Thanks so much, Dorte, for allowing me to guest post today—and talk about cozy mysteries, my favorite genre!
I was a cozy mystery fan before becoming a cozy mystery writer. There’s something really nice about settling down with a gentle book, characters you feel acquainted with, a charming setting, and a puzzle to work out. If you’re new to cozies, you might be interested in the Cozy Mystery List (an exhaustive directory).
After reading a good number of cozies you’ll start to get a feel for their structure and pacing.
Here are some things to consider when writing your own cozy mystery:
Your sleuth: The detectives in a cozy mystery are usually gifted amateurs. You’ll want to make sure their involvement in the murder investigation is plausible.
Your suspects: Don’t overload your reader with too many suspects or they may lose track and wonder who the character is when the killer is unveiled! On the other hand, too few means there really isn’t much of an element of surprise when the murderer is revealed. I usually shoot for five suspects (six at the most.)
Your crime: In cozy mysteries, the murder takes place off-stage. When your sleuth or other character discovers the body, spare the reader gory depictions.
The puzzle: You’ll want to play fair with readers, who will enjoy figuring out the killer for themselves. Usually the solution is found in a clue or series of clues that point to the murderer. Complex forensics take a backseat in cozy mysteries...the fun is in deciphering the clues.
The setting: Although many cozies use rural or small town settings, cozies set in cities are also doing well. The cozy atmosphere can be created in a variety of places.
The method: Anything is fair game (blunt force trauma, strangulation, gunshot wounds, drowning), but again, you’ll want to stay away from graphic depictions of the victim.
The red herrings and clues: You won’t want to lead the reader too far astray for too long with your red herrings. But it’s fun to have your suspects tell both truths and lies to the sleuth—then we’ll need to piece together which is which. Your clues need to be clear to the reader, but you can use distraction as a method of diverting the reader’s attention from the clue when it’s laid.
The sidekick: It’s great if the sleuth has someone to bounce ideas off of. Otherwise, you end up in the internal monologue arena for long periods of time. Sidekicks can also provide a little comic relief, or provide the sleuth with a different perspective on the suspects.
Offbeat characters: One fun part of reading a cozy is the lively cast of characters. Cozies are frequently full of quirky secondary characters that threaten to steal the limelight from the protagonist.
Subplots and hooks: It’s not all about the mystery in a cozy. Many cozies now feature subplots that revolve around different hobbies or epicurean pursuits. These subplots revolving around hobbies give readers an opportunity to learn a little more about the characters, too, aside from their relation to the murder.
Other things to know:
You’ll want to keep an eye on your language. Minor or zero profanity is usually preferred by editors.
Having a cat in the book can’t hurt. :)
Word count—about 65,000 to 75,000, roughly.
It’s probably best to keep away from any cringe-inducing subjects as a new cozy writer—death of a child, animal cruelty, etc… cozies are all about the escape.
Above all, have fun and your enjoyment will shine through your words.
Bio: Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin as Riley Adams, the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink (under her own name), and blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010. Delicious and Suspicious releases July 6, 2010. As the mother of two, Elizabeth writes on the run as she juggles duties as Brownie leader, referees play dates, drives carpools, and is dragged along as a hostage/chaperone on field trips.
Elizabeth Spann Craig (Riley Adams) http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com http://mysteryloverskitchen.com Twitter: @elizabethscraig
And next Monday: come back for a new guest blogger.
Thanks Elizabeth, and Dorte, for this comprehensive guide to the "cozy".
The book I am reading at the moment by a very well known writer, who is on the cozy list, suddenly lets her characters use the f word on successive pages.
This has completely thrown me out of the cozy world, and my comfort zone, and I now wonder what I am reading. Perhaps the author isn't a cozy writer after all, even though her book fits almost every other criteria in your list.
I think cozy writers have a responsibility not to shock their elderly readers. If I had been reading noir I might not have been so surprised.
I would not have bothered to comment, beyond thanking you for the excellent guide, except for the fact that I have now reached a passage in the book where the author [or her characters] are talking absolute nonsense about one of my own very few areas of knowledge.
If this goes on I may chuck this book across the room. ;o)
That's really cool. I didn't know that cozy had to be so specific. I know my mysteries are not cozy. But, Elizabeth, I sure do love yours.
Uriah--There's been a huge shift, I think, in the last few months by the cozy writers that I know. There's been a big movement to LESS profanity. Not only has the online reading community expressed an interest in less profanity (even less relatively mild cursing), but editors are editing it out of manuscripts we submit. The older cozies definitely have little of it...the most recently released usually have little of it...but it's out there, for sure. My how-to has more to do with what writers need to think about going *forward*, for sure. :) Great point, thanks for bringing it up. It's a hot topic among cozy writers.
Clarissa--Thanks so much! I'm looking forward to finding your mysteries on a shelf one day soon!
This is a great summary, and when I think about the cosies, or cozies if you must :), that I haven't liked it's usually because they've slipped up on a couple of these elements. I especially like your last point about having fun - that certainly does shine through in cosies that I enjoy most and I do think it's easy to tell when an author hasn't had any fun writing their book.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for such a detailed description of cozys. Miss Marple qualifies as cozy for sure, and she's been my favourite sleuth forever.
Dorte - Thanks so much for hosting Elizabeth.
Elizabeth - Thanks for these ideas! I especially like your suggestions about plotting, clues, and so on. As you say, cozies are all about the fun of finding out whodunit. Anything that takes away from that can take away from the novel.
Folks, Elizabeth's blog is spectacular, and if you haven't tried her Myrtle Clover mysteries, you're missing out. I can't wait to read Delicious and Suspicious,, too.
