How to Write a Cozy Mystery (5 Simple Steps)

BY Hannah Lee Kidder | Feb 13, 2023 | Fiction, Writing

The detective and mystery book genre is one of the highest selling on Amazon. That means lots of authors are eager to publish in this genre!

One of the hottest subgenres of mysteries right now is the cozy mystery. Readers love escapism, and cozy mysteries are the perfect book for that, with their comfortable settings, light and easy prose, and engaging mysteries.

Let’s talk about what makes a cozy mystery, look at some examples, learn tips for how to write a cozy mystery, and see what else is going on in the mystery genre!

To learn how to write a cozy mystery we will cover:

  1. What is a cozy mystery?
  2. Examples of cozy mysteries
  3. How to write a cozy mystery
  4. Other types of mysteries
  5. Next steps
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What is a cozy mystery?

While anyone can enjoy any type of book, the main character of a cozy mystery is typically a female sleuth, so this genre is mostly enjoyed by intelligent female readers who love an entertaining, comfortable, and engaging read..

These books are typically set in a small, idyllic place—small town, cozy cottage, quiet seaside resort… The comfortable atmosphere provides the “cozy” feeling of the story, and placing it in a small setting makes sleuthing much easier for our protagonist. It’s an “everyone knows everyone” type of place, which enables the character to investigate the crime.

The main character is usually a bright, observant person who has an itch of curiosity about something going on.

Cozy mysteries by nature are not violent or gruesome. No blood, no torture, no grieving over murder victims. Violent crimes will happen off-screen, to characters we do not know, care about, and are usually hard to relate to (a type of villain, often).

Sex scenes, if they are in the story, will also happen off-page. Expect allusions to adult content, “fade-to-blacks,” and other workarounds to keep the actual page content of the book at or below a PG-13 rating.

While the subject matter of the book might be heavy in a vacuum, the overall tone of a cozy mystery is relaxed. The story will focus more on character development and relationships than it will on high action or exciting scenes, as you’ll often find in other subgenres of mystery books.

Photo Of A Woman Holding A Coffee Reading A Cozy Mystery

Examples of cozy mysteries

If cozy mysteries sound like your cup of tea, here are a few recommendations to get you started!

Book Cover Of Dial A For Aunties By Jesse Sutanto

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

“When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is inadvertently shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding. Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working at an island resort on the California coastline. It's the biggest job yet for the family wedding business—”Don't leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie's perfect buttercream flowers.”

Cover Of Murder In G Major By Alexia Gordon

Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon. 

“With few other options, African-American classical musician Gethsemane Brown accepts a less-than-ideal position turning a group of rowdy schoolboys into an award-winning orchestra. Stranded without luggage or money in the Irish countryside, she figures any job is better than none. The perk? Housesitting a lovely cliffside cottage. The catch? The ghost of the cottage's murdered owner haunts the place. Falsely accused of killing his wife (and himself), he begs Gethsemane to clear his name so he can rest in peace.”

Cover Of Arsenic And Adobo

Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala

“When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She's tasked with saving her Tita Rosie's failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.”

Cover Of Magic, Lies, And Deadly Pies

Magic, Lies, and Deadly Pies by Misha Popp

“The first time Daisy Ellery killed a man with a pie, it was an accident. Now, it’s her calling. Daisy bakes sweet vengeance into her pastries, which she and her dog Zoe deliver to the men who’ve done dirty deeds to the town’s women. But if she can’t solve the one crime that’s not of her own baking, she’ll be out of the pie pan and into the oven.”

Cover Of Death Before Dessert

Death Before Dessert by A.E. Radley

“When she finds herself between jobs and out of her rented accommodation, Clara Harrington decides to take a break and stay with her beloved, yet eccentric aunt in the sleepy village of Picklemarsh, England. Clara’s hope for peace and quiet is shattered when, on her first night at Chadwick Lodge, the local town councilor is murdered, falling face down into his dessert.”

Check out a more extensive list of cozy mystery recommendations here!

How to write a cozy mystery

Or maybe you’re already an avid cozy mystery reader, and you’re here to learn how to write your own! Here are some tips to get you rolling on your new cozy mystery book.

