Author Topic: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)  (Read 1427 times)  

Offline daringnovelist

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #25 on: October 12, 2017, 09:16:49 PM »
It sounds to me like cozies might work for you (i.e. light, quirky characters, etc.)  As someone above said -- the modern "cozy" is very much different from the traditional cozy.  While some people have VERY strict rules about them, not every rule you hear is hard and fast.

But your question wasn't whether you should write a mystery, but HOW to write one.  The first thing you need to do is read a bunch, to get a sense of the flavor and style and types.  However, to make your way with the plot, you might speed up your research watching TV shows and movies.  If you can get Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, that channel is pretty much "All Cozies, All The Time."

There is a knack to plotting mysteries. Some are good at it from the start. Some have to learn.  The main trick is to learn how to fool the reader without making it TOO difficult.  (And with cozies, you really don't have to be too tricksy.)  I've been reading mystery (and writing and watching) for 50 years, so I actually plot out whodunnits for amusement. (My life situation has put a stop to my writing for now, and it drives me crazy. Plotting is like writing, only I get to the end faster....)

I've got some blog posts that might help you, but we'll wait until you have specific questions. For now, here are some starters:

*You need a "hook" -- a hobby or lifestyle or something for your main character to engage in. There are lots of realtors and caterers, and every kind of pet fanciers.  Modern cozies survived a crash in mystery publishing in the 1990s by having a subject that interests the reader in an of itself.  I know successful cozy writers who aren't actually experts in the subject they write about -- they just do research.  However, it's better if you write about a world you know well and like to play in.

*There are a whole lot of ways to structure the actual mystery.  Different authors do it different ways, some actually write from the seat of their pants -- but it's much harder to do this with a mystery, especially if you're not an expert in it.  One way to do this is to come up with a situation involving (aside from the detective and sidekick) 5-8 characters.  Pick a killer and a victim.  Then choose three other characters to be red herrings (i.e. suspects.) Structure the story around acts, where each of those characters is a suspect, and something at the end of the act leads the detective to the next one.  There will likely be witnesses and sidekicks in each act, and you can hide your killer and the red herrings among them. 

I've made up some games to generate character circles to help jump start this process.  (As a matter of fact, right now, I am too busy caregiving to write, so I entertain myself with these games. I have so many fully plotted stories, I will never ever catch up.  If anybody wants any free mystery plots, let me know....) If you're interested, I'll post more about them later.

Camille

Offline Chrissy

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #26 on: October 13, 2017, 04:43:53 AM »
It sounds to me like cozies might work for you (i.e. light, quirky characters, etc.)  As someone above said -- the modern "cozy" is very much different from the traditional cozy.  While some people have VERY strict rules about them, not every rule you hear is hard and fast.

But your question wasn't whether you should write a mystery, but HOW to write one.  The first thing you need to do is read a bunch, to get a sense of the flavor and style and types.  However, to make your way with the plot, you might speed up your research watching TV shows and movies.  If you can get Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, that channel is pretty much "All Cozies, All The Time."

There is a knack to plotting mysteries. Some are good at it from the start. Some have to learn.  The main trick is to learn how to fool the reader without making it TOO difficult.  (And with cozies, you really don't have to be too tricksy.)  I've been reading mystery (and writing and watching) for 50 years, so I actually plot out whodunnits for amusement. (My life situation has put a stop to my writing for now, and it drives me crazy. Plotting is like writing, only I get to the end faster....)

I've got some blog posts that might help you, but we'll wait until you have specific questions. For now, here are some starters:

*You need a "hook" -- a hobby or lifestyle or something for your main character to engage in. There are lots of realtors and caterers, and every kind of pet fanciers.  Modern cozies survived a crash in mystery publishing in the 1990s by having a subject that interests the reader in an of itself.  I know successful cozy writers who aren't actually experts in the subject they write about -- they just do research.  However, it's better if you write about a world you know well and like to play in.

