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Romantic Suspense Plot Template

Romantic Suspense Plot Template

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About the Template

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Projected Word Count: 50,000 - 75,000
Number of Chapters: 20 per plot type, 40 total
Template Length: 64 pages, 20,726 words

SAMPLE

Creating a Romantic Suspense Book Title and Series Name

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Title: Should hint at both danger and romance and it should be fairly short. You want a punchy title. Romantic suspense is punchy in general, so you need to start that pacing with your title.

  • e.g. – Mine to Protect, Perilous Trust, Defending Amy, Rancher’s Hostage Rescue, Ruthless.

Series Name: A <Series Hook> Romantic Suspense

  • The series hook can be a location name; a FICTIONAL police or fire department or military unit; or it could be related to a particular trope.
  • e.g. A Blackwood Falls Romantic Suspense, A Smoke Jumpers Romantic Suspense, An Alpha Wolf Protectors Romantic Suspense.
  • For keyword purposes, try to keep “Romantic Suspense” in the series name. Sometimes Amazon will get uppity about keywords in series names, but it’s worth a shot.

POV: Most of the time it’s third person dual POV. However, I’ve seen first person single POV and first person dual POV. If I was just starting out and wanted to make sure I hit all the usual subgenre expectations, then I’d write in third person dual POV. Only use the FMC and the MMC (To keep the outline simple, I’m using a FMC and a MMC, but obviously you can have two MMCs or two FMCs). Sometimes you can also add scenes from the bad guy’s POV, but I’d only recommend that for books longer than 300 pages. I normally only see this in books around 300 - 400 pages.

Sample Blurb Outline

Punchy Tagline

When <FMC’s name> <has a dangerous problem>, she knows she’s in <some kind of trouble>. She <needs help from the MMC> but <he doesn’t want to help her because of a particular reason> (OR) <she doesn’t want to ask him for help for a particular reason>. They have to work together to <accomplish a specific goal> before the <bad guy accomplishes his/her goal>. They’re both attracted to each other, but they can’t be together because <reason why they can’t be together>. However, they still need to work together to stop the bad guy while protection their hearts.

FMC – Female main character. She’s always the one in jeopardy, not the MMC. Don’t try to change this up if you like money.

Has a Dangerous Problem – The stakes are life and death. Her problem is huge and it’s not something she can easily fix on her own. E.g. Someone is stalking her; she accidentally witnessed a mob hit; she found out her boss has been embezzling from the company; she’s a reporter running from guerilla forces through an unforgiving jungle; her ex-husband wants her dead, etc.

NOTE: A description of each component will be included in the template. This sample only shows the first two components.

Example Blurb #1 - Unknown Subject

Accountant Abigail Brit never expected to end up on the mob’s hit list. Now she’s on the run and she can’t trust anyone, not even the police. Five years ago, she left FBI agent Max Gunner at the altar. Now she needs his help. To stay one step ahead of the ruthless killers, they will have to put aside their painful past and use every skill in their arsenal to outwit her enemies. But the longer they run, the harder it is to deny their sizzling attraction. As the killers close in, they must fight their growing desire for each other and do whatever it takes to stay alive.

Example Blurb #2 - Known Antagonist

Three years ago, Jessica Reynolds escaped from the Pentagram Killer’s secret dungeon. Now he’s back to claim his only surviving victim. She’s taken into protective custody by FBI agent Alan Butler, a man with dark secrets of his own. Hiding deep into the Tennessee woods, she’s entirely dependent on Alan for protection. The longer they spend together, the more she’s drawn to him and if she’s not careful, she’ll have to trust him with more than just her body, she’ll have to trust him with her heart.

There are two kinds of romantic suspense antagonists:

  1. A known assailant (known antagonist)
    1. The FMC already knows who is after her and why they want to kill her.
    2. e.g. An ex-husband; a specific mob boss; her neighbor who tried to attack her because she won’t date him, etc.
    3. Thrillers generally fall into this category.
  1. An unsub (unknown subject)
    1. A stranger. The FMC doesn’t know who is after her or why they want to kill her.
    2. e.g. A serial killer obsessed with women who look like the FMC; a stalker; FMC doesn’t realize she saw something she shouldn’t have seen, or she has some information that she shouldn’t have.
    3. Mysteries generally fall into this category.

