On The Bench

Keeping the stakes high

Cozy mysteries are known for their lack of graphic violence and explicit content. How do you keep the stakes high and the story engaging without relying on these elements?
  • Terry Ambrose:

    Stories are a lot like life. We have plenty of times in our lives when we have high-stakes moments that aren’t life-or-death. A high-stakes moment in a cozy mystery might be a point in a decision, a relationship, or even unmasking a killer. While most of us will never go around catching killers, those other moments have high stakes because we’re invested in our own lives. That means my job as a writer is to make sure the reader is invested in the character’s life so when that moment happens, the reader can’t turn away. Of course, there are ‘mechanical’ things I can do as a writer such as controlling the pacing, setting, and dialogue. And, if possible, it helps to throw in some humor. I especially love making a reader laugh at a moment of high tension. Those are the special times we have as writers.

  • Nancy J. Cohen:

    We want readers to care about our main characters. Then anything that happens to them matters. Fans get involved in these people’s lives so that they seem like friends, and then any danger that arises serves to heighten tension. The threat of physical harm or the possibility of failure can both raise the stakes.

  • Debra H. Goldstein:

    It’s funny, but my plotting and exploration of the characters don’t seem to need the graphic violence and explicit content to keep readers engaged. My goal, besides writing fun books, is to create scenes where the reader is so invested in the character that they feel they are part of what is at stake at any given moment.

  • Cheryl Hollon:

    I find the clear guidelines for excluding graphic violence and explicit content quite comforting. It means that readers who pick up my books know what to expect. I feel it is my part of the bargain to deliver on this promise. Yes, it means that creating tension and raising the stakes is more difficult and sometimes a little unrealistic, but I enjoy the challenge of doing more with less.

  • Diane A.S. Stuckart:

    Given that cozies (at least, mine) tend to be character-driven, I concentrate on emphasizing how the requisite murder and subsequent plot turns impact my sleuth (or those she/he loves) personally. Are relationships shattered? Are communities shaken? Fear can be generated by more than a pointed pistol, though my sleuth will always face an incident or two of physical danger while investigating and once the true murderer is revealed. Returning life to normal—or, at least, a new if acceptable norm—is my goal for my characters. Getting to that point can be a rollercoaster ride that needs no graphic violence to be compelling.

  • Maggie Toussaint:

    I use pacing, tension, conflict, and action to propel the story forward in an engaging way. Each of these story elements ratchets up the stakes, and when used in combination, they synergize. That is, they have more than an additive effect. The other contributing factor, the most important factor, is you have to allow your sleuth to be in danger.

  • Lois Winston

    There are ways to include all sorts of crimes in a book without going into graphic or explicit detail. It’s all in the words you choose and how you use them. I’m a firm believer in “less is more.” That’s especially true in description. Sometimes a few carefully chosen words have more impact than several long paragraphs that portray an incident or setting in minute detail.

That's it for us! Now that we've given up our secrets, we'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment to let us know what you love about cozy mysteries and how you feel about the lack of graphic violence.


4 thoughts on “Keeping the stakes high

  1. One of the main reasons I read cozy mysteries is because they do not have graphic violence or horror. There is too much of that in the daily news. Of course I like a murder mystery with a little romance, laughter and the hero or heroine getting into trouble and getting out of it again. I read to escape the daily bad news and the cozy mysteries give that to me. So keep up the good work ladies and gentleman

    1. I thoroughly agree. These stories appeal to me because of the puzzle to solve, the humor and the romance that are often included, and the lack of bad language and graphic violence.

  2. Hi everyone!
    I loved your answers.
    I love cozy mysteries because I can have a mystery without to much scary situations.

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