Week One Tasks and Cozy Mystery Story Structure

Sorry if this is a long email, but there is a lot to do at this point in the story development stage.


w/c 20th November. What has to be done by the end of this week?


  • Book 2 outlined using 4 act structure and 16 sequences.
  • Work started writing ideas for dialogue and scenes.
  • Use timed writing sessions to write notes for characters and scenes.


  • Create a book description drafted based on story idea at this stage. Focus on the tone and voice of the book and the key plotline.

Website and Social Media Platform

  • Sophie Brent website must be done this week. SIMPLE SITE. All aimed at readers. Use the draft book cover ideas to illustrate home page.
  • Goal? All about the books and where readers can find them.
  • Decision – no blog posts on this site.
  • Blog posts and social media go through Nina Harrington.

List Building and Email Marketing

  • Start sharing 30 Day Challenge with other writers through blog posts and to subscribers.
  • Read at least one similar cozy mystery and write review post. Use an affiliate link to the book.
  • Look at KingSumo to run a giveaway in December.

Note – KingSumo has a Black Friday offer at the moment – don’t miss out!

Cozy story structure – Murder and Merlot

Target 40,000 words first draft.
I want to write the back cover blurb – this is a high level view of the story and set-up. Just a few sentences to describe the story.
For a simple outline for the story.  I have to know

  • who the sleuth is
  • who the sidekicks and friends are
  • who the victim is, or the first  victim, but this is a short mystery so not a lot of room for more than 2 murder investigations.
  • potential motives for the killing.
  • murder methods/weapons etc from brainstorming sessions.
  • The setting and story world.

WHO is the Sleuth?

Who is the sleuth Carlotta Brannigan [Lottie]
What does she do for a living
Link to series hook. Then use lots of the detail to establish credibility
Runs an Italian Deli she inherited from her late father. She pours her passion into her food at the deli and her close community of pals and customers/neighbours.
How old is she 28. uni at 20 –gap year with her mother and uncles in america – then 4 yrs uni and Italy – then working 2 years full time in London. Now 2 years in the deli.
what are her special talents  – she has to be intelligent and a match for the villain Intelligent. No Sleuth stupidity – she is a match for the villain. Assertive and independent and strong character. Will not be told what to do – inherited her mother’s stubborn will
What does she want in life – internal conflicts Left the deli and food world to go to uni and spent 3 years in London working on her degree including 8 months in italy as an intern and then worked as a restaurant reviewer and food writer until her father was taken ill.
Has just started a food blog with her own photos of her dishes and runs the deli website she created for her dad.
Does she want to do this for the rest of her life?
Is this what her parents wanted for her?
Her father did not want her to be there for him at first.
What does she want in life – Long and short term goals. What is blocking her from having these things? Does she have a symbol of her goal? To be independent of the Rossi family who are trying to run her life for her and tell her what to do on a weekly basis.
What are her flaws – perfect people are boring and annoying
Does she have a phobia, heights, tight spaces etc .
Past mistakes and bad relationships. Old boyfriends can reappear,
My reader sympathise and empathise with the heroine.
When her father had his first serious stroke, she came to stay for a few weeks and never went back to London. Her boyfriend Daniel was very supportive and used to come and stay every weekend at first, until things become difficult and she was working full-time in the deli and not on her career as a journalist.
He left her to start a relationship with her friend and flatmate Emma, so Lottie lost her boyfriend and her friend just when she needed them.
Her friends in Kingsmede have become her extended family rather than the grandparents and mother. She loves them but they decided to walk away when she needed help.
How is she able to talk to suspects and understand why they wanted to kill the victim Deli is a local hang out and gossip centre for customers. She rents it out at night to community groups. Big tables and comfy chairs.
Does she have a pet? allergic to pet hair. Desert Cactus called Spike. Been with her for years. Rescued plant.

WHO are the Sidekicks and Friends
Old school friends Prisha Patel, Carol and Zoe. All live and work around Kingsmede.