Before you begin your plot, you have to decide which kind of story you’re writing because the structure is slightly different. I’ll give examples for both types in the chapter by chapter breakdown. If you know the assailant, then you don’t need suspects because the FMC already knows who is after her and why. If the assailant is unknown, then you need suspects.

NOTE – The antagonist can be male or female. Typically, they are male so I’m using that gender throughout the template but some of the best plot twists I’ve read were because the unsub killer was a female.

Suspect List

  • I like to keep a short suspect list handy so it’s easy to refer to it without going back to the main character list.
  • Only use this list if you are working with an unsub.
  • #1 <First Last Name> (<Relationship to FMC>)
    • Reason whys s/he might want to harm her.
    • e.g. Husband, fiancé, ex-husband, mother, sister, next door neighbor, boss, employee, etc.
  • #2 <First Last Name> (<Relationship to FMC>)
    • Reason why s/he might want to harm her.
  • #3 <First Last Name> (<Relationship to FMC>)
    • Reason why s/he might want to harm her.
  • #4 <First Last Name> (< Relationship to FMC>)
    • Reason why s/he might want to harm her.
  • Depending on your book’s length, you could add more suspects. But 3-4 is generally enough.

Characters - THIS IS JUST A SMALL SAMPLE OF WHAT EACH CHARACTER WILL LOOK LIKE

<First Last Name> – FMC

  •  She’s <years old>
  • <description of who she is and what she’s good at>
    • e.g. An accountant who has an eidetic memory (a photographic memory)
  • She likes to <hobby>
    • e.g. Bake animal-shaped cupcakes.
  • Reason to like her
    • e.g. She volunteers at the local animal shelter and fosters dogs.
  • One of her personal philosophies
    • e.g. She believes that everyone has some redeemable quality and that no one is pure evil.
  • Details about her relationship with the MMC (if they had a past relationship)
    • e.g. She left the MMC at the altar because she was afraid of marrying an FBI agent. Her father was an FBI agent killed in the line of duty. She doesn’t want to lose someone she loves.
  • She’s single and although she’d like to fall in love at some point, she doesn’t want to because <reason>.
    • This can be specific to her or it can be the reason why she doesn’t want to fall in love with this particular MMC.
    • e.g. She doesn’t believe in love because her parents had an unhappy marriage. She’s never been in love before and doesn’t think it’s real. She thinks it’s a lie everyone tells themselves so that they will fit into society.
    • e.g. She won’t marry anyone who works in a dangerous profession because she lost a loved one to a dangerous profession. (Her brother was a firefighter who died in a forest fire. She’d never dream of marrying a firefighter now.)

<First Last Name> – MMC

  • He’s <years old>
  • <description of who he is and what he’s good at>
    • e.g. An FBI agent who can shoot the cap off a coke bottle at 1000 yards.
  • He likes to <hobby>
    • e.g. Go running every day for at least 5 miles to help clear his head.
  • Reason to like him
    • e.g. He’s the primary organizer for the Children’s Christmas Toy Drive in his small town.
  • One of his personal philosophies
    • e.g. He believes that the only thing standing between good and evil are law enforcement officers who are willing to lay down their life to protect the innocent.
  • Details about his relationship with the FMC (if they had a past relationship)
    • e.g. He’s always had the hots for the cute waitress at the diner (FMC), but he doesn’t want to get involved with anyone because he’s too busy with his job.
  • He’s single and although he’d like to fall in love at some point, he doesn’t want to because <reason>.
    • This can be specific to him or it can be the reason why he doesn’t want to fall in love with this particular FMC.
    • e.g. He doesn’t believe that he can work as much as he does and still have time to maintain a relationship too. He’s tried before and has failed every time.
    • e.g. The FMC is his law enforcement partner and although they’ve shared a sizzling attraction for years, he wouldn’t dream of acting on it because she’s also his best friend’s sister.