*There are a whole lot of ways to structure the actual mystery.  Different authors do it different ways, some actually write from the seat of their pants -- but it's much harder to do this with a mystery, especially if you're not an expert in it.  One way to do this is to come up with a situation involving (aside from the detective and sidekick) 5-8 characters.  Pick a killer and a victim.  Then choose three other characters to be red herrings (i.e. suspects.) Structure the story around acts, where each of those characters is a suspect, and something at the end of the act leads the detective to the next one.  There will likely be witnesses and sidekicks in each act, and you can hide your killer and the red herrings among them. 

I've made up some games to generate character circles to help jump start this process.  (As a matter of fact, right now, I am too busy caregiving to write, so I entertain myself with these games. I have so many fully plotted stories, I will never ever catch up.  If anybody wants any free mystery plots, let me know....) If you're interested, I'll post more about them later.

Camille

Will you share how the games to generate character circles work?

Offline Piano Jenny

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #27 on: October 13, 2017, 04:47:49 AM »
Thanks camille, that is all very interesting and helpful. Id kove to hear more and see your blog posts, etc.

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Offline Lorri Moulton

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #28 on: October 13, 2017, 07:00:46 AM »
Jenny, yes read some classic murder mysteries and cozies, but do you watch any classic murder mystery TV shows?  The Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, the first few seasons of Murder She Wrote, or for movies, Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window for great characters and Suspicion (just for moodiness) are all wonderful.  Some are darker than others, but they have classic twists and turns in the stories.

In a mystery, you want the clues to be right in front of the reader....but not have them realize they are important until you want to reveal the murderer.  Too easy and readers get bored.  Too difficult (or worse, not presented in the story) and readers will feel the story was unfair and they could not solve it.  You want some fake clues and I prefer several suspects.  Some have two or three, but I think five or six is far better.  Keep them guessing and remember, never assume! :)
« Last Edit: October 13, 2017, 07:03:11 AM by Lorri Moulton »

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Offline Atunah

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #29 on: October 13, 2017, 07:28:50 AM »
As far as a theme for a cozy, the OP is a piano player so music of some kind could be the theme? Music teacher, playing in an orchestra, moving back to small town after successful career, folks dropping dead within the orchestra, choir, etc.

Just an idea to put your own knowledge in it.

I am one of those readers that still is trying to figure out what cozies are. I been reading mysteries, I am reading Amanda's series, I am reading some I got for the actual cozy thread in the book corner. I do not like anything with cakes, knitting or such overly cutesy stuff on the cover or as the theme. So its sometimes hard for me to find things that are cozy, but not those kinds. If that makes sense. Maybe its more traditional mystery I like, I do like the quirk and I don't like overly brutal descriptive killings. I guess those are more thrillers. But I don't mind dark and a bit scary.

Hard to explain. So even some of us readers are mighty confused. I think I might have possibly read some Christie in my previous life, but I can't remember. Most books I read back then, in a different language, I don't remember. I can only recall the english language ones.


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Offline Lorri Moulton

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #30 on: October 13, 2017, 07:34:36 AM »
As far as a theme for a cozy, the OP is a piano player so music of some kind could be the theme? Music teacher, playing in an orchestra, moving back to small town after successful career, folks dropping dead within the orchestra, choir, etc.

Just an idea to put your own knowledge in it.

I am one of those readers that still is trying to figure out what cozies are. I been reading mysteries, I am reading Amanda's series, I am reading some I got for the actual cozy thread in the book corner. I do not like anything with cakes, knitting or such overly cutesy stuff on the cover or as the theme. So its sometimes hard for me to find things that are cozy, but not those kinds. If that makes sense. Maybe its more traditional mystery I like, I do like the quirk and I don't like overly brutal descriptive killings. I guess those are more thrillers. But I don't mind dark and a bit scary.

