Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Writing a Cozy Mystery is HARD!

When I decided to follow my second frontier fiction (historical) novel with a cozy mystery, I had a sleuth, a sidekick, and a town in mind. And humor. My sleuth is funny.

I started the novel during NaNoWriMo 2020, using the main character I’d tested in a short story. My critique group liked him, so, I thought, how hard could this be?

My 50,000 words flowed as I jumped into a story, using my best pantser techniques. I went off track so many times, I can’t keep count. Here’s why I find the process hard:

1. Three people die in my novel, but only one of them is a resident of the town. Most cozies I’ve read keep the characters local. It’s too easy to have the villain be an outsider who shows up to knock off the victims.

2. When a character is killed by violence, it’s hard to avoid any graphic description of the body, especially when that body is lying out on the ground where everyone can see. “Oh, he’s dead,” seems like such an understatement.

3. Every single time I try to write a mystery or thriller, the FBI shows up in my story. Keeping the story local as well as the characters implies the killer’s motive is related to local issues. When the FBI charges into town, one assumes the killer is involved in a crime greater than a grudge against a neighbor or business owner or local politician. In the cozy I’m writing now, I’m trying to push the FBI back to where they belong so my local characters can carry on their own sleuthing.

4. The time frame for the cozy plot to unfold is usually short. I wanted my story to take place within a week, and I even put that in the tentative title, A Bad Week in Wampo. But I know my timeline is messy and I’ll need to break it down by day when I start revising. I might have to change the title. A piece of advice: if you like the writing process but hate the revising/rewriting process, don’t be a pantser.

5. The language in a cozy should be gentle and family friendly. Even the bad people shouldn’t cuss. This is difficult for me.


6. An editor once told me that the sleuth should keep no secrets from the reader. I don’t know whether that’s a hard and fast rule for cozy mysteries or not, but I’ve tried to maintain trust with the reader. The hard part is writing from two points of view, the sleuth and the sidekick, and assuming the sidekick should also keep no secrets from the reader, even though there are lags in time when the sleuth or the sidekick discover something the other doesn’t know yet. Oh, the tangled webs I weave.

It’s a year later, almost time for NaNoWriMo 2021, and I haven’t wrapped up the 2020 novel yet. And that’s because writing a cozy mystery is really hard.


Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is now available in a large print edition, ebook and trade paperback. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appeared in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy, and brown tabby Katie Cat.

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.


  1. These are great tips. I love cozy mysteries and am always looking for new authors to read.

    1. My most recent great cozy mystery read was the magical bakery series Brownies and Broomsticks by Bailey Cates. Fun, and it has recipes.

  2. I love the way you address the writing process, Pat. I, too, have struggled with language. Simply put, I'm determined to keep it "clean" despite the bad guy being anything but clean. This proved to be and interesting challenge that occasionally nudges the line.

    I can hardly wait to read this new cozy mystery. And by the way, Wishing Caswell Dead was a winner. Well written, keeps the reader engaged, and a great read.

    1. My second historical novel is (In Defense of Delia) set in Sangamon, IL four years after Wishing Caswell Dead. Five Star is going to publish it, but I don't have a release date yet.

  3. Congratulations. Cheers to you for writing a cozy. I don't think writing any genre is easy, but all the reasons you mentioned about writing a cozy are all the reasons I can't write one.

    1. Thanks, Polly. This has been a fun and challenging experiment.


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