As a writer of cozy mysteries both short and novel length, I thought I’d share some of the top tips I’ve learned about writing them! Like everyone, I’m learning all the time and each story presents it’s own problems, but here are a few things I always think about before starting off!
Your cast should fit your word count
There’s a big difference between writing a short story and writing a novel. In a novel you have a long time to get from A to B (bear in mind keeping the pace up!) but in a short story, every word counts, and that means it’s important to have a cast of characters that isn’t too big or too small.
You still need to have red herrings and lots of suspects but you don’t want so many characters it gets confusing or too few so the mystery is easily solved.
The reader should be able to follow the sleuth unravelling the mystery without wondering what the heck is going on!
Plan carefully to give your sleuth what you need
As a general rule, cozy’s have amateur sleuths as the main character. Someone who doesn’t have access to police records or forensics. One of my favourite sleuth’s is Miss Marple because it’s her understanding of people and personalities that allows her to put all the pieces together to find the culprit.
When you’re writing you may need ways of getting information to your sleuth, so when you’re plotting or outlining, think about how your sleuth will solve the crime and then use this information to build your cast of characters. You may have a retired police inspector as a sidekick or you they might be neighbours with the local pathologist. Whatever you decide to do, thinking about this at the beginning will make the writing process easier.
Once I’ve got a basic idea of who gets murdered and why, I then work backwards deciding what clues should be left where and when they should be discovered. I then map on any other story arcs so I have a complete plan of how the crime is going to be solved. Once I’ve got the main thread sorted out, I then add on who will be the red herrings and what clues I need to plant for that. It’s time consuming, but I’ve found it worth doing to save endless re-writes and tearing your hair out trying to fix major plot holes! Obviously this works for me and won’t be right for everyone, but a certain about of plotting, or at least note taking as you write will help with the editing process.
Consider a sidekick
Holmes has Watson, Miss Marple ropes in different people in each novel, Poirot has Hastings … every good sleuth needs a sidekick and not just because it’s nice to have friends. It works as a narrative tool. It means your sleuth can bounce ideas off someone through dialogue which means you don’t have to write pages and pages of internal monologue that could potentially be really boring for the reader. Dialogue is much more fun to read and write. Oh, and the sidekick doesn’t have to be human! Even a dog or cat can be a good narrative tool because you can break up the main characters internal thoughts!
A series is a serious thing to consider!
Some genres sell better as one-off books, others sell better as a series. Romance and cozy mysteries fall into the latter category. That’s not to say you can’t write them as one-off’s, of course you can, but the important thing to think about is if you think you might turn it into a series, you should really think about that from the outset. There are several reasons for this.
Firstly, you’ll need an MC who can go the distance and stay likeable to your readers. Secondly, you’ll need to name your series something that shows the titles are linked. That way, if readers come in on the third book in a series, they’ll probably go back and read books one and two. This is why a series is good for sales, you’re basically selling several books instead of just one. And finally, you’ll need to consider how the characters will grow and change during the series. This doesn’t need to be plotted in great detail now, but you do need to think about how your characters will change and grow over time.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes when writing, so I’ve got a lot more tips, but these are definitely my top five. I hope you found them useful. If you enjoyed the post let me know in the comments below and please share your top tips too!