Thanks for explaining what goes into a cozy. I had wondered how it differed from other fiction.
Thanks to your host, too.
Bernadette--'Cosy' *looks* so much cozier! :) Love the UK/Australian spelling. And you're right--I've seen some edgier material lately and I think some authors push the boundaries a little. I'm too reticent to do so--don't want to offend potential readers, especially at this point in my career! Plus the fact that I think I want to give readers what I *believe* they want when they're putting down their money at the store. There's nothing like buying something and being sorry later. I'd rather err on the side of caution. I love bringing characters to life and the whole experience is just a lot of fun for me.
Rayna--She was my favorite! I loved the way she lulled the suspects into thinking she was just a fluffy old lady--and all the time she was so much more clever than they were.
wonderful description of cozies. I am struck at how many points of convergence cozies have with the murder mystery weekends my partners and I write. Simple tales based on interesting characters - some reason why everyone is together at the hotel (high school reunion, history buffs, reading of will at dead person's favorite haunt, etc...) no mean deaths of children or pregnant people; no use of f word by the actors; six suspects and a lot of laughing. Perhaps I should turn my attention to them...no. I've got enough manuscripts on the go!
Dorte, thanks for hosting Elizabeth today.
Elizabeth, enjoyed your description of cozies. Rayna's comment on Miss Marple got me thinking, what would it be like to have Miss Marple, Myrtle and Lulu working on the same case? That could be interesting.
Thoughts in Progress
Margot--Anything too jarring does take away from the fun of the read, doesn't it?
Teresa--Thanks for stopping by!
Jan--Honestly, they sound just LIKE cozies. Cozies are also fond of closed settings--manor houses cut off by snowstorms, inaccessible islands, etc. You should try it!
Mason--I have a feeling that Myrtle would try to take over! :) But that she'd be gently, but expertly, put back in her place by Miss Marple and Lulu...
Elizabeth: I knew you would not only write a fine post, but that I could also count on a wonderful blog-sitter while I am struggling at getting through my mountains of exam preparations!
And thank you so much to each and every reader: I really appreciate your visits, and I am happy you are enjoying Elizabeth´s post as much as I am.
What a clear description of the cozy mystery genre – thanks. I didn’t realize I was a fan of them until I read yours. Now I’m looking forward to your new release.
Wishing Elizabeth all the success in the world!
Dorte, you were correct when you assured me I would enjoy today's guest post!
Elizabeth, this has been a wonderful explanation about writing one of my favorite genres! I seriously doubt I ever try to write one of my own (though it has crossed my mind), but I will certainly read some of yours now.
I do read a few series which I've always considered to be cozies that stray a bit when it comes to profanity and irreverence. (Evanovitch and Hess come to mind) I usually prefer my cozies without much, but when used with humor as in the Stephanie Plum and Maggody books, it doesn't really bother me.
Thanks for a great post!! (off to Amazon now to check out your books)
Thank you, Dorte, for hosting!
Great list Elizabeth--I am going to copy it off... I have seen most of this (though not the 'lay the clue but distract'--or at least it hadn't registered) but I am going to use this as a checklist!
My first cozy mystery now has a timeline, so it is time to get going!
Yep. I went ahaead and created a folder in my Favorites just for your links and adding this one. I like the gifted amateurs for the sleuth. Makes sense for a cozy mystery.
Dorte--Good luck with the exam prep! And thanks again for having me. :)
Jane--I really appreciate it! Thanks for coming by. :)
Alex--Thanks so much!
Kelly--I'm so glad you stopped by! And I hope you'll give writing your own cozy a go sometime soon!
I think you're right...handled with humor, mild profanity can work.
Hart--Good luck with it! I can't wait to read your first cozy! :) Yes, you can lay a clue down, then have a couple of people enter the room, having a violent argument, etc....that kind of thing makes a good distraction.
Stephen--Thanks so much! I love police procedurals too, but with cozies the amateur sleuth works really well.
Great primer on all things cozy from a master cozy author.
Dorte thank you for hosting and thank you Elizabeth for this informative post. I'm learning such a lot about this genre as I increase my reading for pleasure and writing about it. All the best with your own writing.
Carol--Thanks so much! :)
Linda--Hope it helped. And best of luck with your writing!
This is a great post. I'm so glad I stopped by today.
I wasn't clear about "cozy" either. I did love Miss Marple. And, I love a good puzzle, like the kind that we need to solve in this type of mystery. I'm going to keep adding these books to my pile!
Carol--Thanks so much!
Linda--And the best to you with yours. :) Have fun with the reading and writing.
Thank you for this post - a link to which I found on Twitter. I wish the genre was as popular here in the UK as it is in the US. So far I am only published here, but naturally available on amazon and B&N everywhere.
This concise recipe made me realise how well I've fitted into it!
Sorry I have not modified comments for some hours (we call it night) ;D
Again, thank you for all your enthusiastic comments, and Elizabeth, I am quite overwhelmed by all these kind people visiting ´us´.
What a great guest post. So informative and yet in a great personable style. Cozies are some of my favorite escape books. I just love them. I do like the sidekicks, by the way!
Beth: Elizabeth´s main character, Myrtle Clover, is the cosiest of cozy (though slightly daunting) protagonists.
I learned something today! I have never heard the term 'cozy mystery' before.
Care: it is a very useful term, I think. Then you know you can let your young children read it without worrying too much about the content and vocabulary.
A bit late to comment, nonetheless, a very nice feature:-)
Poly: never TOO late - and I always enjoy hearing from you.
Send en kommentar