Action, Action, Action by Katharine Ashe

Today we welcome Avon historical romance author Katharine Ashe to our blog.  Katharine has two recent releases, Captured by a Rogue Lord (March 29, 2011) and A Lady’s Wish (March 15, 2011).

The American Library Association’s Booklist named Katharine Ashe one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance.” Her debut historical romance, Swept Away By a Kiss, was nominated for Best First Historical Romance in the Reviewers’ Choice Best Book Awards. Captured by a Rogue Lord has received a “TOP PICK!” from RT Book Reviews: Katharine lives in the wonderfully warm Southeast with her husband, son, two dogs, and a garden she likes to call romantic rather than unkempt. A professor of European history, she has made her home in California, Italy, France, and the northern US.  Please visit her at

I am about to say something that might sound heretical to action-lovers like us who adore this blog. It’s not, though. Here goes:

Writing an action-filled romance novel does not mean writing a novel full of action scenes.

What makes a romance novel feel action-filled if not the action scenes?

If you will allow me, I’m going to use my newest book, CAPTURED BY A ROGUE LORD, as an example (mostly because it’s so well known to me). A recent review calls it an “action-packed romance brimming over with marvelous characters, sexual tension, witty repartee and action, action, action.” That’s four ‘action’s, and in general that’s a lot of ‘action’ for a historical romance set in Regency England.

Naturally, I am thrilled with this review. I happen to love this reviewer and trust her reviews like I trust my mother. And this book does have a lot of action in it. For instance, in one scene the heroine gets abducted by smugglers then escapes. Another scene is a naval battle, including blasting guns, snapping pistols, and men running around deck as planking gets blown to smithereens and canvas burns.

Most scenes in the book, however, cannot be categorized as action scenes. A few examples of the typical sort of scene I write might suffice. An early scene is set at a London ball in which the hero kisses the heroine silly in a darkened parlor before they’ve ever set eyes on one another. In another scene the hero, an earl, pays a proper social call on his intended betrothed (not the heroine) and her mother. In another, the heroine visits the local hat shop to seek out information on a notorious pirate recently seen in the neighborhood. She then wanders into a church where the hero finds her, and after that they stroll through a garden to her house.

You see what I mean. On the surface, not action. My hero doesn’t spend the whole book sword fighting or racing his curricle down treacherous byways or even chasing after smugglers. And my heroine doesn’t get into scrape after scrape from which the hero must save her.

So how do drawing rooms and walks in the park translate into action?

A romance novel feels active not because of the action scenes themselves, but because of pacing. With proper pacing, even a few action scenes placed carefully into the story can have a big impact.

Pacing in a romance novel, of course, depends on a lot of things: plenty of quick, realistic dialogue, spare backstory, a plot with multiple twists and turns including mysteries that are revealed at strategic intervals, and minimal bouts of internal dialogue. But most of all pacing is about the romantic dynamic between the hero and heroine.

I write swashbuckling action, but above all I write romance. I am more interested in the love story than anything else. It is the reason I write fiction and the core, heart, and soul of my books. If your hero and heroine are well paired and well balanced to each other, and if this is so clear to the reader that she will tear through every obstacle you put in that couple’s way to get to their Happily Ever After, then you have a book full of action. It doesn’t take kidnappings, ship battles, or any other kind of shenanigans to achieve this. Just the perfect hero matched with his perfect heroine.

What’s your favorite romance—book or film—that is filled with action?

11 responses to “Action, Action, Action by Katharine Ashe

  1. I just read the article about Katherine Ashe.
    She is a wonderful, vivacious, person. I read her books and find them vivid since what she describes leaps into my mind.
    This writer goes to the top.
    Above all, she is a lady. She treats everyone around her the same. Simply put, she is a terrific person. Bill Sharpe

  2. Bill, you are so kind. Thank you! I’m especially touched since it comes from such a gentleman — a great model for writing gentlemanly heroes, by the way! 🙂

  3. I loved Joanna Bourne’s SPYMASTER”S LADY action scenes. There is more threat than fight — but they were very, very effective. Also, I LOVE the action scenes in POINT GROSS BLANK. John Cusack trying to convince the heroine’s dad that he’s a respectable guy to date his daughter, while fending off other assassins — hilarious. Also Katharine – you write some pretty kick-ass romantic scenes yourself. 🙂

  4. Thank you, Margaret! I love Joanna Bourne’s books, and you’re so right about the threat and menace vs guns blazing approach. Really wonderful. On the other hand, that shoot ’em up scene in Gross Point Blank is priceless. What a fabulous movie. Thanks for visiting today. 🙂

  5. Great insight, Katharine. I too enjoy Joanna Bourne. She’s great at saving secrets for just the right moment and getting her characters into interesting situations. I’m also a big fan of Suzanne Brockmann whose books I think of as heavy on the action. But when I go back and reread her stories, there are only a few “big” action scenes. The rest is all tension. I can’t put them down.

    I’ll be curious to pick up one of your books, Katharine. Thanks!

  6. Hi, Gwen. Thanks for confirming my theory w/ Suzanne Brockmann. Her books are so fabulous. And congratulations on your Golden Heart final!!!! You must be feeling on top of the world. I am thrilled for you. 🙂

  7. Thank you for your post, Katharine. You’re turning up all over the Web!

    I too dig action romances. I’ve been told to avoid adding action to my romance writing because the action detracts from the romance. But I disagree.

    If done right, the two elements reinforce each other. The romance gives the focal characters more impetus to brave dangers and overcome obstacles. The action makes the romance richer and more meaningful. When does the flame of love burn more brightly than in the shadow of threatened death?

    Right now I’m reading an action romance, Robyn DeHart’s “Desire Me.” I can cite others I’ve enjoyed, but they’re out of print and probably hard to find.

    As for action romances on film—well, I’m a big fan of old movies. I can list LOTS of titles. But too often the action overshadowed the romance, or the romance didn’t work for me.

    But allow me to recommend two perfectly gorgeous, enthralling action romances that (IMHO) succeed in every department. And yes, they’re available on DVD.

    “Sword of Lancelot”, 1963: One of many cinematic retellings of the King Arthur/Guinevere/Sir Lancelot triangle, and an exceptional one. The story focuses on the title character, played to perfection by Cornel Wilde. We all know how this story ends, so I don’t recommend it to romance fans who insist on happy endings. Obviously I’m not one of them!

    “The Sword and the Rose”, 1953: A fun Renaissance romp, based on the pioneer romance novel “When Knighthood Was in Flower” by Charles Major. It’s a rare example of a romance in which the focal characters are real historical figures. The vivacious Princess Mary (Glynis Johns), sister of Henry VIII, falls in love with Charles Brandon (Richard Todd), a charming, adventuresome courtier way below her station. The lovers elope, but are caught. A political marriage between her and the King of France further complicates matters. How can this couple possibly come to a happily ever after? You’ll have to see the movie!

  8. “When does the flame of love burn more brightly than in the shadow of threatened death?” Well put, Mary Anne! Thanks for your recommendations. I thought I’d seen every film based on the Arthurian legend that exists, but I’ve yet to see The Sword of Lancelot. I look forward to it! 🙂

  9. You are so right. Pacing and tension are the keys to making a book feel like it’s continually leaping forward.

    Thanks so much for joining us, Katharine. As always, it was lovely to have you with us.

    I loved Swept Away by a Kiss and can’t wait to dive into Captured by a Rogue Lord.

  10. Thank you, Melinda, and thanks to Kathy and Rayna too! I am honored to have been here today. 🙂

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