Tips on Writing Historical Cozy Mysteries

Want to write a historical cozy? Historical cozies are at the cross-section of historical mystery and cozy mystery. Historical mysteries, in general, can be very dark and gritty. Cozies are never dark or gritty. This is the main thing that sets the historical cozy apart from historical mysteries in general, but there is a bit more nuance to be considered when writing for the historical subgenre of cozies.

Read more about all the different cozy mystery subgenres here.

Note: To see the listings for the cozies featured in this post, click on the covers. This post contains affiliate links.  

The Unbreakable Rules of the Historical Cozy Genre

#1: The murder must be relatively bloodless.

Historical cozies should contain no gorily descriptive scenes. Poisonings, a single stab wound, or a single gunshot to the head are common causes of death. Accidents that turn out not to be accidents are a favorite in cozies. By necessity, these accidents may be deduced to have been gory---falling off a balcony, being hit by a car, hit in the head by a falling object---but the condition of the body is never described. Often, the sleuth will not see the murder victim's body at all. 

#2: The language must be kept "clean."

Historical cozies should contain dialogue that reflects the era the story is set in, but if you include a sailor in your cast of characters, he shouldn't swear like one.

#3: Your portrayal of romance and infidelity must firmly shut the bedroom door. 

Love interests for the sleuth are standard (but not required) in all types of cozies. Affairs as a motive for all manner of criminal activity are also staple components. These are books written for grownups, after all, but although you may openly acknowledge the steamier side of human behavior, you must never, ever go into spicy detail.  

The Bendable Conventions of the Historical Cozy Genre        

#1: The sleuth is usually female and usually an amateur.

Considering that historical fiction is set in a bygone era when women rarely held positions as members of law enforcement or even are private investigators, historical cozies are a natural setting for the female amateur sleuth. That said, the female or amateur qualification is not an unbendable rule, as long as you hold to all the unbreakable rules and most of the other bendable conventions. If you want to have a lady private investigator who works for compensation or a male member of the clergy who routinely gets caught up in his parishioner's messy lives, cozy readers won't rebel.

#2: The setting is usually a small town.

Small, relatively closed settings work best for the cozy genre, largely because they make an investigation by an amateur more believable. This is not absolutely a must, but you will likely find writing a cozy easier if you keep your members of the cast in check by making the setting a village or close-knit community of some kind.   

#3: The era is the Victorian period, 1920s, or the 1950s.   

The roaring twenties, the rock-and-roll era, and the Victorian period are the most well represented in the historical cozy subgenre. The 1930s/40s "golden age" is also well represented in slightly less cozy Agatha Christiesque mysteries, which blur the line between cozy and traditional mysteries. 

This doesn't mean that a cozy set in the Regency era or the middle-ages wouldn't work, but it does mean you won't have a group of readers who've already devoured the works of other historical cozy authors and are ready to read more. 

Cozy mystery readers, as a group, are voracious, and there is a sizeable number of cozy mystery enthusiasts enrolled in Amazon's Kindle Unlimited subscription program who average five or more books a week. When these readers find a cozy subgenre they like, they'll go looking for more like it, so if you're targeting Kindle Unlimited readers, I'd definitely stick with the twenties or the fifties.

#4: The story components overlap with other cozy subgenre categories.  

This is true of all cozy mystery subgenres. Think of what other story elements you can emphasize to qualify your cozy to be classified in the culinary cozy, animal cozy, craft/hobby, or paranormal categories. When choosing a title and cover for your cozy and writing your blurb, be sure to emphasize whatever it is that makes your cozy a culinary or a cat cozy, etc, in addition to clearly communicating the era in which your mystery is set. I have a post on all the cozy mystery subcategories here

If you are unfamiliar with writing a cozy in general, I have a  helpful post here

My Specific Advice for Writing a Historical Cozy

#1: Choose an era you genuinely like and know something about or are willing to spend considerable time researching.

#2: Remember that people spoke differently. Make your dialogue reflect the vocabulary and speech patterns of the time.

#3: Choose crimes that reflect the era. 

Relating events that could only have happened at that point in history makes your story much more interesting and more grounded in its unique time and place.     

#4: Keep in mind you are going to have to do considerably more worldbuilding and write more descriptive scenes than you would with a modern setting. 

Remember that clothing, buildings, foods, traditions surrounding daily life, and life milestones will all be different. You're going to be looking up a lot of things are you craft your story. 

#5: Remember that your characters' beliefs and values are not the same as modern characters. 

You don't need to go overboard with this; after all, cozies are meant to be sanitized escapist fiction that focuses on the nostalgia factor of a bygone era rather than revisiting the very real downsides of "the bad old days."

#6: Make story decisions that prioritize era over all else.

If I were planning a new historical cozy, I would make my decisions in the following order.

    A. Choose an era.
    B. Choose a setting.
    C. Choose a sleuth. 
    D. Choose a crime.


Post a Comment