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?
It’s a great list. I think you’d have to add, “Sex, violence, and swearing are all off the page.” You can have romance, but the couple gets to the bedroom door and closes it behind them. A character can be described as cursing, but you don’t actually read, “You f***ing a**hole!” And while of course there will be dead bodies, you don’t read about the blood spurting from eighteen bullet holes.
I agree–especially about the blood and guts. Thought someone I know used a pitchfork…
I agree with Edith Maxwell about sex, gore & language being omitted. And of course that satisfying JUSTICE to the dastardly villain is essential. I love reading cozies, I just wish there were a few more new ones with different settings.
This blog has five new series all set in New England, but in very different parts. I agree–I love finding new places and looking forward to visiting them every year or so. Thanks for your comment!
What’s interesting to me about cozies, is when you get a contract to write one (or three), nobody gives you any guidelines, either contractual or informal. So you’re flying pretty blind.
I do have one swear word in my first one (though not one of the “biggies” Edith lists above) and I have a corruption of a swear word in my second. I waited to see if someone would edit it out, but so far, no go.
One other “rule” I try to follow is “closed pool of suspects”–so no Mafia, Colombian drug cartel, terrorists, etc.
There are several sets of “rules” from the Golden Age. I would ignore most of them, but the “no mysterious stranger” is a good one to follow.
Love this discussion of what constitutes a cozy. Thank you for the Agatha Christie / Detection Club story. I’d never heard that before!!
It was/is a really interesting group. Back in the day they published a few books by members of the Detection Club, where one person would pick up and write a chapter in a book. Thanks for your comment!
Very interesting. It seems I am not writing a cozy after all…but I have no idea what I am writing 🙂
The line between cozy and traditional is a fine one, and one I know I blur. Maybe traditional?
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