Whether you’ve read one or not, you’re probably more familiar with what a “cozy mystery” might be than you’re aware. Cozy mysteries have been around for a long time–just look to author Agatha Christie and, one of the most famous of the cozy mystery sleuths: Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote).
In the field of crime writing, cozy mysteries are considered to be gentle, light-hearted, even cheery. By far the most fun of the mystery genre, a cozy mystery is set apart from other mysteries by a pretty distinct set of guidelines. So what makes a mystery “cozy?”
1. The Amateur Sleuth
The protagonists of cozy mysteries usually have a lot in common. They tend to be female, have interesting (even quirky) jobs like librarians or cupcake makers, are determined and intelligent, and are usually female. Moreover, they’re not actually “official” detectives. This is the genre of the amateur sleuth. They have a knack for catching on to all the clues and talking to others. Because they’re amateurs, they may not even be taken too seriously by the police.
That said, these protagonists rarely rely on just their own wit and skill to solve the mystery…instead, you’ll find:
2. Quaint Worlds with Colorful Characters
The protagonist’s world in the cozy mystery is usually a small, quaint setting FILLED chock-full of interesting characters. In other words, this is a genre where world-building really matters, as well as character backstory. Writers of this genre know the life story of the next-door neighbor down to the local mechanic. This colorful world allows for a lot suspects who know each other well, and each with their own motivations.
The characters in these worlds have lots of secrets and aren’t always entirely honest–even if just because of their own personal biases. What’s more, the protagonist usually has a friend or spouse who may be involved in the medical or law enforcement fields. This gives much-needed access to information (and upping the “believability” factor).
3. Murder…but off-page
Another hallmark of the cozy is the aforementioned “gentleness” of the genre. Whereas in other forms of crime writing, you’ll have a much heavier description of murder and gore, that’s not the case here. Murder usually takes place off-page and isn’t described graphically. The suspects aren’t treacherous villains. Instead, the antagonist faces unfortunate circumstances. Often, the murder allowed their emotions to get the better of them. Sometimes, even the victims (sadly enough) just “had it coming.” Either way, the murder shouldn’t make the reader sad.
4. A Cozy Mystery is Light and Fun
The cozy mystery is often considered a quick-read, due to the fast-paced nature of the action. 50k-60k words is fairly standard for the genre. There are lots of plot twists, red-herrings, clues, and misadventures. Need some tips for building suspense in your cozy mystery? Check out this article: How to Add Suspense to Your Novel.
Some no-no’s include death or harm to children or pets. (Though a surprise pet death can be an easy way to turn off readers in most genres!) You’ll also want to keep the romance clean, without explicit sex on the page. Often cozies with romance hint at sex instead. Gore and cursing should be very limited. The denouement of the cozy ends happily for most. (Except the criminal!)
Most importantly of all, this mystery type thrives on the art of the puzzle. Cozy readers like to be entertained with great worlds and characters–but they also really enjoy an intelligent whodunit. Start with that premise, and you’ll be on your way.