Write Compelling Cozy Mysteries by Steph Beth Nickel

This post originally appeared on the InScribe Writers Online blog earlier this month.

Among many others genres, I enjoy reading a compelling cozy mystery.

In my mind, these are five of the characteristics that make a story “unputdownable”:

“In Medias Res” Opening

I want to be plunged into the middle of the action. I’ll figure out who the main characters are and what I need to know about them and the situation as the story unfolds.

Believable and Relatable Characters

I have to care intently about one or more of the characters, especially the protagonist. I can only care about them if they are three-dimensional. When it comes to relatability… This doesn’t mean I have to have experienced what they’re going through, but their human experience must be something that makes me think, “I get it.”

Needed Descriptions

I want only the details I need. If I need to know the pathway was lined with pink roses to reveal something vital about one of the characters, go for it. However, if this detail serves simply as “filler,” I prefer that it be left out. Plus, I don’t need to know the hair and eye colour and build of any of the characters unless it’s crucial to the story. 

Emotionally Charged Content

I want a story that “grips me by the throat” and doesn’t let go. Skillfully creating that type of story with brief passages in which I can catch my breath…and the author may have earned a new super fan. If those passages make me laugh out loud…BONUS!

Although I like heart-pounding page-turners with realistic moments of “downtime,” I also want to feel a wide variety of emotions intensely. I once read a book which had me sobbing aloud—yes, sobbing—as I read the last chapter. So much so that my hubby came downstairs to see if I was alright.

Do I always want to read books that make me cry? No, but there are times “a good cry” provides a wonderful catharsis. 

And speaking of catharsis…

Cathartic Endings

Too many mysteries I’ve read end on an anti-climactic note; they just peter out. The ending should be like a big sigh of relief. The emotional highs and lows of the story should be resolved in a way that acts like a steam valve that releases sufficient stress to steady me yet, on some level, still experiencing the residual effects of the emotional ride I’ve been on.


What I Don’t Want in a Cozy Mystery

  • Graphic gore, violence, language, etc.
  • An obvious perpetrator. (Keep me guessing but scatter breadcrumbs throughout, clues that are obvious only when I read the story for a second time.)
  • While it’s important to include “red herrings” to throw readers off the scent of the perpetrator’s identity, if there are too many and/or they’re too obvious, I find it detracts from the story.
  • Although I enjoy a well-written mystery in which one or more of the characters are Christian, their faith should be evident more by their actions than their words, and the ending shouldn’t be the result of inexplicable “divine intervention.” (Note: I believe if you’re writing a story in which the supernatural plays a key role, that should be clear from the beginning.

How about you? Do you enjoy cozy mysteries?

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