I just finished writing cozy mystery #18, so let me try and answer this. But first the question, what is a cozy?
A cozy is a mystery with certain ingredients. First of course, there’s the protagonist who must be an amateur. This amateur often has friends who are law enforcement of some kind, but they are only minor characters in the novel.
My cozies have female protagonists who get involved because of some personal reason. She is dragged into the investigation of the crime and with the help of secondary characters solves the mystery and sets all things right again.
The cozy must have a villain and not just any criminal but a smart one worthy of his/her adversary. The crime which is usually a murder must have a motivation for the murderer – something great at stake that cannot be reconciled any other way.
The novel must be set in a small town or in an enclosed area like a cruise ship, a mansion with no way to exit, a college campus, or any cordoned area. The novel’s dialogue is family friendly and reflects the area of the country where it takes place including their slang words and customs.
Cozy mysteries contain no gore – murders and the like take place off stage. Sometimes there is a romantic component but no sex scenes ever.
Cozy audiences are traditionally female, but there are exceptions. Readers are into details and scold you if you choose the wrong nickname, hair color, or occupation for their heroines. The audience must love the character(s) especially the main character or protagonist. She must be likable and possess qualities that we value such as kindness, generosity, plus a sense of justice.
Cozies are novella length for the most part and have only a handful of characters. The protagonist has one goal dominating the story. Sub-plots are added for color, variety, and to introduce information that first person cozies can only get through their cadre of friends.
Cozy readers prefer series of books with same main character. These vary from three to as many as the author can produce. The book cover often reflects the protagonist in various poses giving a continuity to the ongoing series.
As with any good mystery, the characters are fully developed.
No stick figures here. Each introduction must be woven into the narrative so there’s no information dump.
Clues are also hidden in the narrative as well as twists, reverses, danger, and the good old standby – red herrings. These contain revelations that rachet up the suspense and keep you turning the pages.
As with any piece of writing the beginnings and endings are crucial. Endings must tidy up loose ends, answer questions, solve the crime, and above all — be believable.
Mickey Spillane wisely said; The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book. And no where is that truer than in mysteries especially cozies which tend to come in series of three, five, or seven installments except in the case of Louise Penny who is up to number 18.
Cozy mysteries contain a heaping helping of humor.
The characters may make mistakes, run out of steam, or have funny sidekicks. This allows the reader to catch her breath and connect up some of the incidents. Characters should have flaws and never be perfect.
The secret to writing cozies is to read, read, and read some more. Read other writers for inspiration never to duplicate their work. Read out of your genre. Always carry a notebook to jot down ideas. Listen to conversations and note dialogue and expressions. Pay attention to word selection, description, and traditions observed in your story. If this is something you desire, then welcome to my tribe.
SHEILA S HUDSON
Sheila S. Hudson is an award winning writer of cozy mysteries. Her current series is Crimes from the Crypt. Others include Silent Partners, The Thursday Club, and Ministry Can Be Murder. She is co-president of Southeastern Writers Association and Vice President of Sisters in Crime (Monroe). Sheila has been writing and teaching writing workshops for more than 25 years. She and her husband have 2 daughters, one son, seven grandsons, and one cranky chiweenie.
Recommended Web Sites for Writing Cozy Mysteries
Cozy Mystery – themes
Tips for writing cozy or traditional mysteries
Hints for writing mysteries
Murder Mystery Formula
Four Things You Should Know about Writing a Cozy Mystery
Synopsis – Fill in the Blank
Recommended Books for Writing Cozy Mysteries
How to Outline a Cozy Mystery by Sara Rosett
The Rules of Murder Mystery Writing by Dave Lynch
How to Write a Murder Mystery by Jeffrey Marks
So, You Want to Write a Murder Mystery by Cynthia Hickey
Cappy Hall Rearick
Elizabeth Spann Craig