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Formula for Writing a Cozy Mystery, Part 3: Setting

In this series, we’ve already discussed the hook for your cozy mystery series and developing a protagonist. Another aspect of cozies that can set them apart from other mystery genres is the setting. As you begin to develop your cozy mystery series, consider the following tips for constructing an inviting cozy mystery setting that readers will want to revisit.

Location, location, location

There are cozy mysteries set in every U.S. state and a few foreign countries (Ireland, for example, in Sheila Connolly’s fun County Cork series). You can have a successful series set in Key West, Florida; San Francisco, California; or Heaven, Colorado. Your location can be a real place (as in the first two examples) or one you make up (like Heaven, Colorado). Bottom line on location: pretty much any location can work, although editors (and readers) might balk at the exotic (Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, Mars). I’m not saying you couldn’t make one of those locations work, but it would be much harder to make them feel familiar to the reader, and cozy readers crave familiarity and a sense of, well, coziness.

Our town

Most cozies are set in small towns or villages. Obviously, there are exceptions, but those set in big cities usually take place in a particular neighborhood that feels like a small town. Think Cabot Cove or St. Mary’s Mead, each a classic cozy mystery setting. It’s that feeling you’re going for, where everybody knows and mostly likes everybody else, whether your setting is small town, rural or city.

There’s no place like home

Your protagonist’s home or workplace is probably the single most important setting, so make it warm, comfy, welcoming. It’s the spot where the book club gathers, or the café where all the neighbors come for their morning coffee. You can evoke that welcoming feeling by using all the senses in your descriptions of it: the aroma of baking bread, the softness of a chenille throw, the meowing of the cat demanding dinner. Readers should feel at home in this place.

Consistency is not a hobgoblin—it’s essential

One final, practical note. Whatever the cozy mystery setting for your series, be consistent. If it’s a real place, make sure you have maps and mark exactly where your protagonist’s house is, her workplace, and other locations used in your book. If it’s a fictional place, draw your own maps and keep track of who lives where, what the street names are, and what action happened in what location. It’s much easier to do this from the get-go than to have to pause while writing book three to riffle through the earlier books to figure out what you called the street a secondary character lives on.

If you’re creating your own town, don’t put it more details than required on a book-by-book basis; this will give you more flexibility in the series as it goes on. For instance, don’t mention in book one that the fire station is at the corner of Madison and Main, if the fire station doesn’t come into play in that book. Maybe by book six (yes, your series is going to last that long!) you’ll have a plot twist that requires the fire station being somewhere else. Keep your options open.

And don’t miss Writing a Cozy Mystery: Part 4 – The Murder!

Come on over to our Facebook page and tell me the location of the cozy mystery setting for your series. I’d love to hear from you.