When I decided last year to change the direction of my series from not-having-a-distinct-genre to cosy mystery, I suddenly needed to find out how to write one.
I have read mysteries in all its forms for as long as I have been reading, including a large amount of cosies. But to go from loving to read a cosy to suddenly writing one, is a completely different story.
Here’s what I quickly found out about how to write a cosy mystery series.
- The setting is a smallish local community. This can be a village, a hotel, a neighbourhood etc. There needs to be a good influx of ‘new blood’, otherwise it might become a bit unbelievable, with not many people left to ‘be murdered or be murderers’.
- There is an amateur sleuth. There are exceptions, but in general the person who solves the crimes in a cosy is an amateur. They will however have contact with the local police, often in the form of a friend or family member. This gives the sleuth access to information about the murder, other people wouldn’t have. Often, but not necessarily, the sleuth is a woman.
- The murder itself is not overly bloody or violent. Choking, smothering, poisoning etc. are accepted. Chainsaw hacking, not so much. On top of that the crime is not describes in too much detail. The ‘why’ the crime was perpetrated is far more important than ‘how’ it was done.
- There are no overt sex scenes. Things like that happen behind closed doors.
Keeping these things in mind I realised that it is also important that the book is constructed in such a way that the reader is not already able to guess on page 2 who did it. This is easier said than done and requires careful planning.
A cosy mystery usually contains a so-called Web of Lies. This is a group of people who know each other well, but who keep secrets from each other. The victim is often an in general disliked person, sometimes part of the Web of Lies, on bad terms with a number of people, thus creating a list of suspects.
Even innocent people might become suspects, as, being part of the Web of Lies, they have secrets they like to keep under wraps. These secrets become the red herrings for the sleuth, covering up hopefully to the last page, who the real murderer is.
I found that it is a lot of fun to create a Web of Lies. Maybe even the best part of writing a cosy. It doesn’t only contain ‘why’ the murder was done, but also a complex social structure between people, which the writer can make a deep as they like.
It took me three months to create my Web of Lies for Book 1, as new ideas and connections kept popping into my head, making the Web even more complicated.
Best thing of writing a series for me is that I get to create another Web of Lies for Book 2 and Book 3 and so on, all the way to Book 9. It’s great to be the devious mastermind that pulls the strings of imaginary characters, until they do just what you want!
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