Genre tips

13 Tips for Cozy Mystery Writers

cozy mysteryThis is another in my series on Genre Writing Tips. I hadn’t really thought about cozy mysteries as I worked through from Children’s Books to Steampunk. A member of my critique group reminded me because that’s what she writes. Cozy mysteries, in the style of Murder She Wrote–tricky but non-gory plots with eminantly cheerful characters that you’d like for a best friend.

That’s about all I knew about them, so I polled my PLN and Tweeple and anyone I could find about what the characteristics of ‘cozy mysteries’ were. Here’s what I got:

  1. The mystery is not bloody or ghoulish. It’s softened, the gory parts alluded to rather than spelled out.
  2. The lead character is likely to be an amateur detective, akin to Murder She Wrote, rather than seasoned as you’d find in a detective mystery.
  3. The reader likely will identify with the main character so s/he can be flawed but in a human way. For example, a Backstrom-like character (a cigar-smoking alcoholic with a knack for solving crimes)–or Dexter (a likeable serial killer)–would never lead a cozy mystery. Agatha Christie’s Ms. Marple would (although, not the Ms. Marple starring Joan Hickson. Of course, I’ve only watched one so far, may not watch the rest).
  4. Since the main character is NOT a detective, rather an amateur, s/he often has a good friend/mate/confidante who is knowledgeable and can pass along important information to her.
  5. Character development of the lead character is important. S/he is robustly fleshed out so the reader thoroughly understands their motivation, weaknesses and strengths.
  6. While most novels require growth in the characters, that’s not so important in cozy mysteries. Often, the mystery has thrown our beloved main character out of sorts. and the goal is to return her/him to normal by solving the mystery. The need that s/he experience personal growth is secondary.
  7. The feeling of the book is ‘fun’, not stressful. Often, this is because the main character is bumbling through an important job s/he’s an amateur at, but it could be generated by the other characters, setting, or plot points.
  8. The setting is likely to be a small, picturesque town or village.
  9. Very little sex is included. If there is any, it’s subtle and dealt with invisibly.
  10. Lots of these novels have long-term love interests, but not all.
  11. There is little or no profanity or violence.
  12. The story has a happy ending–the criminal is brought to justice and balance is restored.
  13. Right and wrong are clearly defined; there’s no moral dithering. Murder is wrong and catching the guilty returns society to its rightful balance.

If you want more on cozy mysteries, read this very thorough guide to cozy mysteries (it has just about everything) and has a series of fascinating articles on this genre.

More characteristics of writing genres:

10 Tips for Steampunk Writers

14 Tips for Young Adult Writers

10 Tips for Picture Book Writers

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 


70 thoughts on “13 Tips for Cozy Mystery Writers

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  22. Reblogged this on Pursuing Perfect Prose and commented:
    This is a great little guide if you are thinking of dabbling into cozy, classic crime writing. One thing that I would emphasise is that it helps to read some cozy crime novels first to get the feel of how it is done badly and how it is done well. I recommend trying out a few Agatha Christie novels along with some Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Georges Simenon. As an extra I would also recommend trying out a few books from the range of British Library Crime Classics.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. How many times have I mentioned wanting to write a cozy? I cringe when I think about it. My latest work and the one I’ve been pitching is the closest I’ve gotten so far. This post was a gift. Thanks so much for the help. 😉


    • My pleasure. I’ve never considered writing one, but after chatting with one of the writers in my critique group, I’m rethinking that. I love mysteries, and the focus on ‘amateur’ puts it within my reach.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I’ve always enjoyed cozy mysteries more than the gory ones. I like more human interest and clever resolutions than detailed forensics and bloody victims. Of course, dead is dead.
    I wish I was smart enough to figure out hoe to plot any kind of mystery, but being a person who can hardly put together a model with the instructions – not my forte. I’ll continue to enjoy the cozies written by others.


  25. I’d never heard of the term before but it suits this genre so well. As a child I was a great fan of Nancy Drew mysteries and later Agatha Christie and such like. I am now racking my brain trying to think of current successful writers in this genre. Any ideas? Am I missing the obvious? I would love to revisit it. There are many TV shows in the UK like this but books…hmm…


    • It does fit, doesn’t it? Intelligent, clever, but everyday-person, G rated. I love them.

      Other cozy mysteries–Ellie Griffith is quite popular. And one of my favorites–the #1 Ladies Detective Series. Quirky and fun, with an African setting.


      • Of course!! How could I forget Precious Ramotswe and her friends. I have read all the books and wait impatiently for the next. Alexander McCall Smith is quite a writer. Did you see the TV adaption of the books – I was wary before viewing but needn’t have been, very well done indeed.


      • That’s how I first met the group. The TV show is so unusual, I almost didn’t continue and then found I couldn’t stop–one of those. Then I watched all of them. Too bad they stopped.


  26. I was thinking of Poirot while reading this list, Jacqui. He and Ms Marple cover it all. I love watching the Poirot series and we always joke that we’d never go on holidays with him or Ms. Marple. If we arrived in a hotel and they were there, we’d check out immediately lol 😀

    Great list. I always bookmark your pages.


  27. I’d never heard the term “cozy mystery” prior to attending a writing group. Thanks for completely explaining the genre, Jackqui. It’s comforting to know “Cozy” applies to the mystery and not the murder . . .


  28. I’ve read cozy mysteries and thoroughly enjoyed them. They’re fun, light reading and turn the reader into an amateur detective as he or she read the same as any mystery but with a bit of bumbling along the way. Easy to yell at the ‘detective’ to not go there, or do this instead of that. 😀 😀 😀


    • Exactly the right characteristics. When you read these, you feel like they could be your next-door neighbor solving crime. I’ve read quite a few and always come away feeling good about the story.


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