Sherlock Holmes: “The Greek Interpreter”

Summary: We meet Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, who is not a member of Parliament as I have been led to believe. He is a lazy ass with just as quick a mind as Sherlock (Sherlock believes he is even better at deduction) but he has no energy to see any cases he gets through and just gives them to Sherlock. This one is about a guy who speaks Greek who is kidnapped to interpret for some guys who are trying to get some Greek guy to sign over his property to his sister, who has fallen in with these thugs (but she doesn’t know they’ve captured him). Sherlock and Mycroft figure out where the house is, but they are too late. The thugs and girl are gone, and the brother is dead, though they do manage to save the interpreter, who was captured again.

Sherlock Rating: 4 magnifying glasses. The only reason it doesn’t get 5 is because the bad guys get away again, though we are told they turn up later, dead with stab wounds, and Sherlock believes the girl did it. It was very exciting, and for some reason I’ve always loved books that involve being captured. (I’m not into S&M or anything–I just read too much Nancy Drew at a young age I think)

Mystery Story Convention: Getting captured by the bad guys for a final confrontation–it would have been even better if Sherlock or Watson had been captured, for drama reasons. I love when the stakes are high and the villain gets the upper hand!


Sherlock Holmes: “The Resident Patient”

First, today is my birthday! Yay! I love birthdays! (And a great birthday to me is that I very well could finish my rough draft of my current WIP this birthday week) Anyway, there is a good chance there won’t be a Wednesday post this week because I’m not working on my birthday (when I pre-write posts–this is pre-written from Thursday). That is all.

Summary: Holmes and Watson investigate a case brought by Dr. Percy about a mysterious man who invested in his practice, then freaked out when some Russians came in. When Sherlock came to talk to the investor, the guy refused to tell Sherlock the truth so he left him. The next day he was found hanged. Except it was murder, not suicide. Turns out the supposed Russians, the doctor’s new page, and the investor were all bank robbers, and the investor had turned the rest in–so they’d come back to get revenge. The bad guys all got away, except the page, who they couldn’t convict because of lack of evidence.

Sherlock Rating: Four out of five magnifying glasses. Sooo close! It had everything it needed to be great–a mystery, a murder, clues only Sherlock could see. And then they guys get away. What it needs is for there to be a confrontation with the villains. Sure this was probably more realistic, but I want drama, not realism!

Mystery Story Convention: I forgot to mention above that Sherlock referenced Dupin and his mind reading trick. So this story gives props to its predecessor. This one once again has to do with secret pasts. You can never escape your old crimes!

Scooby Doo’s Lesson on Plotting

This is an idea I think about a lot when I’m thinking of how a scene is going to unfold. It’s a lesson I learned while watching countless classic Scooby Doo cartoons when I was younger. (Yes, much of what I know I have learned from cartoons*).

Near the end of every Scooby cartoon the gang gets to the point where they realize, or at least suspect, that the bad guy is not really a ghost or monster or whatever and they decide to set a trap, which leads to the revelation, “Why it’s Old Mr. Skuttlebutt, the caretaker,” and he says, “I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddlesome kids.” Before they get to this point, though, there is the springing of the trap.

There is a set rule about traps. The trap always catches the bad guy, but if Fred or Velma explain how the trap will work ahead of time, it will never go as planned. Scooby or Shaggy will some how mess it up, but their bungling will lead to the bad guy’s capture in a different way (as in, the net misses, but as Scooby is running, he gets tangled in some rope, slips in a puddle, spins in circles and ends up tying up the baddie). If Fred says, “Guys, we’re going to set a trap” and then the scene fades away and we come back with the trap set up but not explained it will work perfectly, and some sort of rube goldberg device drops a cage on that villain.

This is a lesson in plotting that I take fairly seriously (as seriously as one can take an idea learned from Scooby Doo). If my characters come up with a plan, and they tell the reader all about it, it cannot go as expected because that would be boring and redundant. We don’t need to hear about a plan and then see it work. What’s most interesting is when things go wrong. Sometimes it’s fun to give out the plan in advance just to have things go wrong for the characters. That complicates things, which makes it all much more interesting. I think, as a reader, I am more invested when things get more complicated, because then I’m more interested in how the characters will get out of it now that it’s all gone so wrong.

So if you want some plan of yours to work out, find a way to keep it from readers so they can see it unfold for the first time in real time, but if you want to make things a little more interesting, give it away and then ruin it and see how your characters make it out.


*Wow, after so many cartoon-related posts (2 so far, so I might be exaggerating a little) I should do a class or something on “Story Writing Advice from Cartoons.” Or maybe a blog series. We’ll have to see if I can think up any more…

Sherlock Holmes: “The Crooked Man”

I am going back to Sherlock for a little while. I’d like to eventually finish all of them. There’s a lot of stories, so I don’t know how far I’ll get before I’ll want to switch it up. But I did read War and Peace for a year, so maybe I’ll get through Sherlock this time.

