

  2. Avatar

    Thanks for this post, Tracey. I’ve been writing historical mysteries with strong elements of romance for a few years now but have not yet been published. I find the ‘thriller’ aspects sometimes are too emotional and tense for me as a reader and, as you’d figure from that, as a writer. I enjoy adventure scenes, but I am really turned off by torture and abject cruelty. Amazon has a sub-genre called ‘romantic mystery.’ What do you think of that? Is ‘romantic mystery’ a sub-genre, too?

    1. tracey64p

      Absolutely, Pamela! Not everyone likes those dark themes. But Romance, and relationships can be part of any genre. Thanks so much for your comment. There’s a place for it in Historical mystery too. Good luck with your writing!

  3. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    Romance can be anywhere. That’s what adds the spice and the fun. By itself, meh. But as part of a solid adventure… That’s my catnip.

    1. tracey64p

      Spicy is the S in my middle name! Just kidding-but maybe it should be! LOL!

  4. GP Gottlieb
    GP Gottlieb

    I love a good romance thriller that doesn’t scare the bejeebies out of me!

    1. tracey64p

      Right on, Galit! I guess I’m more easily scared the older I get. Probably a good thing.

  5. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Some romance and close friendships in any genre suit me just fine because that element is basic human stuff. Many thriller movies are driven by romance or the loss of a romance partner and the revenge that is fueled by it. Audiences and readers seem to understand that humans need friends–romantic or otherwise. Someone else mentioned something about torture and cruelty going too far for them, and I also like to have those things implied or “off stage” for this reason: Those elements described too much tend to stop the story pacing. I’ve heard that readers skip over such scenes because the story isn’t moving forward in a fast-enough pace or thriller pace. There’s a difference between “romantic suspense” and “romantic thriller.” Our readers keep us on our toes about this stuff. Good luck with your new novel in the trilogy!

  6. tracey64p

    Good point, Christine. I agree that some of that intense stuff slows the pace. there’s a balance for sure. Thanks for your insightful comment!

    1. tracey64p

      He’s probably right!

  7. Carl Vonderau
    Carl Vonderau

    I like romance in a thriller because it gives the reader a reason to feel for the characters. It’s not just danger but love that is at stake.

    1. tracey64p

      Very true, Carl. Thanks for chiming in!

  8. Avatar

    Very insightful, Tracey. I love putting the romance and romantic tension in my books, (although I use it more as an important subplot )

  9. tracey64p

    Thanks Laurie. You’re right. Unless you’re writing romance, the relationship thread is a subplot. Romantic thriller and Romantic suspense have equal parts romance and mystery. That’s what makes them uniquely difficult, too.

  10. Avatar

    You are a master at blending romance and taut thriller. I can’t wait for the new book!

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