The cozy mystery genre has generated many fans over the years. Writers like Debbie Young, Neil Gaiman, and Agatha Christie have made this sort of crime fiction popular. Cozy mystery writers go about their stories a bit differently than the traditional mystery or crime writers do.
If you’d like to join the cast of cozy mystery authors, you must adhere to certain guidelines to stay within the confines of the genre. This article will act as a guide of sorts to help you figure out how to write a cozy mystery.
Cozy Mystery Setting
Cozy mysteries often have a rural setting. Small, usually tight-knit communities are the specialty of this genre. Often, an entire cozy mystery series can be produced using just one small town, and mystery readers love to feel as though they know nearly all of the citizens in the town.
If you don’t like the small town concept, you can really make your setting anywhere, but keep in mind that one of the trademarks of the cozy mystery is intimacy. You want the reader to feel at home where your characters live, work, or do their amateur sleuthing. You want to solve the murder close to a home that has sentimental value, not a cold setting like the back alley of a large city.
Cozy Mystery Mood and Tone
Cozy readers are looking for something light but intriguing. They want the ending to be a happy one. They want a mystery that they can solve right along with the characters so that they can feel connected but not afraid.
It’s entirely possible to enjoy more than one genre of book, but when you are in the mood to read a cozy mystery, you are looking for exactly what the title of the genre expresses: a cozy experience.
You don’t want to be bored because nothing happens, but you do want to be comforted. You don’t want the horror stories of Stephen King or the gore of Clive Barker. You don’t want the depths of evil that Anne Rice produces or the pessimism and intensity of Edgar Allen Poe.
Readers of cozy mysteries want some excitement, a mystery to solve, just the slightest air of danger, a little bit of romance, and a happy story and tight conclusion in the end. Throw in a couple of red herrings, and you’ve got all the makings for a successful cozy mystery book or story.
Cozy Mystery Characters
The Main Character
The characters of cozy mysteries are usually fairly similar across the board. The main character is often an amateur sleuth who is in charge of finding and deciphering all the clues.
In real life, a person like this would almost immediately fail at solving anything, but the main character is often the one who ties everything up nicely, solves the murder, saves the day, then goes back to her book club as though nothing happens. These characters are often women, and they often get an entire cozy series dedicated to them.
Supporting characters are often close friends, family members, or someone connected to or working for a detective agency of sorts. There’s almost always someone who has a connection to a resource that is helpful in solving the case, but it’s usually a supporting character.
For example, your protagonist may be a woman who is a book club member and meets up with other ladies once a week. There is an unfortunate murder of a highly respected retired teacher in town, and the mystery needs to be solved because the police just aren’t looking in the right places. Your protagonist (let’s call her Jane) enlists the help of the friends she meets at the library once a week to solve this case.
You can be sure that there will be many quirky characters within this group. Still, there will also most likely be someone who has a niece, friend, cousin, or in-law who either works for the police, knows the medical examiner, has connections to the victim, has access to information that no one else has etc. This is necessary because your characters are all just ordinary people playing detective.
This isn’t an ordinary mystery novel in which the protagonist is a hardened, retired, decorated detective. Someone in this crime-solving crew has to have connections, or the murder victim will never have justice.
Your cast of characters needs help because, let’s face it; they aren’t really qualified to be finding dead bodies and then solving the mysteries surrounding them. As the writer, you have to give your characters the tools they need to get the job done.
Character development is often the focal point of cozy mysteries. The relationships and bonds that form and then grow between characters when an amateur sleuth embarks on the journey of solving the mysterious murder are important to fans of cozy mysteries.
The animosity and competition that arises between suspects and the characters are important as well. Readers of this specific genre care about the characters more than they care about the grisly details of a murder or the technicalities involved in solving a crime.
Cozy Mystery Vs. Traditional Mystery
Cozy mysteries and traditional mysteries differ in several areas. Some things are specific to the cozy mystery genre that you have to stay within the parameters of if you want readers to enjoy it.
Traditional mystery writers are more focused on the mystery itself rather than the journey to get there and the friendships that are grown and nourished along the way.
Cozy mysteries are often enjoyed by older readers who have little or no interest in some subject matter. There are also many readers of the cozy mystery genre who are much younger, whose parents don’t approve of some of the content in the traditional mystery genre.
You will rarely if ever, find graphic violence in a cozy mystery book or cozy mystery series. If this is your first novel, it’s absolutely essential that you establish with your readers what they can expect content-wise.
Your first draft can include a dead body, but readers don’t necessarily need to be there for the murder or have heavy descriptive language as to how the death occurred.
When you write cozies, you aren’t going for a gore factor. You’re trying to find clues and write novels about the person who goes from a regular person to a sleuth. Your first book will set the tone for the rest of your work, so make sure to make the reader familiar with your style and what sort of content you will include.
For example, in the wildly popular Harry Potter series, there is a lot of death, but you don’t ever really see any of it in the novels. It’s hinted at, talked about, and clues are given as to how it happened, but clues are often as close as we ever get to witness the actual crime. Harry Potter then becomes a sleuth, and he and his friends do what they can to save themselves and their friends from harm.
Explicit Sex and Language
It doesn’t matter that in the real world, people have sex, and people curse. When you are writing cozies, you don’t want to write anything that would feature explicit anything. Most cozies have almost no profanity, and even the best murder cozies have almost no actual violence or sex.
Even married people often don’t have sex in these books. New characters don’t meet each other and have a one-night stand to make the plot more complicated. Married people are “intimate,” sometimes people “make love,” and that’s all the further it is ever described.
Enjoy Your Writing Journey
Whether you’re going for culinary mysteries, hotel mysteries, library club mysteries, or plain old unsolved mysteries, enjoy the journey. Writing these wonderful books can result in multiple series, a massive fan following with a wide demographic, and a fun experience. Keep it light, keep it happy in the end, and give your reader something to enjoy.