When it comes genres, one size does not fit all. Research and choose the genre that fits the story you want to write.
Genres Influence Audience Expectations
Audiences recognize genres through experiences gained from watching films and reading books. Although most readers can’t name a genre’s obligatory scenes and conventions, they sense when something is missing from the story’s structure, characters, plot, or theme.
- Obligatory Scenes: The must-have scenes associated with a genre, such as the discovery of a body in a murder mystery.
- Audience Expectations: What readers expect from reading a genre. For example, the intellectual challenge of solving a murder mystery.
- Genre-relevant Lead: A main character with relatable traits and emotions, such as in a Cozy Mystery where the female amateur sleuth overcomes her flaws to identify the criminal.
- Genre-suitable Supporting Cast: Characters who enhance the story. For example, quirky characters who add interest and humor to a Cozy Mystery.
- Genre Conventions: Story practices that meet readers’ expectations, such as the climatic scene in a murder mystery where the sleuth exposes the killer.
- Main Plot and Subplots: Story events that follow genre-based patterns.
- External Theme: The takeaway message at the end of the novel.
- Internal Theme: The lesson lead must learn to change.
If crucial parts of genre are left out of a movie or novel, audiences show disapproval with critical reviews.
Genres remain somewhat fluid as filmmakers and authors push boundaries. Writers can discern what currently satisfies target audience expectations by reading books within their chosen genre and scanning the many reader reviews.
To illustrate a primary category and the sub categories, Crime is an external genre that includes:
- Murder Mystery, which is divided into subgenres:
- Master Detective
- Cozy, which Amazon subdivides into:
- Crafts & Hobbies
- Police Procedural
- Other Crime, which is divided into subgenres:
- Organized Crime
Internal genres that go with Crime include:
Genre Example: Cozy Mystery
As a subgenre of Crime and Murder Mystery, a Cozy Mystery story:
- Starts with a murder in Act 1.
- Builds as an amateur sleuth investigates the crime during Act 2.
- Ends with the criminal brought to justice in Act 3.
Cozy Mystery Genre
Inspiration for this page and blueprint came from multiple sources, including Nina Harrington’s book on How to Write a Cozy Mystery, Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid, and Rachelle Ramirez’s online article Secrets of the Crime Genre: How to Write a Great Caper.
- Obligatory Scenes: Because of watching films and reading books, the audience has pre-established expectations of a Cozy Mystery’s main plot.
- An early scene in the first act where sleuth discovers a murder.
- A scene where a character paraphrases the external theme.
- A scene where someone close to sleuth states the internal theme.
- A few scenes that serve as reminders of the external and internal themes.
- Scenes that bond readers to sleuth when she does something nice for someone, especially if done for a person who doesn’t deserve kindness.
- A scene where someone praises the criminal’s abilities.
- A scene hinting of the criminal’s object of desire—the MacGuffin.
- Another scene showing the discovery of the criminal’s MacGuffin.
- Multiple scenes showing sleuth chasing clues.
- A climatic scene where sleuth exposes the criminal.
- And a resolution scene showing the criminal brought to justice.
- Audience Expectations: Readers select a Cozy Mystery to experience:
- Puzzle: The intellectual challenge and intrigue of solving the whodunit ahead of the story’s big reveal.
- Security: Participation in the investigation without the real-world risks of chasing criminals.
- Satisfaction: The pleasure of seeing justice served.
- Reluctant Amateur Sleuth: The investigator is often a likable amateur female sleuth who has (or develops) an interesting reason to get involved and solve the crime.
- Sleuth’s Character Arc: In a series, the sleuth’s arc often continues to progress, such as starting out reluctant to investigate before committing to the effort.
- Likable Person: Sleuth’s endearing qualities entice readers to want to know more.
- Admirable and Realistic Traits: As sleuth interacts with others, she shows a mix of self-sufficiency and vulnerability.