So this week I read “The Crooked Man”

Summary: Sherlock shows up at married Watson’s house to ask for some help finishing up his mystery. (He didn’t really need help; he just wanted to show off.) There had been a murder of a Colonel Barclay, and his wife was suspected, but Sherlock didn’t believe she was capable. He found out a stranger had meet Mrs. Barclay, and he tracked that stranger down. He was a man who had been in India with Barclay and his future wife, and it had been a love triangle. She loved this stranger (Henry) and Barclay loved her. Then the natives rebelled and they were trapped, so Henry volunteered to go for help, but he walked right into a trap. Henry had been thought dead, but he was just horribly disfigured, which he felt was as good as dead, but he finally came back, and when Barclay saw him he was so shocked he fell back and hit his head and died. Henry fled because he knew he’d be blamed, but when he found out Mrs. Barclay could be blamed he agreed to come forward. He also had a mongoose.

Sherlock Rating: I give it 2 magnifying glasses. We didn’t get to be a part of the whole solving of the mystery–just the end, and there wasn’t really a murder. Plus it seems very familiar to some of the other mysteries he’s solved.

Mystery Story Convention: I know real investigators (especially those who investigate infidelity) see the same thing over and over, but as this is fiction I’d like it spiced up a little, and just throwing a mongoose in isn’t enough. The conventions in this one are secret pasts in India coming back to haunt, former lovers thought dead but aren’t, and animals that leave confusing clues (hello, orangutan?) Let’s step it up next week, Sherlock.

Secrets Suck

I have discovered a theme in the story I’m writing, and I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. I suppose it’s good, because good stories are supposed to have themes, but I’ve always felt that finding themes should be the job of readers (especially readers who are teachers or students) and when they are put in purposefully by a writer they are too blatant and heavy-handed. But I like this particular theme, and I think this variation on it is a little off the norm.

It has to do with one thing I hate about a lot of books and TV shows–the secret the main character “just can’t share with anyone or it will ruin everyone’s lives.” I used to watch a soap opera when I was in college, and this is the basic plot of every soap storyline. It’s annoying. I always think that the story will be much more interesting if the character would just stop dwelling on this secret–stop talking about how awful it would be all the time and just be out with it so we can see the aftermath. The problem, most of the time, is that the aftermath is almost never as bad as the character thinks it will be. When it is–or it’s worse, or something completely unexpected happens, that’s when it’s interesting, and that’s when there should have been a whole lot less secret keeping and more secret telling.

So I’m pretty sure a theme I have going in my book is secret telling. There’s a big secret my character is supposed to keep–she’s even physically prevented from sharing it, but she’s decided to find a way to tell it anyway. The climax also involves telling a huge secret.

So now that I know this theme, hopefully I can hold back from pointing it out in the actual story. I have to make any future students that might study it work to find all the references they’ll need. (By the way, it would be a dream come true to hear that some class studied my book and had to write a paper on it–a dream!)

Edgar Allen Poe: “The Purloined Letter”

Summary: On the last of Dupin’s cases, the police contact asks him about a very high-end case involving blackmail. He is trying to recover a very incriminating letter from a man and there is a huge reward. The police have already secretly looked through all of the culprit’s things, but haven’t turned up anything. They seem to believe the thief, though high-ranking, is a stupid because he’s a poet. Dupin tells them to search everything again, which is really a wild-goose chase because then Dupin goes and gets the letter himself–for the reward of 50,000 francs. His reasoning process is that they wrongly assumed the man was a fool–poets are not actually fools but quite smart, and smart people would hide things in plain sight–the letter was disguised as another letter and hung up for anyone to see.

Sherlock Rating: I realized as I was reading this that the BBC Sherlock did a purloined letter episode; it went a little differently, but it was very similar. I appreciated this case more than the others because it stayed interesting throughout, though the poet/fool thing seemed stupid, but maybe that was a thought of the times. So, though there was no murder, I give it 4 out of 5 magnifying glasses.

Mystery Story Convention: I will go with a police search that yields nothing, and then a detective who goes in and finds what they are looking for immediately. I know how that is. I usually find whatever my roommate is looking for almost as fast.

Every Reader’s Dream: The Ultimate Multiverse

I just finished the book, The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene, which is about all the possible multiverses science has theoretically discovered. It was very fascinating and taught me all kinds of things, yet my favorite multiverse was the one he says at the end is the only one he cannot believe in because it is impossible to prove. (And to prove something in the science world you do tests that would disprove your theory and when they continuously don’t disprove it you can be a little more convinced that your theory might be true.)

This theory is the Ultimate Multiverse. Basically, it states that every possible universe really exists. That means there’s a universe made entirely of chocolate, one with no math, one of nothing, and one that is anything you can think of. Yes, even that…and that. The science reasoning behind it has to do with the question of “why is our universe special–why do we exist in this universe and not some other one” And it’s answer is, we’re not special, we’re just one of every possibility. And there’s no way to prove it, because there’s no way to do an experiment that would disprove it when every option is possible.

So, moving on and away from all the science stuff, what does this mean? Well, to me, an avid reader and imaginer, this means that every story I’ve every read or written or even imagined actually exists somewhere! The characters I love are really out there. Their worlds are probably terrible, considering books tend to make things dramatic as possible. (For example, Katniss’ world from The Hunger Games is real) But still, those favorite characters and worlds may really be out there, according to science (but not really–remember it was the one multiverse he couldn’t back), and that is a really cool thought.