Is The Air More Rarified In Cozies?

So I had a post all written whining about how hard it is to write mysteries and how it causes me so much stress that it makes my chest tight so I can’t get air in my lungs … see what I did there? I can whine AND hit our theme … but I trashed it. I decided to mix a few metaphors, pull up my big girl undies and go high, like Michelle Obama suggests.

I’m almost finished with the first draft of a new humorous cozy manuscript. It’s the second in a series of three, perhaps more if I’m lucky. The first is already in the hands of my editor to be published in Fall 2017.

I write first drafts fairly quickly because I outline. This one will have taken me about twenty days. It’ll be just under 200 pages, 60k words or so, but it’ll be bare bones.

It will tell the complete story, but it won’t have the right words, or evocative description, or ground you in setting, or offer those telling details that make a character memorable. And goodness knows, it ain’t funny.

In short, it won’t have any atmosphere.

Right now it just has words. Boring, utilitarian words.

Whenever I get to this point I succumb to a bit of jealousy of high fantasy writers, or dark thriller writers, or historical fiction wonks. It seems to me it’s so much easier to convey a memorable atmosphere that readers want to curl up in when you’re not writing funny, present day, suburban stories.

After all, that’s where most of us live every day. What’s so cool about that?

Um…nothing.

I’m convinced it’s harder to evoke a mysterious atmosphere in the hum-drum present day in middle America than it would be in 1809 London … or on Arrakis with Maud’dib … or even in St Mary Mead.

What do you think? Is it easier or harder to layer in evocative atmosphere in cozies than in other genres?

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Author: Becky Clark

I write funny cozy mysteries and spend my free time attempting to rid my clothing of dog hair, making purses and things out of rescued books, and plastering silly sayings on t-shirts and other products you simply can't live without.

10 thoughts on “Is The Air More Rarified In Cozies?”

  1. Great post, Becky. I think atmosphere is tough in any genre. In thrillers, you need a dark foreboding sense in cozies, you need exactly the atmosphere you described, every day. What’s tough is getting it in there in all the right places. Atmosphere is not driving the story, it’s an accessory, but without it, the story feels flat.

    Great topic this month!

  2. I agree with this — also my drafts feel bare bones too. I find it much easier to garner description when the scene takes place in a very unique place, but that’s not always the case. I can’t wait to read your cozy. I like funny.

  3. Great post, Becky. I agree totally. All those gritty, noirish stories set in LA or New York or Boston have half the tension built in — you’re lucky if you get across town alive in those places. Rhys Bowen does a great job of being funny and finding atmosphere in castles and large estates, but still she placed her books in an era when the aristocrats were having a hard time. But those whacky royals are fodder for conflict.

  4. I agree, the air feels more rarified in a setting we’re familiar with. But then, there are cozies with unfamiliar settings, like the Mme. Ramotswe books, which have plenty of air. “Atmosphere”sounds like more of a noirish word, I think. And as for what’s harder…whichever genre I’m writing in at the moment is definitely harder!

  5. You’re right that all those places seem like they should be easy for atmosphere – but the writer still has to get it on the page. I’ve read any number of folks who write in gritty environments where the prose falls flat because they haven’t used the right words to evoke that atmosphere. So I don’t know if I agree. Joyce Tremel does a great job of making atmosphere in her cozies. Then again, I’ve read thrillers that kind of leave thinking “meh.” The writer still has to write.

  6. I think the same thing every time I write a contemp book, but as a reader, my experience is a little different. I loved all of of Diane Mott Davidson’s books and at least some of it had to do with atmosphere–baking and skiing and all that. You can still bring the words to life with some atmosphere, I think.

  7. I agree with the rest, atmosphere and setting is tough in any genre. These two are perhaps my hardest and least practiced skills. I work on it all of the time. Good luck!

  8. Lol, I understand genre envy. I feel it sometimes, too, writing contemporary. But I think even with cozies there’s an opportunity to embellish on atmosphere–we still need to world build, after all, to give it that cozy feeling 🙂

  9. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I’m glad to hear some of you feel the same “genre jealousy” as I do! And you’re absolutely right that even when you have the Scottish moors or 1940 Los Angeles handed to you on a silver platter, you can still screw it up.

    I’m reminded of a workshop I attended where Darcy Pattison gave us an exercise that I will pull out again for this revision. It’s so simple, but until it was pointed out, I never thought of it. She said to find your theme, or in this case the atmosphere you want to evoke, and make a huge list of words that speak to that. She calls it a “word bank.” She gives the example of Fire and creates a list like this: fire in the gut, calves burning, volcano of emotions, resentment smoldered, like a banked fire waiting to burst into flame, etc, etc. You can do it for historical fiction and collect words, jargon, slang. Or for a different culture you’re writing about find words and phrases that evoke the culture. You won’t use every word, but you’ll have plenty to work with and scatter in as necessary.

    Sue … you made me laugh, and you’re right … whatever I’m working on is the most difficult! Woe is me …

  10. Terrific post! I think establishing a soft, easy, every day atmosphere in a cozy is important for the contrast with the “main event.” A little tougher, maybe, than working in another era or genre, but doable. (Says the woman who doesn’t write cozies.)

    And zowsters! I love the idea of a word bank!

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