Dana's cozy mystery, Distrust to Trust?

Dana's storyline is here.

Dana said: > lack of trust to trust, or secrecy to openness.

Good story line! I think one thing that characterizes “the cozy” is that the dead person isn’t well-liked, which opens up the list of suspects. (I think the implication is that almost anyone could commit murder given provocation, which isn’t very “cozy!” But it does make it more understandable if there’s no danger of the reader identifying with the victim.)

A couple thoughts, and please ignore anything that doesn’t work—I’m just tossing ideas out there:
1.  Lack of trust to trust, or secrecy to openness? I think you’re right that this is about trust, and the secrecy is a sign of the lack of trust, and the openness at the end is a sign that she’s starting to trust. If you don’t mind, I would suggest that you make her little revelation at the end be more meaningful—not that she confides in any old co-worker, but that she has chosen to trust one (and that would probably be the most trustworthy one, like the Office Mom maybe who always brings flowers, or the Office Dad who organizes the softball team. That is, if her openness at the end is a sign of her willingness to attempt to trust, whom she chooses might be meaningful. She’s not going to end up a “trust-baby,” trusting any and all, right? So see if “who” can be a bit meaningful. (In a mystery-romance, of course, this could be the love-interest, but I don’t know if that’s an issue here.)

2. The Happy Hour parallel scenes to start and end—that’s a good way to show the change in her. I think that kind of parallel "before and after" can subtly make it clear what has changed-- the scene situation and setting are the same, but the
It seems like you have several different “worlds” here:
The work environment (where/what), which provides the bracketing of before and after (Happy Hour) scenes.
The neighborhood, including Frank and Ebbe, and, significantly, the victim.
The bark park (and class?).
I’d suggest emphasizing what draws all this together (maybe it’s a smalltown or an area of a bigger town, and her friends at work could know Frank and Ebbe?). You have the bark park and class connected—one easy way to connect it to the neighborhood world, of course, is to put the park right there on the edge of the neighborhood, so that she can walk the dog to classes, and encounter neighbors along the way.
In fact, look for ways to connect the workplace with the rest of the book. I say this because you have her journey start and end at work (well, the Happy Hour, but with the coworkers). And notice most of the journey steps in between happen not at work, but in the neighborhood and dog class. That might feel a bit “unglued” because why when she chooses to trust, does she trust someone at work rather than the people who were there on her journey in the neighborhood and class? You probably make that work, but keep it in mind… is her journey just to trusting, or to find someone who has earned the trust and trust that person (Frank and Ebbe, maybe, or Sam, or someone in the class or neighborhood would have been “on the journey with her”.
Now you probably make this work just fine, but I always try, in a mystery novel, to simplify as much of the extraneous complication as I can. Mysteries are of course inherently complicated, as there’s a… uh… mystery at the heart. So sometimes it helps to streamline things by making connections between disconnected things so that the reader’s attention to detail isn’t scattered. Again, you might already be doing this all through the book!

But an example of “connecting” might be—the guest house in the neighborhood where she goes to live? Can that connect to her workplace, like a neighbor helps her get the job, or she finds out about the guest cottage from someone at work. Then she gets involved with Frank and Ebbe. She’s really going out of her way with them, which shows her innate goodness, and that’s good, but you might see if “connection” could make that more tightly into her journey, like Frank is a friend of her boss, or Ebbe used to work there years ago. That would also make it more plausible that Frank and Ebbe would trust her and feel emboldened to ask for and accept her help. (We know they don’t want the neighbor’s help.)

Now one thing that could be a good connector of “neighborhood” and “Frank and Ebbe situation” is that when Frank is hurt, the neighbors rally round and kind of draw her into the campaign to help the elderly couple out. I say that because you have the neighbors rallying around Marcy later, so it would make sense that they would have as a group tried to help Frank, and drawn Marcy into doing this one part of that—the dog-walking and class.
So… you know, after all this, I notice that she might be moving from alienation to affiliation or independence to interdependence. Or maybe not, but let me just, as an illustration, show how an “alienation-affiliation” journey could work. (Trust and secrecy would be involved, but the big movement would be away from alienation—she’s able to trust because she feels affiliated at the end.)

