Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Chocolate Maker vs. Chocolatier: How Choosing a Protagonist’s Focus Changes the Parameters of Cozy: Guest Post by Amber Royer


Chocolate Maker vs. Chocolatier: How Choosing a Protagonist’s Focus Changes the Parameters of Cozy 

When you think of cozy mysteries set in a chocolate shop, you probably picture someone making bonbons and fudge, dipping candied oranges in coverture, and stacking toffee into glass cloches. These chocolatiers can be true artists, working with flavor, design and texture to create memorable experiences. And there are a number of excellent mystery series with chocolatiers at their centers. But when I decided to write a mystery about chocolate, I wanted to do something different. I wrote a science fiction trilogy about chocolate first, and while researching and publicizing those books, I met a number of people in the craft chocolate industry. These artisans have much in common with coffee roasters and wine makers. Many of them travel to the countries where chocolate is grown, or work with farmers to increase the quality of cacao beans. Chocolate makers often build or repair their own equipment, and some have developed the ability to judge bean roasts by smell alone. 

I chose a craft chocolate maker as my sleuth for the Bean to Bar Mysteries for several reasons. Obviously, I didn’t want to waste all that research. I’ve taken bean to bar chocolate making classes from some of the founders of the craft chocolate movement, winnowed cacao beans with a hairdryer on my patio, visited chocolate shops in multiple countries, taken a jeep down a dry-ish riverbed river to visit a cacao plantation, even started growing cacao trees as houseplants. 

But having a passion doesn’t make a good book – unless you have a protagonist who uses that passion to fulfill the needs of the plot. I needed this character to be a chocolate maker, because she has to feel a bit larger than life for some of the plots I have planned for later books – while at the same time being a 32-year-old widow who owns a lop-eared bunny and lives with her aunt and uncle. The drive to problem solve, and the innate taste for adventure I’ve seen in many of the real-world craft chocolate professionals I’ve interviewed seemed like a perfect fit. 

Every novel has a scope and a scale. Scope is the amount of time and space covered in a story. Scale is the magnitude of what is included (like the budget for a film – more characters, more settings = larger scale productions). Scale also includes the sweep – the grandness of the events at hand. In the cozy starring a character working in a shop, both of those elements are usually very small. Small scopes allow for a sense of intimacy, which is why the majority of these are written first person (the confessional voice, after all) and some of them are present tense (throwing the reader into the midst of the events). Limiting the number of settings and the size of the cast (at least as far as suspects) allows for a shorter book with a tighter focus. 

NOTE: With cozy series, there tend to be cameo appearances from characters that were important to earlier books who still live in the setting, but this doesn’t necessarily broaden the scale, as their stories have already been explored. 

I wanted to stick with a tight scope (most every book I’ve ever written takes place in less than a week), but I want to gradually broaden the scale. I tried to imply that with the plot of the first book, where the conflict turns out to be over more than a single murder. Almost immediately, Felicity finds herself teaming up with a guy who used to be private security to the stars – and who has a muddled past. As the series progresses, this is going to develop into larger scale conflicts, as his world starts colliding with hers – and she has to start making decisions about the scale of the world she’s prepared to live in. 

Several aspects of Felicity’s life make chocolate maker a better fit for her than chocolatier, because that different lens of looking at what chocolate is changes her way of looking at everything – and everyone. Her being a chocolate maker changes the parameters of what potential plots can fit into her ‘verse, because suddenly she’s dealing with import laws and international influences. It becomes a different KIND of cozy, than if she was ordering and working with pre-made chocolate. That difference is subtle in the first book, when she is still struggling with fitting back into the island community she left a decade before. But it will become more pronounced later on. 

The most important aspect of her character is her need for reinvention. Out of all the chocolate makers I’ve spoken with, not one of them said they grew up wanting to be Willie Wonka. This is a career that people fall into because something sparks a passion, and often they are giving up a career doing something only tangentially related. A number of the chocolate makers I’ve met started out as computer guys or engineers – so they geek out over the process or the machines. So it makes perfect sense to have Felicity give up a career as a physical therapist because she can’t stand being around people in pain due to her own grief – to turn to something that involves chemistry, which she excelled at in school, and also makes people happy. 

It has become a trope to have a cozy character returning home because of a job failure, often combined with a bad breakup. I wanted to step away from that, and explore other reasons for homecoming. Felicity’s move home doesn’t have failure at its root at all, but rather loss – her husband passed away, which prompts her move/career change. Which, ironically, gives her a less negative place to start from. This isn’t about re-building her self-esteem while others continually underestimate her (which is what the job loss trope lends itself to) – but rather, it is about her figuring out how to build a life that means something to her, since her compass has been stripped away. 


Amber Royer writes the CHOCOVERSE comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series, and the BEAN TO BAR MYSTERIES. She is also the author of STORY LIKE A JOURNALIST: A WORKBOOK FOR NOVELISTS, which boils down her writing knowledge into an actionable plan involving over 100 worksheets to build a comprehensive story plan for your novel. She blogs about creative writing technique and all things chocolate at www.amberroyer.com.

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