- Entertains and Informs: Sleuth’s daily activities plus her investigation offer interesting details to entertain and inform readers.
- Triumphs Over Problems: Her efforts to overcome internal issues and external obstacles inspire readers.
- Supporting Cast:
- Worthy Opponent: The murderer’s abilities and flaws are a match for sleuth’s talents, skills, and issues.
- Quirky Characters: Humorous, quirky characters with intriguing backstories spark conflict and inspire sleuth.
- Community Characters: Other individuals interact with sleuth, including family, police, and friends.
- Genre Conventions: A cozy mystery includes conventions that set it apart from thrillers, hard-core crime, and horror.
- In a series, the readers prefer each book solves the mystery, and they dislike cliffhangers designed to entice them to buy the next book.
- An inciting crime occurs near the novel’s beginning, and if more offenses occur, each crime increases stakes and adds complexity.
- The murder takes place offstage.
- Murderer’s reason for killing must be plausible.
- Readers expect to see every clue they’ll need to solve the mystery, and they dislike having unknown evidence interjected at the end to wrap up the story.
- Readers enjoy the intellectual challenge of legitimate red herrings that distract and confuse, misdirecting them away from clues, facts, suspects, and timelines.
- Top cozy mysteries introduce fresh twists that surprise and delight readers.
- As the contest of wits with sleuth progresses, the murderer makes it personal.
- Each story sets up a “ticking clock” that limits time to solve crime.
- The investigator is often a likable amateur female sleuth who has (or develops) an interesting reason to get involved.
- Both the sleuth and murderer have endearing qualities and flaws.
- While investigating, the sleuth encounters obstacles that increase conflicts and tension, such as a personal issue that impedes her solving the crime.
- A cozy mystery avoids profanities, explicit sex, and graphic violence because of reader expectations.
- The setting is a small town or subset of a larger city where the inciting crime happens.
- The murderer is from the same community as the victim.
- Victims are frequently disreputable, making the crime seem understandable or even justified.
- A cozy mystery series often has something that ties one book to the next, such as a trope, theme, hobby, or occupation.
- Stakes escalate because someone or something sleuth cares about is in danger.
- Main Plot and Subplots
- The investigation of the murder and victim is the Main Plot.
- Humorous, quirky characters with intriguing backstories spark conflict and inspire sleuth, serving as the Secondary Character Subplot.
- Other characters reappear across the series (e.g., family, police chief, friends) and serve as the Community Conflict Subplot.
- The Sleuth’s Character Arc Subplot shows the lead character’s progressive change as she deals with issues (e.g., flaws, needs, wants, emotional wound, relationships).
- The Setting and Story World Subplot paints a charming and interesting place readers will want to revisit. This world offers opportunities to introduce more characters across the series.
- External Crime Theme: The external theme values range from justice to injustice.
- Justice wins when the sleuth outwits the villain, which is an essential reason readers like cozy mysteries.
- Injustice wins when the villain outwits the sleuth, but that outcome conflicts with what audiences expect from a cozy mystery.
- Internal Morality Theme: The internal theme values range from altruism to selfishness.
- Good triumphs when the sleuth sacrifices her world-focused and selfish values in favor of the needs of others.
- Evil reigns when the sleuth pursues her selfish needs ahead of the needs of the cozy community.
Use Scrivener to Apply Genre
The combination of Scrivener’s Binder and Custom Metadata make applying genre to your story a snap. For more insights, check out:
Also, take a look at:
- Nina Harrington’s book on How to Write a Cozy Mystery
- Sara Rosett’s How to Outline A Cozy Mystery
- Sara Rosett’s How to Write A Series
- Nancy J. Cohen’s Writing the Cozy Mystery
- Cheryl Bradshaw’s Mastering Your Mystery
- Shawn Coyne’s book The Story Grid
- Robert McKee’s Story
- Rachelle Ramirez’s online article Secrets of the Crime Genre: How to Write a Great Caper