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Writing

How to Write a Cozy Mystery: 5 Tips and Examples

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

A mystery or thriller doesn't necessarily have to be dark or intense. For mystery readers who enjoy suspense more than violence, there’s a subgenre that directly addresses their needs. This subgenre is known as the cozy mystery.

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What Is a Cozy Mystery?

A cozy mystery book or cozy mystery series embodies the key components of classic mystery novels—suspense, misdirection, intrigue, and some degree of criminality—while eschewing the graphic violence and profanity that is often embedded in pulpier mysteries.

4 Examples of Cozy Mysteries

Cozy mystery books frequently top bestseller lists and can be popular choices for a book club or a public library feature. Cozy mysteries have also become a hallmark of television. Here are some highlights of the genre:

  1. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series
  2. Cleo Coyle's Coffeehouse Mystery series
  3. The televised Psych series, which combines cozy mysteries with comedy
  4. The TV show Murder, She Wrote

3 Elements of a Good Cozy Mystery

The elements that make a good cozy mystery differ from those that make a good hardboiled detective story or an international spy novel. Here are some elements that can frequently be found in a cozy mystery novel:

  1. The main character is an amateur sleuth. For example, the detective character Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote is a criminology professor and mystery author whose studies have equipped her to solve crimes.
  2. The action is centered around a small town. If your sleuth protagonist is cracking a case in a small town, they will mostly interact with the picayune cast of characters that populate the town. Instead of collaborating with a police sergeant, your protagonist may lean heavily on a best friend or their wise older sister. Perhaps your protagonist has their own detective agency, but they wouldn’t work for the FBI. Could a cozy mystery take place in New York or Los Angeles? Yes, but it would have to jettison the gritty real life scenarios that are often coupled with such metropolises.
  3. The narrative avoids incendiary subject matter. Cozy murder mysteries don’t feature scenes with grotesque violence. This doesn’t mean these mystery books are scrubbed of anything upsetting. It’s common for the main sleuth or supporting characters to come upon a dead body—and the body may even show wounds from a knife or gunshot. But cozy mystery writers don’t dwell on the sordid; they focus on the actual sleuthing.
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5 Tips for How to Write a Cozy Mystery

Whether you’re a bestselling novelist or a newbie embarking on your first book, here are some writing tips for crafting the perfect cozy mystery:

  1. Look for the mystery in everyday life. Cozy mysteries tend to elevate “normal” characters—a bartender, a caterer, a barber, a coach—into archetypal characters often found in traditional mystery writing. Today’s cozy mystery writers have adjusted for modern times, so these workaday characters may just as likely be bloggers or social media influencers; the key is that they seem ordinary.
  2. Create characters cozy readers can relate to. Typical mystery books might revolve around members of a police force. By contrast, many of the best cozy mystery books elevate an average citizen into a heroic role. Who would be more compelling to follow as they pursue a killer: a police sergeant or a bored housewife? Cozy mystery authors and their readers might tell you the housewife is the more exciting choice.
  3. Throw in lots of misdirection. Cozy mysteries may not be edgy, but that doesn’t mean they are logically simple. Cozy mystery readers like misdirection, red herrings, and puzzles that need to be solved. If you’re lucky enough to get your novel on the shelf of a bookshop or listed on Amazon, you’ll face a lot of competition within the cozy mystery genre. Those competing books will be loaded with misdirects and intrigue; your book should be too—especially if it’s your first novel.
  4. Embrace the supernatural. A cozy mystery can push beyond the rules of the real world and into the paranormal. In fact, you can make your cozy series stand out from the pack by adding supernatural elements. For instance, maybe the first draft of your cozy novel features a poison chocolate chip cookie. But then to spice things up, your second draft includes the detail that the cookie grew intact on a mysterious tree at the edge of town. Don’t wander too far with your paranormal explorations. Overall, cozy mystery stories are pretty grounded, but a slightly fantastical element can allow you to push the boundaries of the genre.
  5. Consider creating a larger series. When writing your first book, you’ll want to be cognizant of the standard writing essentials: character development, clear storytelling, vivid worldbuilding. But as you write, keep in mind that the cozy mystery is a subgenre of crime fiction that lends itself to sequels. If you can develop a strong enough protagonist like Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher, your readers will practically demand new releases that feature your detective solving new mysteries. Bestseller lists are packed with sequels that fit within the broader arc of a cozy mystery series.

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