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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Step into the world of a cozy mystery

Stop for a moment and think about your favorite cozy mystery and the hero/heroine. What makes you love their story? If we took a poll, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the main things that draws the reader in is the setting and the characters. The characters are bigger than life, quirky, fun, and perhaps a bit eccentric. Maybe they are someone you’d enjoy chatting with over a cup of tea.

Think about Lilian Jackson Braun and her The Cat Who. . . series. Jim Quilleran with his perceptive mustache, love for reporting, and most importantly, his Siamese cats, Yum Yum and Koko. Or what about Cabot Cove’s favorite author, Jessica Fletcher who manages to solve real life mysteries as well as she pens them.

Here we have our amateur sleuths with the added dimension of a setting that becomes a character in itself. In The Cat Who Turned On and Off, for instance, Quilleran finds himself in Junktown, that’s not only a haven for antique dealers and collectors, but full of odd suspects. Murder She Wrote’s setting is a cozy spot in Maine. The kind of place that makes us want to come and stay for a long visit.

If you’re interested in writing a cozy mystery, one of the first things you need to do is develop your hero. Typically, you will want to give your amateur sleuth a special insight or ability that helps him/her solve the crime. Miss Marple had an uncanny intuition, Father Brown had religious insight, and as a reporter, Jim Quilleran had a knack for playing the role of detective. Think of fun and unique hobbies, jobs, or skills that will work well in solving the mystery.

In my upcoming release with Barbour, Recipe for Murder, Pricilla Crumb is my quirky heroine. She’s a cross between PBS’s Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances and Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote.

Pricilla is a fantastic cook, who, tiring quickly of retirement, goes to work for her son at his upscale Colorado lodge. In the first chapter she’s certain she’s killed the victim and rushes to the police to confess her crime. Throughout the book Pricilla gets into trouble for opening her mouth at the wrong time, but you can’t help but love her endearing personality as she’s determined to save the reputation of her son’s lodge and find out the truth, thus beginning her unofficial career as a novice detective.

One last point when it comes to developing your super sleuth’s character. There needs to be something at stake for him/her. Yes, it’s important for her to be a bit nosy and a busybody, but give her a motivation for sleuthing. Set the stakes high enough and make them personal enough so that she has something to lose if the case isn’t solved quickly.

In Recipe for Murder, Pricilla Crumb has not only her own reputation at stake as a cook extraordinaire when she fears her salmons tartlets have killed one of the guests at her son’s elite mountain lodge, but she’s afraid that she’s ruined the reputation of the lodge. As she sets out to solve the case, this also puts her at odds with the detective in charge of the case who’s also trying to prove himself to his uncle on his first big murder case. (adding conflict to the story)

And let’s not forget the victim, the antagonist (the guilty suspect), and your entire list of suspects. Each suspect needs to have a secret and a motive. They need to be a cast of characters that add to the cozy feel of your story. And your victim shouldn’t be the beloved neighbor from next door. Normally, this role goes to someone that everyone is happy to see depart to the other side.

Have fun writing!



Blogger Ron Estrada said...

Hi Lisa. Yeah, I love over the top characters and fun settings. When I read a cozy, I want to relax. There's a place for suspense, but a good cozy will take me to my "dream life." A perfect world where we awaken at 9am, drink our latte in front of a fireplace overlooking Lake Superior, and ponder life before heading off to work at our mystery bookstore. Life is perfect in the cozy!

1:03 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

I'm brainstorming a cozy right now and I've got the protagonist fully fleshed out and the setting. What I don't have is a mystery! Do you have any writing books that could help in the actually mystery writing, clue leaving and list of suspects?

11:04 AM  
Blogger Candice Speare said...


I'm getting to this answer late. Summer is just tooooo busy. I have one book suggestions that I know of right off the bat. Write Away, by Elizabeth George. She writes plain mystery. Other than that, most of my books are reference books. Perhaps you could check Writer's Digest Bookclub.

8:35 PM  
Anonymous Mayavanshi said...

WOW! where did you learn all this?

9:57 AM  

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