In Part 1 of The Formula for Writing a Cozy Mystery, we talked about the hook. Whether you settled on a library with a ghost, cockatiel training, or quirky seaside town for your hook, you need a protagonist to partake of that activity or live in that town (and solve mysteries).
(I know I said Part 2 would be about community, but I decided we’d be better off starting with your protagonist. We’ll do community next time. Or not.)
Depending on the hook you chose, your cozy mystery protagonist may be partially developed already. If your hook is pet sitting, your protagonist is clearly a pet sitter. However, if your hook is a setting, or a book group, you might be starting from scratch to develop her. (It’s a her 99% of the time in cozy series so don’t beat me up for non-gender-neutral language.)
Here are three things to think about when developing your main character that apply specifically to cozy mystery protagonists.
I almost said “likeability,” but I think this hits closer to the mark. Cozy readers, who are largely women 30+, want a character they can relate to, in more ways than not. So, is your heroine an 18-year-old street kid with 43 tattoos and a skateboard? Probably not. Is she a supermodel with a husband who plays in the NBA? A nonagenarian with Alzheimer’s? That’s a big ol’ bowl of nope.
Relatability means there have to be points of intersection between your character and the reader. Those can be age, income, hobbies and activities, attitude, family life, values, career, and more. If your hook is an activity or setting most readers won’t know much about (say, Victorian England, or duck decoy carving), it’s even more important to build a relatable main character.
You’ve probably all heard the advice about your protagonist having a few flaws—perfect is boring, right? In a cozy, though, you want to be careful about the kinds of flaws you assign your sleuth. You will find few unreliable narrator types, waspish geniuses or boozing investigators in cozies because, although they may be fascinating, they are not inherently relatable (see above).
Cozy heroines tend to be disorganized or chronically tardy, a few pounds overweight or prone to exaggeration, klutzy or bad with directions or too impulsive. If they’re addicts, their drug of choice is shopping or chocolate, not smack or porn. Cozies are light on gore and sex, and equally so on character flaws.
Cozy heroines need family members, a wide circle of friends, and perhaps a pet or two. This helps make them relatable and likable, and also gives them reasons to investigate lots of murders. A brother comes under suspicion, a former high school classmate is killed, the baker your cozy mystery protagonist patronizes will lose her business because a dead body turned up in her commercial mixing bowl. Of course she has to investigate!
So, when developing your cozy mystery protagonist, spend some time thinking about her connectedness, and perhaps draw a map of the links she has with friends, family and community. (There, we touched on it after all. More about community in a future post, I promise.)
Before you get back to writing, stop by our Facebook page and tell me about your fave cozy characters, or the ones who seem to break the mold.