This is the second part about the research I have done prior to writing my first book. The first part focused on general writing tips, research into writing a book series, and finding my genre. This part focuses on research into the specifics of that genre, cozy mysteries, and other odds and ends.
Cozy mystery rules
So I am going to write a cozy murder mystery, but what exactly are the rules? In an earlier blog post, I summarized a murder mystery as having a sleuth, a victim and a murderer, but there is more to it than that.
Well, the setting is usually geographically limited, usually a small town, and the story takes place there in most books. The sleuth is typically a woman, and an amateur detective whose occupation sets the scene and sometimes helps with solving the crimes. Her occupation usually brings her into contact with the suspects and the victim, perhaps as the owner of a cozy town bakery.
There is a limited list of suspects, which may change in every book, but there is also a set of recurring characters we meet in every book. These are the sleuth’s family, friends and everyday adversaries who are (generally) likeable and who provide a sounding board, occasional obstacles or romantic interests for the main character.
And of course, violence and sex happen “off screen”, as explicit descriptions of either are not very cozy. One makes you appalled and horrified, the other perhaps flustered or shocked. A cozy should be pleasant to read, with little controversial content, which also excludes politics, upsetting real life events and usually topics such as drug use or organized crime.
Stories in which perfectly nice people behave perfectly civilized would be boring, however, but the key is to keep the drama light hearted, fun and exciting.
Reading cozy mysteries
Finally, since I was going to write a cozy mystery book, the first in a series, a large part of my research meant reading other cozy mysteries. This was just so much fun! Between re-reading Agatha Christie, the Miss Fisher series and all the new modern cozies, I have read over 150 cozy mysteries so far, and I’m still reading. In fact, one of the top writing tips is “Read!”. Every book, every story, every new character will improve your own writing and give you ideas for what you want to write about, or, as it may happen, what you don’t want to write about.
As the modern cozy was a new genre for me, I had to read a lot to get a feeling for it. How else would I know enough about the genre to write a cozy myself? And how could I find my own unique bent on cozies if I didn’t know what was already out there, and what wasn’t? Sure, I had that handy checklists for cozies, but it helped enormously to read a vast collection of books to see how each writer wrote within those guidelines. And the selection is enormous, as the snapshot from Amazon.co.uk Kindle mystery sub-genres shows (right). 150 cozies read, 17335 cozies to go.
Based on my readings, most cozies take place mostly in a small town somewhere in America. So, without even having realized it at first, my plan of writing about sleuth who stumbles on murders on her travels all around the world was quite novel (pun unintended). There are in fact very few cozies where each book takes place in a new location, so it seems like there is a little-explored niche here. Score!
Even though much of my planned writing will be based on my own experiences, travel especially, there has still been a lot of research that I have done into various aspects about my stories. There will be characters whose experiences I will not have had, details about travel specifics to check and aspects about the locations my sleuth will travel to that I didn’t see as a tourist but are relevant to writing a rounded story taking place there. I have also done research into future books that should not be my focus now, but ideas have just gripped me and I couldn’t help it. And this has been just the tip of the iceberg, but that’s fine. I love doing research and I expect that the research into writing will never stop.
I have also done research on how to find an agent and a publisher, and how to get paid and pay taxes as a writer. I tell you, it won’t be easy. As Ian Irvine, one published author whose blog I’ve dipped in, writes:
“Here’s the sad truth: most people who write a book will never get it published, half the writers who are published won’t see a second book in print, and most books published are never reprinted. What’s more, half the titles in any given bookshop won’t sell a single copy there, and most published writers won’t earn anything from their book apart from the advance.” Great. Thanks for the encouragement. (Now where is that sarcastic font!?)
It was necessary to hear this, though. I knew from the start that it was a risky prospect but it is important to have realistic expectations about my future as a writer. To go into writing thinking you will be the next JK Rowling would just mean crushing disappointment. So I know now that it will mean hard work, probably rounds of rejection from prospective agents and publishers, possibly initial self publishing to find an audience first, and never ever getting rich with writing. That’s okay, though. At least I am trying. And besides, that’s all still in the future.
What I need to do now is to write a great book. The rest will (hopefully) follow.
So much research. The problem is really how to stop reading about writing and starting to actually write. Oh, there’s advice for that as well? Of course there is. Just write the damn thing already, says one. Get rid of distractions, tells another one. That’s actually also what Stephen King also says. His writing advice book (which I have also read) was written in the eighties so the main distraction he refers to is the TV. Oh sweet summer child.
Oh, the internet. A bottomless void of the interesting and mundane that sucks you in until you emerge hours later, bewildered, hungry, and badly needing to pee.
Or so I hear. I wouldn’t know.