The PHS is delighted to welcome crime and women's fiction author Claire McGowan / Eva Woods as she talks about weaving romance into crime fiction...
As someone who writes both crime and women’s fiction/romance, I spend a lot of time thinking about how relationships work on the page. In straightforward romance you have to get the leads together by the end, after guiding them through several obstacles so the reader doesn’t feel the outcome is obvious. It has to be predictable, but not feel predictable. That’s hard enough in itself. But I also like including quite a lot of romantic content in my crime fiction.
I think most of us will never be caught up in a serious crime, touch wood, but we nearly all experience love and romance. We know crimes against the heart can feel as destructive and painful as crimes against the body, and that passion or rejection can send even the most level-headed people over the edge. I’m fascinated by the way love can bring out not only our best sides, but our most jealous, dark, and terrible sides too (or is that just me?).
I’m also a big fan of love triangles in fiction, because it’s the ultimate built-in conflict. It’s not possible for everyone to come out of this situation with what they want, so at least one person is going to get hurt. In my Paula Maguire crime series, I set it up very early on that the lead character would be torn between two love interests. One is her ex-boyfriend, the editor of the local paper in the Irish town she works in, and with whom she has a tangled relationship – not even mentioning the fact that her father and his widowed mother have decided to get married. The other is her English boss, who happens to be married, though it’s troubled, and has a teenage daughter. When Paula learns she is pregnant at the end of book one, and isn’t sure who the father is, it allowed me to create lots of conflict and emotion.
I’ve heard some readers and writers express the view romance has no place in crime fiction – I remember one memorable review summed one of my books up as ‘somewhere between chick lit and crime, and working as neither’ – but I take the opposite approach. Adding a love story line creates even more tension – will they or won’t they? –and a depth of emotion, and scope for your character to be hurt and to suffer. What’s different is happy endings are rare in crime fiction, especially when you’re writing a series. The detective with the messed-up home life is a cliché for a reason – it works. No one wants to read about a happy and emotionally sorted lead character. Boring! Giving them a love interest also means they will have much more to lose when the killer inevitably comes knocking. Or perhaps their love interest IS the killer. It’s very fertile ground, and that’s why I always suggest to my MA students (at City University London) they should include a bit of romance in their crime novels.
Given my interest in love, it was perhaps inevitable I’d also start writing women’s fiction. I’ve found the two genres to be similar in many ways. You have to give the reader what they want at the end, for a start, or they won’t be happy. In romance this is the couple getting together, and in crime it’s catching the killer and/or solving the mystery. But along the way you have to put in enough twists
and turns so we feel this is not inevitable and all might still be lost. I also enjoy using suspense in women’s fiction, so you won’t always know what happened in a character’s past, and people can keep secrets from each other. I’m currently writing a novel with a woman in a coma, who can’t remember her own life, so her past is a secret even from herself. However, unlike in crime, when you have to keep delaying the romantic union, I can get them together in the end.
There are many great crime series around now where the lead characters’ love lives play an important role – Susie Steiner’s for example, and Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint series – and I would urge you to check them out, or if you’re writing crime, to think about adding a little bit of love.
What are your favorite romance story lines in crime fiction? Share your #RomanceInOtherGenres recommendations with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Writing crime fiction as Claire McGowan, and women's fiction as Eva Woods, this young (less-glamourous) Jessica Fletcher also lectures in Creative Writing when she's not scribbling away! For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.