WHO is the First murder victim

The suspect’s motives are influenced by the character of the first victim.
Or start with the killer’s motivation for killing the first victim. – that is the central conflict of the story which must be answered by the end.

Who is the first victim? Simon Fraser
Does the heroine know the victim – this gives her a reason to get involved and care about why this murder happened Lottie is making the buffet at the wine festival held at his luxurious estate. She knows the Fitzpatrick family but it was the wine growers society who organised the food.
Let heroine see interaction between victim and suspect before the murder. Simon is arguing with Roger Fitzpatrick before the award ceremony begins. He is the father of her pal Amy who has come back from France for a few weeks over the summer. Amy drags him away and Margot drags Simon away.
Are they likeable?
Uncover a backstory – victim has been leading a carefully constructed lie.
Simon is a very wealthy city hedge fund trader. Bought the run down estate and over past 10 years has turned it into one fo the best white wine producers in Hampshire. Invested huge amounts of money in the best experts and equipement and brought in a fiery passionate young wine maker.
Are they unlikeable – have to make the reader care that this person has been murdered. Give them personallity.
Give the reader some insight and connection with the victim before they die
Simon is arrogant and driven. No love for the wine or the land – he just loves the challenge of making the best.
His wife Margot Fraser is a country girl who loves Hampshire. She runs the house and estate and keeps the place going. 2 dogs. No kids.
The victim knew the killer Roger and Simon are neighbours and rivals. Margot trys to keep the peace but fails.
Means of death not too gory. Fall down stairs and cliffs. Poisons. Peanut allergy – anaphylaxis shock. He had not brought his epipen with him. collapses and cannot be revived.
Is there any special knowledge required which will lead them to the killer? Who has the means to carry this out. Who had access to the victim at the time of the murder?  Means. Motive. Opportunity, Since Lottie was the one who made the food she becomes the prime suspect for the peanut contamination.
But none of her food has nuts – the plate was deliberely tampered with.
But if she did not do it, who did?
Who served the trays of canapes?
Who had access? Staff. Customers. Guests. Anyone who came through the kitchen.

Any cozy mystery book has obligatory scenes and a recognisable story structure, just as romance fiction.
Readers expect to see a traditional pattern of events, clues and reveals, setbacks and dead ends, leading to a climax final confrontation between the sleuth and the real killer.
I start by breaking the storyline down into 4 Acts.
Then each Act has 3 chapters, so I start with an outline broken down into 12 chapers. Each chapter is a sequence of scenes.
By the end of the project, I know that this could completely change, but it is somewhere to start.
Right now, at this point in story development, all I have is:

  • an idea for the start of the story and the story situation/setting
  • who my sleuth is
  • who her friends are,
  • who the first victim is, the means of death

Now I am going to dive into the beginning of the book and let the characters reveal more about themselves and the crime.
Act One
Characters and world building.

  • Introduction of the main characters.
  • Start with the sleuth to tell the reader that this is the person they are going to identify with. Let the reader know in the first scene/first chapter who the main character is and why they should care what happens to them.
  • HOOK the reader in the first paragraph by hinting at a turning point or crisis in her life. Start with action or dialogue to draw the readers into the story.
  • Bring in secondary characters.
  • SHOW that she is skilled and has talents and strengths and can handle herself.
  • Scene where future victim interacts with suspect – or show the body.
  • Introduce the crime/murder and the cast of characters.
  • Let the readers know that these people are all harbouring secrets.
  • Introduce One Witness and One suspect.
  • THEN put those likeable characters at risk. Make the Stakes REAL for the sleuth – what does she stand to lose if she does not find the killer?

So this sequence of scenes has to do a lot of heavy lifting.
This is my first draft so I am not worried about making each word perfect. This is getting the story down and the characters onto the page, acting and reacting and revealing more about themselves.
By the end of Act One, I should have clear signposts about where this story is going and how I am going to get there.
Tomorrow I shall be working on the publishing and marketing tasks. See you then!
Now back to the writing.

Until then – have a great day! Nina

PS.  CLICK HERE to find out more about How to Write a Cozy Mystery.