Choose 1: Known Antagonist or Unsub 

<First Last Name> – Known Antagonist

  • The FMC knows for sure that he’s after her.
  • She may or may not know exactly why he wants to kill her.
  • He’s very smart and always seems to be one step ahead of the FMC and MMC.
  • He wants to kill the FMC because <reason>.
    • e.g. She rejected his romantic advances and he doesn’t take rejection well.
    • e.g. He’s her ex-husband and if he can’t have her, no one else can.
    • e.g. She saw him kill someone else in the midst of a crime and she’s the only one who can ID him and send him to prison.
    • e.g. She’s the only woman who has ever escaped from his underground dungeon.
  • He hates women/people he kills because <reason>.
    • To have a well-developed antagonist, he needs to have a deeper motivation for wanting the FMC dead.
    • e.g. (Totally cliché but worth mentioning) – His mother, father, or both parents abused him as a child and now he wants to inflict the same pain on anyone who looks like his parents.
    • e.g. He thinks he’s entitled to all the drug money he’s getting because people are weak addicts and they aren’t worth anything more than what he can get from them.
  • If he’s a serial killer, list his previous crimes and go into detail about how he committed the crime. Serial killers typically follow the same MO, so keep a list handy so you can keep it consistent from murder to murder.

<First Last Name> - Unknown Antagonist Suspect #1

  • Skip this step if the FMC already knows who’s trying to kill her.
  • <Relationship to FMC>
    • e.g. Boss; family member; neighbor; etc.
  • <motive for trying to kill the FMC>
  • He’s capable of it because <dark secret in his past>
  • He <does something suspicious during the course of the book>

NOTE: Additional antagonists are included in the template.

<First Last Name> - Victim #1

  •  If the killer kills anyone else in the course of the book, or if he has killed other people before the book started, list them here.
  • <how the person was killed>
  • <why the murderer killed them>
  • <how the murder was committed including when and where>
  • Relationship of the victim to the FMC and/or MMC.
    • It’s common to have the FMC or the MMC become part of an investigation into the murder of a close friend or relative.
      • e.g. The MMC’s sister was killed by the serial killer. Now he’ll stop at nothing to find the killer and put him to justice.
    • Repeat this section for as many victims as you want.

 <Additional Characters> – <Role or relationship to other characters>

  •  This is a space to add supporting characters. Not suspects or main characters.
  • If there are multiple other victims, you would add them here.
    • e.g. Maybe a sheriff’s deputy shows up in a scene by name. Put him here.
  • These generally don’t have to be fully fleshed out, but you need to list them, so you don’t forget who’s who. If they are victims, then list how and when they were killed as well as why the killer

Setting

  • Romantic suspense can take place in a small town or a big city.
  • Make your setting interesting enough to carry a series. Although some romantic suspense is stand-alone, series still sell better.
  • Town is located in <cool or interesting location>
    • Some readers will pick up a book just because they like the location, so pick something unique or interesting.
    • Lots of options here. Think it through because you could be “stuck” with it for several books if your series takes off.
    • Try to think of a location where you could have a lot of plot or murder options. The more people coming through the town, the better.
      • e.g. If you go with a small town, make sure it’s a tourist destination like a ski resort or a beach town.

The Reader’s Primary Question in a Romantic Suspense Novel: Will the characters live long enough to fall in love and get their HEA?

The template includes two complete 20 chapter outlines - One for the "Unknown Subject" plot type and one for the "Known Assailant" plot type.

Plot Outline – Unknown Subject

Chapter 1 – Inciting Incident

Scene 1 (FMC Name - FMC POV)

Goal – Escape from the killer.

Complication(s) – The FMC is going about her normal day when she’s put in danger. She’s attacked either actively (someone’s shooting at her, trying to kidnap her, etc.) or passively (someone set her house on fire, but the bad guy isn’t in the house anymore). She needs to get out of danger before she’s killed. Her life should be in jeopardy from page 1.

Choice – How is she going to escape the killer?

Consequences – She fights like hell to escape the situation. She’s in serious trouble and she needs help. The scene ends with her still in jeopardy.

POV Character’s Feelings – She’s terrified and confused. She doesn’t know why someone would want to hurt her.

Scene 2 (MMC Name - MMC POV)

Goal – Protect the FMC.

Complication(s) – He’s pulled into the situation somehow. (e.g. The MMC is a firefighter who can tell it’s an arson fire because he can smell gasoline. He hears her screaming from somewhere inside the house.)

Choice – Should he help her get out of immediate danger?

Consequences – It’s in his nature to protect people, so he helps her get out of immediate danger. (E.g. He rushes into the burning house to save her.) There is an instant spark of attraction between them. (E.g. – The firefighter notes that she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen even though she’s totally covered in soot from the fire.)

POV Character’s Feelings – His protective instincts take over and he risks his life to save her. He’s worried about her even if she’s a complete stranger

 

Chapter 2

Scene 1 (FMC Name - FMC POV)

Goal – Try to make sense of what just happened.