1. Understand the genre

Like any niche of writing, readers have certain expectations. As an example, traditional romance readers will flip their absolute lid if a book marketed to them as a romance doesn’t end with a Happily Ever After.

Some genres serve a specific purpose, and while there are no “rules” to writing, you do risk alienating your readership if you make certain promises (like listing your book in a specific genre), then don’t deliver on those promises.

That’s why it’s important to understand the expectations, common tropes, and no-nos of the genre you choose to write.

2. Nail the atmosphere

The atmosphere of your cozy mystery is the most important part! The setting should be warm and inviting. If it isn’t, the book simply is not a cozy mystery.

Even your syntax and verbiage can affect the comfort of your reader. In general, opt for accessible language, to-the-point sentence structure, and readability. Cozy mysteries are meant to be quick and easy reads—don’t make your readers think too hard to understand the writing! They should be trying to figure out whodunnit and having a good time.

Photo Of A Small Town Surrounded By Mountains Where A Cozy Mystery Could Be Set

3. Don’t neglect the mystery

While it’s a fun and comfy story, it is still a mystery! Lead your readers along with clues that will enable at least a portion of your readers to be able to guess the outcome. Don’t forget to drop in a few red herrings to throw them off the trail and make it more exciting.

4. Avoid graphic imagery

Like we mentioned above, cozy mysteries are not graphic. Violence, gore, and sex don’t have a place on-page in most cozy mystery novels. Instead, allude to violence off-page, and employ fade-to-blacks if you need to insert a sex scene. You should also avoid gratuitous cursing, drug use, and other elements that may be considered inappropriate by a general audience.

5. Build a friendly, intimate cast of characters

Characters in a cozy mystery should be friendly, quirky, and loveable. Any characters who fall victim to murder or violence should be established as unlikable, bad people, as that will alleviate the grief and shock of a murder.

Using a small setting provides an intimacy and closeness between the characters, and that feeling will transfer to the reader, pulling us closer to the ultimate goal of writing a cozy story.

Here’s a deeper look at writing mysteries, and here are 38 mystery writing prompts to get you started!

Other types of mysteries

Cozy mysteries are only one tiny piece of the bigger mystery genre. Here are a few others to consider.

1. Traditional mysteries

The traditional mystery is most famously represented in the works of authors like Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan-Doyle.

They follow the format of a crime committed in a closed setting, which is solved by either an amateur or professional detective who interviews people, finds clues, and puts the story together. By the end of the book, the mystery is revealed, the murder is solved, and the culprit is typically apprehended.

2. Noir mysteries

Noir mysteries rely heavily on atmosphere to differentiate them from other subgenres of mystery. They are dark, gritty, and often shocking stories. The noir protagonist is usually jaded, flawed, self-destructive, and will do anything to solve their mysteries. Jessica Jones is a strong example of a noir protagonist.

3. P.I. mysteries

Speaking of Jessica Jones, her story can also fit into the Private Investigator genre. It’s exactly what it sounds like—a professional, experienced investigator who takes on mystery cases with a practiced eye and confident attitude.

4. Capers

Capers are probably the most similar to cozy mysteries than any of the others on this list. They’re usually fun-time stories, from the perspective of the criminals. Think of the show Leverage, the film Ocean’s 8, and the series Heist Society.

The crime is usually for the greater good, or one that doesn’t hurt anyone—like in the Ocean’s films, the gang targets the uber-wealthy, which is a group a general audience would find hard to empathize with. This keeps the tone light and fun, as it feels like a victimless crime.

5. Crime mysteries

A crime mystery has the same format as a caper—we see the crime from the criminal’s side of things, and we empathize with them. The difference is tone. A caper is much more fun, and even silly, compared to a crime mystery.

6. Police mysteries

Police mysteries are basically the reverse of crime mysteries—we see the story from the law enforcement’s perspective.

There are lots of different types of mystery, and lots of ways to write a mystery novel! Maybe you’ll even invent a totally new format. Don’t trap your creativity into a box, but do be aware of your audience expectations when it comes to publishing the book.

Which mystery subgenre is your favorite?

Next Steps

Ready to write and publish your cozy mystery?

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