Have you been thinking about writing a cozy mystery novel? Or just wondering what exactly a “cozy mystery novel” is?
Cozy mysteries are a subgenre on the rise—and with good reason. Read on to learn more.
What Is a Cozy Mystery?
Cozy mysteries are a subgenre of crime fiction. As the name suggests, in order to be considered “cozy,” there are certain elements your novel must have—and others, such as violence and gore, that they must not.
Elements of Cozy Mysteries
As a subgenre, it’s important to know the elements of your cozy mystery to ensure you’re getting it right. Here are a few:
Red herrings are central to cozy mysteries. The reader reads not just for fun, but to solve the mystery along with the protagonist. That means the mystery needs to be a little twisty—though not overly complicated. You need to plant just enough red herrings to make the puzzle-solving fun and satisfying for the protagonist, as well as the reader.
Generally, the protagonist of your cozy mystery novel will be an amateur sleuth. A lot of cozy mysteries, though certainly not all, feature women as the protagonist.
A lot of series also cast a detective as the protagonist—specifically, a lovable, possibly quirky, detective.
This needs to be a likable person the reader can picture themselves either as, or as being friends wit. You generally don’t find hard-hitting police officers as the leads in cozy mysteries.
The protagonist is usually surrounded by likable side characters as well. You want most of the people in your mystery to be the type the reader can relate to.
Along with the protagonist, the other essential character is the murder victim (if you’re including a murder as the central mystery—many, though not all, cozies do). Generally, cozy mysteries feature murder victims who are not likable, so you’re not leaving the reader feeling too badly for them.
There is also, of course, the murderer—who should be someone we don’t like, in the end.
Cozy mysteries tend to be set in cozy places—think a small town, a seaside resort, or another equally inviting place where the reader might like to spend a little time. They are rarely set in large cities. The key here is a place where people tend to know each other, so you can create a village or small community feel.
In general, your characters and themes in a cozy mystery tend toward the black and white: the protagonist and her allies are good; the murderer is bad. The good guys win in the end, and the bad guys are punished. Justice prevails. Cozies are not the place for morally gray characters or stories where the murderer is not brought to justice.
What Not to Include
The elements of what to include in a cozy mystery are just as important as the elements of what not to include. There shouldn’t be very much violence or gore—yes, you may have a murder, but it should be a relatively bloodless one. Harming small children or animals is generally a no-go. While romance is welcome in cozy mysteries, they generally don’t include anything explicit. There also isn’t usually much profanity.
Cozies are just that: cozy. So while there is a murder, usually, the focus of the novel will be on the sleuthing and the protagonist—not on the graphic details of the crime.
How to Write a Cozy Mystery
Before you start writing your cozy mystery, it helps to have an outline in place. It’s very difficult to pants (a.k.a. write by the seat of your pants) a mystery novel. Mysteries have so many moving pieces—you need the victim, the murderer, the red herrings, the trail of clues, all of it leading up to an unexpected but satisfying ending—so outlining it all before you actually dive into writing will make sure you stay on track.
How to Start Your Story
A cozy mystery starts similarly to other crime fiction books—with the protagonist in their everyday life before they’re thrust into the mystery, which will take up the rest of the book.
How to End Your Story
Cozy mysteries are like romance novels in that they have happy, satisfying endings. The mystery is solved; the protagonist is happy with how things have turned out, and so is the reader. This is not the genre for your ambiguous or depressing endings.
How Long Should a Cozy Mystery Be?
Cozy mysteries tend to be shorter than other subgenres of crime fiction, coming in at around 50,000 to 60,000 words.
Types of Cozy Mysteries
There are different types of cozy mysteries out there besides the classic small-town sleuth. You can decide which type interests you most.
Historical Cozy Mysteries
This sub-subgenre is just what it sounds like—cozy mysteries in a historical setting. Perhaps the murder takes place in the gardens of a famous monarch or in a small town in the 1930s. Whatever you choose, do your research first, as historical novels need some degree of historical accuracy to them.
Cozy Mystery Series
One of the main draws of cozy mysteries is comfort. When readers enjoy a character, it can be comforting to return to them again and again, watching them solve more and more mysteries. This is where a series comes in. Definitely start your own cozy mystery career with just one book, but if you find you want to return to this character and setting, consider making a series out of it.
British Cozy Mysteries
Since small villages are such a popular cozy mystery setting, it’s no surprise that a decent number of cozy mysteries are written by British authors or set in the quintessential small English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh towns. There’s a certain degree of charm to be found in cozy mysteries, and setting them on the British Isles is just one way to imbue your story with that charm.
Famous Cozy Mystery Authors
Here are some essential cozy mystery authors to read as you plan your own story.
Some consider Agatha Christie to be the first cozy mystery author. While not all of her books are considered cozies, many are, including the popular Miss Marple series. And Agatha Christie books are everything but dated—pick one up, and you’ll see for yourself.
Amanda Flower is a current prolific cozy mystery writer with several cozy mystery series under her belt, including the Amish Quilt Shop Mystery series and the Magical Bookshop Mystery series. Start reading Flower’s books, and it may take you a little while to finish—but that’s okay, because you’ll love the journey.
The author of the ongoing Noodle Shop cozy mystery series is definitely one to pick up. Her series revolving around murders committed in a noodle shop is quirky and delightful.
Cozy Mystery Novels to Pick Up
Besides the authors mentioned, here are some other cozy mysteries to add to your list:
Still Life, by Louise Penny
This is the first book in a charming series that follows along with an inspector, often hailed as a “modern Poirot,” from Quebec, finding secrets in a rural village.
The Secret, Book, & Scone Society, by Ellery Adams
A small town, a cozy bookstore, and a murder to solve—over scones—makes the first in this series a must-read for any cozy mystery lover.
Devil’s Chew Toy, by Rob Osler
A much-needed LGBTQ addition to the cozy mystery genre, this series about a mild-mannered high school teacher caught up in adventures beyond his control is a must-add to the list.
Cozy Mystery Movies
Don’t limit your research of cozy mysteries to books! There are a lot of great cozy mystery movies out there, too. Here are just a few:
Death on the Nile
An adaptation of the best-selling Agatha Christie book featuring famous detective Hercule Poirot, this fun mystery is not one to be missed.
Hallmark’s Mystery Movie Series
The Hallmark channel is a great place to find not only romance, but tons of cozy mystery movies. Just browse their list of offerings. We’re betting you won’t stop at just one.
Cozy Mystery TV Shows
And don’t forget about TV shows! From classics to shows currently streaming, there’s enough out there to keep you occupied for quite some time.
Murder She Wrote
One of the most famous TV shows of all time, Murder She Wrote stars Angela Lansbury as a mystery author who gets caught up in murder investigations. It has never gone out of style.
A small British town, a quirky detective, and a new murder to solve every episode—there’s a lot of fun to be had in this British series.
This series, based on the Agatha Christie book series, is just as delightful and twisty as its source material.
How Will You Write It?
With so many cozy mysteries out there in all different formats, you may be wondering how you can possibly make yourself stand out. But the good thing about cozy mysteries is that they’re supposed to be formulaic, their readers are ravenous, and there will always be someone eager to lap up your particular spin on the genre.
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