Everyone has a different definition for what a cozy mystery is. But this weekend, I spent some time with my Wicked Cozy sisters, talking about what made a cozy “work” for us as readers. Identifying what I like about the genre is a powerful way to identify the specifics of what I want to address in my writing. So here is my list of benchmarks for a successful cozy.
Characters I care about, that grow and change over the course of the series. Cozies take place in a community, and rely on a cast of characters to make it work. We care about the protagonist, but we care as much about the other characters in the series. As an author this is a tough balancing act. Having readers love a character, but also having them trust you to move them along in the story.
A really good story that surprises me. Another balancing act. A good story with twists and turns is essential. But the unexpected can not be the unexplained. In the “Golden Age of Detective Fiction” (between WWI and WWII) “fair play” rules were in place. (Agatha Christie was almost kicked out of the Detection Club because of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Dorothy Sayers broke the tie and kept her in.) I like that framework–the guarantee to a reader that you are going to play fair. The crazy cousin that is introduced in chapter twenty is too often a device the author uses to get out of a plot hole. Your reader may not guess the ending but, no matter what, she can think backwards and understand it.
Justice needs to prevail. Justice can take on many forms. It can be going to jail, or financial ruin, or a divorce. And it may not make everyone or anyone happy, including the readers. But it needs to be justice. This is definitely an element that makes it a cozy.
These are three of the elements that keep me coming back to a series, and that I aspire to in my writing. How about you? Why do you love cozies? What would you add to the list?