Hard to explain. So even some of us readers are mighty confused. I think I might have possibly read some Christie in my previous life, but I can't remember. Most books I read back then, in a different language, I don't remember. I can only recall the english language ones.

Great idea to use music in the story!  Your replies are so informed and helpful and it's great to hear from a reader's point of view.  I wish more readers would interact on this side of the forum.  :)

I think of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple stories as cozies, when compared to Hercule Poirot.  She's in a small English village, she gets overlooked quite often, but she sees and hears everything.  She always manages to piece together the clues and solve the crime and I love the twists and turns to the stories.

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Offline daringnovelist

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #31 on: October 13, 2017, 08:23:54 AM »
While Miss Marple was the original definition of the Cozy, even those books broke all the rules of modern cozies. Miss Marple was an "expert in Evil" after all.  (This is one of the reasons I have not been able to watch the more recent BBC versions. Complete revision of the series. She was never "cute.")  Christie mysteries were pretty dark compared to the modern.  Still, she was the great master of all time, and I think cozy types are loosening up.

As for the plotting games.  The most fruitful one I've come up with is what I call the "TV Whodunnit Game."  It's partly based on the plotting formula of Castle and most TV police procedurals (when they are formed around a mystery - first half of Law and Order, for instance.)

If you think of a story as like a play/movie/tv show, the structure is all about introducing the characters. This is especially true of a mystery, where some witnesses will come in late in the story. (That is, the detective follows the trail and talks to different people as the story moves on.)

First, come up with a list of 100 actors/movie stars, or real life personalities.  If you're writing a cozy, you want at least half of these to be women, if not more. Supporting actors in your favorite TV shows, character actors from old movies. (If you don't know the actor's name, you can just write down the character name.)  You will use these as your casting prompts.  You can write these on cards and shuffle them, or you can simply put them in a numbered list, and then use "random.org" to draw them as random numbers.

Then you draw/roll random characters to fit the following formula:

Victim (dont assign a number or you victim could end up your killer -- though I suppose that would an interesting possibility)

First act
1. Main witness
2. Witness sidekick
3. Counter witness
4. first suspect

Second Act
5. Main witness
6. Sidekick
7. second suspect

Third Act
8. Main witness
9. Sidekick
10. last suspect

Killer: random draw of 1-9
(You could include the last suspect if you want a real challenge -- The ending of a mystery has to be a surprise, so it can't be the person you suspected most at the end, unless you have something else to to twist it with, such as a completely unexpected motive, or the person turns out to be under a false identity.)

It works best if you already know the concept of the story you want to write.  (or just a cool title you want to use, or the 'hook' relating to your story.) If I feel like I need a little extra prompt, I have created a long random list of locations, and I'll draw for a spot to find a body, or for a key scene within an act.  "Clue objects" can also be helpful, but for me not as much as places.

So, I think about who the victim is, who the killer is, and when the killer enters the investigation stream.  If it's later in the story, then I think about how the killer will be introduced earlier as a non-witness or additional sidekick, if necessary.  Glance over the other suspects and figure out who they are what makes them a suspect.  Then start working on each act -- how those witnesses will lead to each suspect. (Note, the "side kicks" may be literally just a tiny minor character, or bring important info out themselves. They exist to increase the opportunity for banter, and to increase the suspect pool for the audience.)  The other key thing is what info could lead your characters from one suspect to another. 

I'll do one or two of these a night. (Obviously, not plotting in detail, often not fully finishing the idea.)  The ones that haunt me are keepers and I do more work on them.  I find that how I work out the story -- the real structure of the thing -- varies a lot by the detective or protagonist I have in mind.

Camille

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Re: Exploring the cozy mystery genre (aka having an identity crisis)
« Reply #32 on: October 13, 2017, 08:32:25 AM »
When I think of cozy television series, I always think of Columbo and Monk. I think that both of those shows fit the bill. I don't read much cozy, though, so I can't speak to that. :)

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