07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Friday, July 28, 2017

Emotional Fireworks in ‘Cozies’

By Linda Lovely

Fireworks are the inspiration for this month’s Romancing the Genre blog theme. But rather than talk about the kind that explode in the sky, I’m going to discuss two types of emotional fireworks—sexual attraction and anger/rage. Both fireworks categories can make a book sizzle and keep readers rapidly turning pages to see the emotional spectacular’s finale.

But what if the book is a humorous “cozy”— mystery or romance. The “cozy” genre label is generally reserved for novels that omit graphic violence, obscenities, and explicit sexual scenes. How can an author circumnavigate around these conventions and still convey the intensity of sexual attraction and/or rage?

It’s easier than you might imagine. And “imagine” is the key word here. The author’s descriptions need to let readers fill in the blanks with intense mental pictures.

Let’s start with sexual attraction. On the first page of Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money, her heroine Stephanie Plum describes Joe Morelli. “He’d grown up big and bad, with eyes like black fire one minute and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate the next. He had an eagle tattooed on his chest, a tight-assed, narrow hipped swagger, and a reputation for having fast hands and clever fingers.”

In this passage, Evanovich has given us a vivid description that lets us picture the hunk, even though we don’t know how tall he is or the size of any part of his anatomy. But we clearly KNOW that Plum has the hots for Morelli, and, if they get together, there’s bound to be fireworks.

But what about anger/rage? How can an author communicate a person’s violent personality without allowing the villain to curse? Does this constraint force an author to resort to dialogue that would seem ridiculous if spoken by a drug dealer, prostitute or psychopath?

The answer is no. Would you be surprised to learn that Lee Child (while definitely not a “cozy” author) includes no profanity in his books? It’s true. He also eschews using “milder” curses that might make the reader notice what’s missing. Instead Child relies heavily on describing the bad guys’ demeanor.  

My new Brie Hooker Mystery series published by Henery Press is “cozy.” However, I worked hard to build fireworks into Bones To Pick, the first book in the series, set to release Oct. 24. One focus was on creating scenes that showed the heroine’s sexual attraction to two main characters. The second focus was depicting villains through descriptions and dialogue (minus swear words) that telegraph these people are capable of inflicting pain and killing people without actually describing any torture or dwelling on the grisly details of a murder scene. I have my fingers crossed that it works.

Authors, what secrets do you employ to create emotional fireworks while following the cozy genre strictures? Readers, do you notice, care if the books you read include graphic violence, obscenities or explicit sexual scenes?


Judith Ashley said...

Excellent post, Linda. I don't write cozy genre nor do I write mysteries but I do read them. To be honest if I think a book might include graphic violence I don't read it. Obscenities? That depends. It absolutely must be germane to the scene and the character. While I know people who swear constantly, I'll put the book down and walk away if obscenities are on every page. Explicit sexual scenes must add to the story and, while I don't mind (and may even read) a couple of them. I much prefer books that have a mixture of tantalizing and an occasional explicit scene. One of the good things about paper books for me is it's easier to turn the page until the sex scenes are over.

What's the difference between not even reading books with graphic violence and yet reading those with explicit sexual scenes? I don't have nightmares with the latter.

Linda Lovely said...

I agree with your analysis, Judith. I just finished tabulating scores for a short story contest that reminded me how different individual tastes can be. I personally can enjoy books with obscenities and explicit sex if there's a reason for it and it advances the plot. Violence I have a much harder time with, prefer it to be off screen.

Diana McCollum said...

Great post! I really learned a lot.