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Cosy Crime Workshop – 14th February 2024

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Planning a Cosy Crime Novel

Thanks to Linda and Carrie for a comprehensive and fascinating workshop on planning a cosy crime novel. I had no idea that this genre was so complex, and congratulations on researching this topic.

There is always something new to learn from visiting speakers, and from the members sharing their expertise and experiences, making AWC so special.

My highlights –

What is Cosy Crime?: A gentle, light-hearted crime novel, around 50-60k with no sex, violence, or graphic description. Violence should be alluded to, not shown. Provide escapism with a plot puzzle for the reader to solve, a ‘Whodunnit’ like those of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, or like TV Cosy Crimes such as ‘Death in Paradise’ and ‘Lovejoy.’

What is it about? : A murder, theft, or kidnapping? The setting can be historical or modern, with stately homes or villages popular.

An amateur sleuth, not police, will investigate the quirky story and characters. They will often have a job that places them in the scene of the crime, such as an antiques dealer. A closed community is important. It is here that the murder will take place and the murderer be found. The weather too can cause the community to be closed off, because of heavy snow or a storm cutting off the electricity.

Sub Plot / Theme: Sub plots add depth, allow for character development, and add humour, suspense, or romance. A sub plot could be about a campaign to save the village green. The theme will fit the niche cosy crime market, favourites being goings-on in the village church, the hotel/culinary, or genealogy.

Cast of Characters: Friends, family, workmates, members of a club or allotment should have connections and relationships to each other. The sleuth often has a sidekick used as a foil. Their conversations move the plot along, as they formulate a hypothesis or reveal background information about the sleuth.

Opening: No dead bodies on the first page. Cosy Crime has a slower pace; however, the writer needs to hook the reader and keep their interest using well-placed hints and gossip.

The Murder: This does not happen on the page and should not contain gory details. The victim should be known to the reader and be likeable. The murder is opportunistic: a fall down stairs, or electrocution during DIY. The writer must consider: where will the murder take place? Who should discover the body? What clues are at the scene: footprints, initials written in blood or a smell of aftershave?

Suspects: Everyone will be a suspect, avoid introducing strangers.

Means/Motive/Opportunity: Consider which characters have skills needed to carry out the murder, such as knowledge of local mushrooms. The motive: a big lottery win, an argument between neighbours about the height of the hedges?

The sleuth gathers alibis. Who had the opportunity to kill? The sleuth breaks alibis, working out truth and lies. Suspects could implicate each other.

Whodunnit?: Careful planning is important before starting to write: who is the murderer? Don’t write by ‘the seat of your pants!’

Red Herrings: Provide a good mixture of bogus and real clues. Readers enjoy working out fact from fiction.

Grand Finale: All the suspects must be brought together at the end by the sleuth when the murder will be explained, and the murderer unmasked. Obvious reasons need to be given to explain why they committed the crime, and they need to have had means, motive, and opportunity.

Wrap Up: Have a handy police officer standing by who will handcuff the murderer and take them away. The sleuth basks in their success while all the loose ends are tied up.

Title: Finally, your cosy crime novel needs a quirky title which is often a pun. Think along the lines of ‘Murder Most Antique,’ ‘A Cornish Recipe for Murder,’ or ‘Women of a Certain Rage.’

There were writing exercises for us too. In 10-minute burst, members created bios for sleuths, and settings for crimes. The group fed back ideas which ranged from murders in art galleries to small Scottish islands.

A very enjoyable evening.

Fiona Johnston

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