Love Scenes in Thrillers?

by | Aug 20, 2017 | Karna Small Bodman, On writing | 9 comments

Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

This month my Rogue colleagues have been contributing various ideas about creating love scenes in thrillers: are they wanted…needed… to truly enhance the story and develop the relationship of the key characters?  (Believe me — I’ve heard many arguments from readers, editors and agents about these very issues).

Then there’s the question: If these scenes become an integral part of the narrative, should these books be defined as  “Romantic Thrillers” or “Romantic Suspense” or some other designation? And IF they do contain explicit love scenes, which authors create the best ones?
Author Nora Roberts
I did a bit of research and discovered that of the “50 most popular novels” described as “Romantic Thrillers” – EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE TOP 50 WAS WRITTEN BY A WOMAN.  For example, the author often called  the “Queen of Romance,” with 400 million copies of her books in print,  is Nora Roberts, also writing in the romantic thriller genre as J. D. Robb.  

In fact, even though it’s been out for many years, her thriller, Naked in Death, is still rated #1 on the Good Reads website. From the description, it’s obvious that there is quite a romantic connection between the lead characters:  Eve, a NY police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer becomes involved with an Irish billionaire — who turns out to be
a suspect in her murder investigation. “But passion and seduction have rules of their own, and it’s up to Eve to take a chance in the arms of a man she knows nothing about — except the addictive hunger of needing his touch.” Yep – a thriller with romance all right.

Among other “top rated” Romantic Thrillers (at Good Reads) are novels by Karen Rose, Cynthia Eden, Kristen Ashley – again, all talented female authors – and the list goes on.

Now, what about bestselling male authors who write thrillers? Checking the current lists, John Grisham’s new book, Camino Island, has been up there ever since it was published this past June.

The story: “A gang of thieves stage a daring heist from a secure vault deep below Princeton University’s Firestone library.” It features Bruce Cable, a bookstore owner and  Mercer Mann, an attractive young novelist.  I just read this book and can tell you that yes, it’s a terrific story, but no, there are no great love scenes. Even though Bruce and Mercer do spend several nights together, the author definitely leaves out the details and more or less “closes the door,” as we say.

Author Lee Child

Then there are many other male writers who sell millions of thrillers – such as one of our favorites, Lee Child, who has been a guest blogger for us here on our Rogue website: . Lee also has introduced our Rogue Women Writers panel at major writers’ conferences.  I’ve read many of Lee’s books, and no, I don’t recall any truly, descriptive love scenes in those either. It doesn’t seem to matter to book buyers though. I see that his new thriller, The Midnight Line, doesn’t even come out until November, and it is already high on Amazon’s bestseller list.

In fact, this list of men-who-don’t-write-love-scenes goes on: Nelson DeMille, Brad Thor, Vince Flynn (with Kyle Mills now writing Vince’s characters), Stuart Woods — all writing great thrillers, sans the bedroom angle.

My conclusion: Women write GREAT love scenes. Men don’t. I wonder if they just don’t know HOW to write them, simply choose not to, or feel that such scenes would  “slow down the action” too much – and they’re all about action — right?  What do you think? Would you rather read a thriller WITH love scenes…or WITHOUT?   While we know that women can describe wonderful tension and tenderness between a man and a women, another question — can you recommend any bestselling male authors who can pull it off? Please leave a comment. We’d “love” to hear from you!

…Submitted by Karna Small Bodman

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  1. S. Lee Manning

    Daniel Silva has some nice love scenes between Gabriel and his wife in his earlier novels. There's a lot of sex scenes in Lee Child's books, but not really love scenes. I agree with you though, I like a good love story mixed in with my thrillers.

  2. Muffy Wilson

    Hey, Karna. Penny Jiuditta here from SWFRW. I like romance in any novel. I think the added layer of romance adds dimension to the book between the protagonist and antagonist. And after all, romance is a thrill and killer thrillers is the desired result. I wish I could think of great romance writers that write thrillers and pull it off fluidly, but I can't. Romance is a learned art that comes from the heart. Women tend to be more ethereal and men tactile. I think men lack the confidence to write real steamy swooning romance but I guarantee they would SAY it's because they don't want to slow the readers enjoyment. Now, if you want to know about male erotic romance authors, I could help you there. Men tend to do great BDSM romance. ~MW

  3. M. Tsuki

    It's about audience. If a thriller is written for a primarily male audience, and men don't want love scenes, then there you have it. As a woman, I often enjoy the romantic elements of a novel, so I would be more likely to read thrillers that contain those elements. I'm sure writers as accomplished as Lee Childs, Daniel Silva, and others, could write love scenes — I suspect they simply choose not to because that's not what their audiences want. They understand their audience — that's why they are best sellers.

  4. Diana Belchase

    I don't think that men can't, I just think they are less likely. Probably a combination of their comfort level writing them and how much grief they're willing to take from their friends. David Baldacci and William Bernhardt both have nice relationship scenes. It's nice there is a book and author for every fan flavor.

  5. jean harrington

    Men don't want to give away emotion, even in fiction. That would be my takeaway.

  6. Karna Bodman

    Thanks, S. Lee, Muffy, M., Diana and Jean for your thoughtful comments. I've also heard from other guys (who didn't want to make "public" comments)say that men are taught from an early age not to show emotion but to "stand up, be a man" and all the rest – whereas women are much more in touch with feelings and the ability to communicate them. Bottom line — men and women truly ARE different – whether writers or readers — and I, for one, am glad that there are so many varieties of books out there to please us all (while hoping, of course, that both men and women will want to read the thrillers that we "Rogue Women" write.

  7. Gayle Lynds

    I really enjoyed the way you put this together, Karna. The layers, and the different angles. Sex scenes, or love scenes? It seems to me that the question is seldom parsed, but it's so interesting, especially the way you have done it here, with your research and personal reading. I suspect that just as some authors can't write great action scenes, or reflective scenes, or even monologues, others can't write either sex or love scenes.

  8. Unknown

    You're a bit tough on male authors here. I think it is a matter of how realistic your writing is, even in a thriller, and how integrated the sex/love scenes are with the characters and plot. In the sense that character is plot, then sex/love scenes are part of all but the most stylised kind of fiction. My novel, "Provocation," (under Donald McMiken) is a sort of a Canadian thriller and has several integral sexual scenes, though it's not a best seller. Would it have sold better without those scenes; I'd have to say, no.

  9. Sonja Stone

    Karna, what an interesting analysis of love scenes! I don't think it's ever occurred to me (while reading) that a scene was written by a man or woman. Definitely food for thought!