Complication(s) – She has no idea why someone would try to kill her. She doesn’t know who she can trust or who she can turn to for help.

Choice – Should she trust the MMC?

Consequences – Even if she already knows the MMC, she will have some reason why she can’t trust him. (E.g. She left him at the altar. How can she expect him to protect her after what she did to him?) There’s a spark of attraction between them, but for some reason, she’s unwilling to acknowledge it.

POV Character’s Feelings – She’s afraid to get involved with the MMC for some reason so she’s left feeling scared and alone. She feels like she’s not going to be safe ever again. She’s ignoring the spark of attraction between them. Now is definitely not the time to be thinking about how hot the MMC is.

Scene 2 (MMC Name - MMC POV)

Goal – Find out why the FMC was attacked.

Complication(s) – The MMC doesn’t believe that she has no idea why someone would want to attack her. He asks her questions about why she thinks someone attacked her. She tells him she doesn’t know why.

Choice – Should he believe her?

Consequences – He doesn’t believe her. Based on what happened during the attack in chapter 1, someone clearly wants the FMC dead. She must be hiding something.

POV Character’s Feelings – He doesn’t trust her at all. She’s hiding something and he doesn’t like it.

 

Chapter 3: Refusing the Call

Scene 1 (FMC Name - FMC POV)

Goal – Get away from the MMC.

Complication(s) – She can tell that the MMC isn’t willing to help her beyond getting her out of immediate danger.

Choice – Should she try to get him to help her find out who’s trying to kill her?

Consequences – She has trust issues and doesn’t want the MMC to be involved. She thanks him for helping her get out of immediate danger but tells him that she doesn’t need his help anymore. She will deal with this situation herself.

POV Character’s Feelings – She doesn’t trust him. Instead of accepting any more help, she stubbornly decides that she alone can find out why someone is trying to kill her.

Scene 2 (MMC Name - MMC POV)

Goal – Don’t get emotionally involved in the situation.

Complication(s) – For some reason, the MMC doesn’t want to get emotionally involved in the situation. (E.g. She’s his ex-fiancée and she left him at the altar. How can he trust her to listen to him?)

Choice – Should he continue to help her?

Consequences – Since his character type is the ultimate alpha protector, he’s going to try to help her even though she doesn’t want his help. However, he’s going to guard his heart against getting emotionally involved. He has good reason not to want to get emotionally involved. (E.g. He’s an FBI agent who got emotionally involved with a witness in a mob trial case. Because he was distracted by their relationship, he didn’t realize that his partner was on the mob’s payroll. His partner killed the witness. The MMC can’t afford to fall for another person he’s supposed to be protecting.) Ultimately, she rejects his help. She walks away from him at the end of this chapter.

POV Character’s Feelings – He’s willing to help her, but he’s not willing to get emotionally involved with her. He’s angry, frustrated, and/or annoyed because she doesn’t want his help.

 

Chapter 4: Turning Point 1

Scene 1 (FMC Name - FMC POV)

Goal – Ask the MMC for help.

Complication(s) – The FMC can’t ignore the danger anymore. A second attempt is made on her life or the killer does something to scare her. (E.g. She comes out of the police station after refusing to let the cop follow her home to make sure she gets home safely. She finds a threatening note on her car.)

Choice – Should she continue to be stubborn and refuse the MMC’s help?

Consequences – She knows she needs help. She can’t fight back against a deranged killer by herself. She decides to accept the MMC’s help.

POV Character’s Feelings – She’s shocked out of her stubbornness and is forced to ask for the MMC’s help. She doesn’t have anyone else she can turn to.

Scene 2 (MMC Name - MMC POV)

Goal – Decide whether to help the FMC.

Complication(s) – The FMC comes to him and asks for his help.

Choice – Should he help her?

Consequences – He agrees to help her because it’s clear that she needs protection from the stalker/killer. She explains why he’s the only one who can help her.

POV Character’s Feelings – He’s still wary because she initially rejected his help. However, he knows she’s in terrible danger, so he’s going to set aside his worries and help her. He’s still keeping his heart guarded and he tells himself that he’s only doing this because she’s a woman in danger. It has nothing to do with that spark he felt when they met.

END SAMPLE - But in the actual outline, you get a chapter by chapter breakdown for both of the romantic suspense plot types: Known Subject and Unknown Subject. 20 chapters each for a total of 40 chapters.