If she’d start out “alienated,” she might be shown at the start as choosing to stay apart at work, refusing to go to Happy Hour at the nearby neighborhood pub, not just because her co-workers are there but because she’d probably encounter some neighbors too. (That would be an advantage of having the workplace close to the neighborhood.) She would instead go home alone to her lonely house, and feel secure, not lonely. Then she might go out in the evening for her walk which she takes for exercise, a brisk walk to the park and around it, and she might encounter Frank and Ebbe walking their rambunctious dog, and think about heading the other direction so she doesn’t have to talk (you can tell I’m one of those types of people… oh, no, here comes that chatty neighbor… can I get out of the encounter). But they greet her, and maybe the dog bounds up to her, and Frank says she should get a dog so that she’d have some company on her walk. And she could show her alienation by politely refusing (but she’s already taken a step away from alienation by stopping to talk to them maybe because she feels sorry for Frank or Ebbe).

Then when Frank falls, maybe there’s an informal meeting that she decides not to go to (one last big attempt to stay alienated) where the neighbors all parcel out Help-FrankandEbbe chores. So one neighbor notices she’s not there and just knows she must want to help, and come by to ask for her to sign up for one task. She might consider refusing, but it would seem churlish (and maybe the lady neighbor is someone she works with, connecting to the workplace world). The nice neighbor might say that Lois volunteered to help with the dog, but Frank said no. (If you wanted to emphasize "trust," btw, you could have Frank say something like, "Marcy, I trust!") So Marcy gets stuck with the job that will force her to have to participate and come out of her isolation—the dog.

And then of course, dealing with the dog draws her more and more into affiliation—she bonds with the dog, she likes Frank and Ebbe, she has to keep consulting with the neighbors about what F and E need. Lois the pushy neighbor probably stops her and tries to give her “helpful” advice (the downside of greater affiliation is, of course, you have to deal with people you don’t like). The class is another great way to draw her into affiliation, because she’ll have to participate. And having her and the dog discover the body there, and the body is the pushy neighbor, well, that ties those bonds tighter. The police might expect her to be forthcoming about her neighbors’ comings and goings, or might see patterns that make her have to defend someone (like she might find herself defending Frank even if she’s not sure if he’s innocent).

All the “closedness to openness” journeys are kind of similar, whether it’s independence to interdependence or distrust to trust or mystery to truth. The point is that the character starts out kind of tight and anxious—afraid to betray herself so she watches every word, afraid to get too close to someone because she doesn’t want them asking questions—and ends up more free and open. Those journeys are kind of parallel, so the difference will be in the details—if the starting point is “distrust,” you’d emphasize her refusal to trust herself/others in a Happy Hour situation, where if the starting point is “alienation,” you’d show her choice as choosing just to be alone. It’s a minor difference, but you can make it very precise just by her motivation at that moment at the start of the journey—why does she choose not to go to Happy Hour?

So… those are just some thoughts. I always do suggest looking for ways to connect whenever possible. Of course, we don’t want to end up with a story full of coincidental connections, but in a cozy, because of the “small” setting, it’s easy to make connections possible.

Great work so far! You really have a good sense of Marcy, and I love the idea that the dog is the instrument for drawing her out (or in).

Here’s an article I did, wow, from the copyright date it looks like almost 20 years ago. Anyway, it might be dated, but it’s about details and connections:
An article about connecting details:


  1. Thank you Alicia. I hadn't thought about connections in such a deliberate way, but as I read this, there was a lot of brain-pinging going on. I appreciate the effort you've taken in writing this thoughtful opinion and I know i'll incorporate some of these ideas. Again, thank you. And now I will read the 20-year-old article. :) Or maybe first, I will get my yellow pad and start drawing circles with names and interconnecting lines with reasons. :)

  2. Glad to help. The benefit of simplifying the setting and connections is just that then you can get the reader to concentrate on the right things-- the character journey and the mystery. And conflict is generally more "Felt" within a tighter group, I think.
    Bests of luck!


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