'The Sign of Four' plus two (or Reading Holmes with my own characters)

'The Sign of Four' plus two (or Reading Holmes with my own characters)
Source: Reusableart.com

My latest re-reading of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has posed a new problem for me.

In 2010, the previous time I was re-reading the whole "canon" of stories, I was a few months away from taking a character from one of my own stories, Daisy MacDonald, and presenting her with the murder of her roommate, Jenny Duncan.

Daisy and Sgt. Mike Hossa work together on this case -- Daisy providing insight into her fellow university students, and Mike investigating, including (o lucky man) trying to keep order on the girls' floor of the dormitory and turning over the job to a female officer every evening.

One of Daisy's professors (and the father of a neighbor) gave her a copy of "The Sign of Four," the second Sherlock Holmes novel, to help her feel better.

It's helped me feel better as a writer, too, since when Mike is reading to Daisy at the open door of her dorm room, he soon gets the attention -- even fascination -- of the neighbors. I had fun "bringing neighbors onstage" as I enjoyed looking up quotations in the novel.

But until recently, I hadn't re-read "The Sign of Four" completely. Thanks to a fascination with word count, I had one long file as this winter's latest draft of my book. I started spending dangerously long times saving changes.

I worked on late chapters and splitting the new draft while I started re-reading "the canon."

When I picked up "The Sign of Four" again, I tried picking up a blank notebook along with it. I'm glad I did.

Suddenly, Mike was reading with me and Daisy was butting in. It was as though we were all talking to each other.

Listen to Chapter 1:

I wondered how Mike would handle the word "nonchalant" in Dr. Watson's description of "the cool, nonchalant air of my companion which make him the last man with whom one would care to take anything approaching to a liberty." (I'd heard several British actors, including the great Holmes interpreter Jeremy Brett, pronounce the word "NON-shall-unt.")

Well, Czech immigrant Mike Hossa would have learned the British pronunciation, so he'd say NON-shall-unt.

Perhaps because the rest of this paragraph -- the book's second -- talked about taking liberties, Daisy seemed to wait for the end of it before interrupting.

But then she muttered the Midwestern U.S. pronunciation, "non-shall-ONT."

Still, she mostly stayed quiet until Mike read Holmes's famous description of himself:

" 'My mind,' he said, 'rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere.' "

Then, "Wait a minute!" Daisy said to Mike. "You had trouble with 'nonchalant,' but 'the most abstruse cryptogram' wasn't, well, too abstruse to you?"

"Some interesting words came up at the police academy," said Mike. "Even cryptograms."

Later, Mike read Holmes's instruction that "Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner."

Daisy, spending time with an older man for the first time in her 19 years, thought, "Cold and unemotional? Right!"

Still, later in the chapter, Mike reads her one version of Holmes's famous problem-solving maxim: "Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth."

"Oh, that's gorgeous, Mike," was her reaction. (I'll be putting this in first person in the book, but "I" am not saying it here -- Daisy is.)

Mike looked up from the book and grinned. Cold and unemotional, Daisy tried to order herself.


Like Daisy, I'll have some work to do keeping my mind on the story. Three chapters into my re-reading, I've filled six pages of paper with quotations -- and with Mike and Daisy's often-unexpected reactions to them. It's become "The Sign of Four" plus two.

As neighbors come over to listen to what Mike's reading, I may find my own reading slower going. But it's great to find that my characters can be just as inspired (literally, breathed into) by "The Sign of Four" as I am.


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Filed under: Writing

Tags: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


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  • Wonderful post. Great insight into your writing process--and how these characters come to life. We readers share it, too. thank you!

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    You're welcome. I'm glad to share it with you and make sure that they're as lively here as they are in my mind.

  • I really like reading about what goes on in your head, the intersection of reading and writing.

    My quilts are sort of alive in my head all the time but in a different way! It's all about the creative process, I think.

  • In reply to Kathy Mathews:

    Thanks, Kathy. In my life, that's one busy intersection.
    I'm glad to know that your quilts are alive in your head, too -- they seem so in your posts, which I enjoy.
    You're right, we do have a lot in common about the creative process showing in our writing.

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