How To Write A Cosy Mystery

How To Write A Cosy Mystery

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? How about one without violent crimes, or splashing blood? Welcome to the genre of cosy mysteries. Learn how to write a page-turner for the faint of heart.

How To Write A Cosy Mystery

Cosy Mysteries (‘cosies’) are a sub-genre of detective fiction. You’ll like them if you’re a tender-hearted writer (or reader). Let’s look at their secret to success more closely.

Elements Of A Cosy Mystery

Cosy mysteries are ‘real’ detective stories with just as much action. They captivate their readers just as well. As a genre, they aim to reinterpret classic whodunnits from the Golden Age of detective fiction (the 1920s and 1930s), like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. Yes, they are formulaic. The readers expect them to be easily relatable to the protagonist and the setting. A cosy mystery is realistic in that it could probably happen right in your neighbourhood.

1. Overall Style

Cosy mysteries are ‘clean’ because their readers want good, harmless fun. That doesn’t make them boring at all!

The crimes can be outrageous. But as a writer, you must never describe anything with explicit detail, neither the crimes nor the love affairs. The narrator should never be voyeuristic. You may trust your readers’ imagination.

2. The Sleuth

Writers of this genre must devise a likeable amateur sleuth as their protagonist (usually a woman). Writers must make them relatable, not too perfect, and maybe even a little quirky. Their hobbies are another good way for the readers to connect to them (see further down, ‘Other themes’).

Well-educated and smart, these sleuths have a good feel for other people. You won’t find lonesome detectives in this genre. They eavesdrop, chat, and ask innocent questions. Everybody confides in them because they seem so harmless, even naïve at times. Of course, these detectives are excellent observers.

Typically, the cosy sleuths have a contact within the police to help them when things get tough. This could be a friend, a spouse, or another family member.

At first, these officials dismiss the sleuths as nosy and overreacting busybodies. This practically forces the sleuths to investigate further. Eventually, they solve the crime, gaining the respect of the authorities.

The archetypal detective of these mysteries is the middle-aged, even retired woman. Think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple or ‘Jessica Fletcher’ from the successful TV series Murder She Wrote.

There are also successful male detectives in cosies – for example, Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael, or Father Brown in the novels by G. K. Chesterton.

3. Red Herrings

Writing a cosy mystery requires dropping hints, leaving clues, and lots of foreshadowing. Make the plot twisty but not too complicated. Since the emphasis is on the sleuth, and not the crime, the readers want to solve the puzzle alongside their hero.

4. The Setting

The setting is almost as important as the detective. These stories take place in a peaceful, rural environment with set rituals, customs, and traditions.

They are set in small communities, such as an English village (like Miss Marple’s St. Mary Mead) or an archetypal American small town. It could also be a retirement home as shown in Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, or even Buckingham Palace (S. J. Bennett’s The Windsor Knot).

What’s needed is an insular quality to this community, where the crimes committed can disrupt the natural order of things. It is this order that must be restored eventually by the sleuth.

5. Crimes & Criminals

The mystery revolves usually around a murder to be solved. The crime itself is committed off-stage. Readers won’t want to read about any atrocities, or about the victim’s gory wounds.

In this genre, the emphasis is placed on the reaction of the community to this crime. Ultimately, the greatest crime is the disruption of the peace.

The criminals usually are educated people and not psychopaths. Their motives are classic to this genre, like greed, jealousy, or revenge. Since the community is so tightly knit, and most members go back a long time, the motive for the crime can be rooted way back in the past.

6. Other Characters

Every detective needs a sidekick; cosies aren’t any different. Miss Marple relied on Mr Stringer, Jessica Fletcher had the town’s doctor by her side, and the Queen in S.J. Bennett’s novels depends on a personal assistant to investigate.

Whatever the protagonist lacks, the sidekicks must supply to help get the mystery solved. These sidekicks can also be used for comic relief.

The victims tend to be unpopular people because the writer doesn’t want to leave the readers feeling too badly. The readers are supposed to sympathize only with the sleuth.

7. Themes

The overall theme of cosy mysteries is connection. How people connect in the community is ultimately what helps the sleuth solve the mystery. It’s a fault in connection that makes the murderer kill the victims.

As a writer, you can show the connection to their home in traditional homely pastimes. In these novels, you’ll traditionally find a lot of crafting, cooking, and gardening. Sleuths have hobbies, and these serve as a theme in the novel (one example: Parnell Hall’s Puzzle Lady Mysteries, where the protagonist loves solving crossword puzzles).

Another form of connection is the pets that the sleuths love to keep in these novels.

How To Start And End Your Cosy Mystery

Begin your mystery just like you would any other crime novel. The protagonist is shown in daily life when the community is disrupted by crime.

The ending must clarify all parts of the mystery. The sleuth must feel satisfied, and so must the reader. This is not the genre to experiment with ambiguous motives, loose ends, or other kinds of plot holes.

The happy ending means that order is restored, and peace regained. This is where a cosy mystery resembles a romance.

The word count for cosy mysteries is between 50,000 and 60,000 words.

Need more tips on writing crime novels? Here are some fabulous resources to get you started.

The Last Word

The readers of cosy mysteries feel strongly connected to the sleuth and the setting of the book which requires you as an author to set up a strong bond to your reader. Ask yourself constantly about the expectations that your readers bring to this genre. This is the connection that makes this genre so immensely popular. Why don’t you give it a try? Happy writing!

Susanne Bennett

By Susanne Bennett.

Susanne  is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.

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Posted on: 24th October 2022
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