Barbara Barrett

Romance and Mystery

Switching from Romance to Mysteries

My mah jongg group recently started playing a new version of the game they called “Switcheroo.” It involves playing one game of the National version, which includes Jokers, and then switching to the Wright-Patterson version for the next game, then back to National and so forth. In a nutshell, it sort of describes the mental exercise I’ve experienced since putting the writing of more romance novels on hold temporarily while writing my first cozy mystery.

Both National and Wright-Patterson versions involve many of the same knowledges and skill sets: with the exception of the added Jokers in National, the same tiles; the same set-up and many of the same procedures; the same terms; and many of the same strategies. But they also differ in the value assigned the various tiles, the hands, and like I’ve already said, the inclusion or exclusion of the Jokers makes a huge difference.

Changing from writing romance to cozy mysteries has been similar. The mechanics of writing are virtually the same: spelling, punctuation and grammar. Setting, character development and dialogue are still important. Voice, too, still needs to be unique and to set the tone. Goal, motivation and conflict still establish the framework.

Where the two genres differ is their focus. In romance, the heroine and hero find each other, almost lose each other and then find each other again for the happy ending. Though everyone knows there will be a happily ever after, the writer’s challenge is to make the reader wonder if this time will be the exception with all the obstacles thrown at her couple. In the mystery, there is not necessarily a hero and heroine nor sometimes even a happy ending even when the mystery is solved. But unless the murderer is pure evil, which would be a different mystery genre than a cozy, they can still be sympathetic. They simply got caught up in circumstances they couldn’t avoid. It is the writer’s challenge to make them human and understandable even though guilty.

In the romance, much of the set-up deals with the conflict that is keeping the couple apart. It needs to be credible and something that can’t be readily resolved. In the mystery, the set-up can come before or after the murder occurs. Either way, the conflict is the victim’s impact or control over several individuals, one or more of whom resolve it by murder.

The most obvious difference between the two is the lack of love scenes in the cozy, although that’s not entirely true. Cozy characters can love or be in love; but that’s not the central theme. And a romance could conceivably include a murder, although it’s also not the central theme.

The biggest challenge of the cozy mystery? Deciding on a victim. It sounded so easy when I first began, but it required developing a reason why in the murderer’s mind the victim had to be eliminated. The issue between them could be resolved in no other way. Or, at least it had to seem that way to the murderer. The second challenge was coming up with more than one person who could have been driven to murder, so my sleuths would have more than one suspect to uncover. The most difficult challenge? Not making the murderer obvious.

Craks in a Marriage has now been out for over a month. I just finished my first blog tour. At the end of April, I will be attending the “Malice Domestic” conference in Bethesda, Maryland to both sign this book and participate on a panel discussion of senior sleuths. The second book in the series, Bamboozled, will be coming out in April. I’m feeling progressively more comfortable in this genre.

P.S. I love the graphic above. I tried to figure out how to incorporate it into a cover. Maybe someday.

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