This is another in my series on Genre Writing Tips. I hadn’t really thought about cozy mysteries as I worked through from Children’s Books to Steampunk. A member of my critique group reminded me because that’s what she writes. Cozy mysteries, in the style of Murder She Wrote–tricky but non-gory plots with eminently cheerful characters that you’d like for a best friend.
That’s about all I knew about them, so I polled my PLN and Tweeple and anyone I could find about what the characteristics of ‘cozy mysteries’ were. Here’s what I got:
- The mystery is not bloody or ghoulish. It’s softened, the gory parts alluded to rather than spelled out.
- The lead character is likely to be an amateur detective, akin to Murder She Wrote, rather than seasoned as you’d find in a detective mystery.
- The reader likely will identify with the main character so s/he can be flawed but in a human way. For example, a Backstrom-like character (a cigar-smoking alcoholic with a knack for solving crimes)–or Dexter (a likeable serial killer)–would never lead a cozy mystery. Agatha Christie’s Ms. Marple would (although, not the Ms. Marple starring Joan Hickson. Of course, I’ve only watched one so far, may not watch the rest).
- Since the main character is NOT a detective, rather an amateur, s/he often has a good friend/mate/confidante who is knowledgeable and can pass along important information to her.
- Character development of the lead character is important. S/he is robustly fleshed out so the reader thoroughly understands their motivation, weaknesses and strengths.
- While most novels require growth in the characters, that’s not so important in cozy mysteries. Often, the mystery has thrown our beloved main character out of sorts and the goal is to return her/him to normal by solving the mystery. The need that s/he experience personal growth is secondary.
- The feeling of the book is ‘fun’, not stressful. Often, this is because the main character is bumbling through an important job s/he’s an amateur at, but it could be generated by the other characters, setting, or plot points.
- The setting is likely to be a small, picturesque town or village.
- Very little sex is included. If there is any, it’s subtle and dealt with invisibly.
- Lots of these novels have long-term love interests, but not all.
- There is little or no profanity or violence.
- The story has a happy ending–the criminal is brought to justice and balance is restored.
- Right and wrong are clearly defined; there’s no moral dithering. Murder is wrong and catching the guilty returns society to its rightful balance.
More characteristics of writing genres:
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.