Category Archives: Art of Writing

Creative writing tools.

Sherlock Holmes – Creation

Sherlock Holmes & Jay Gatsby

 Sherlock Holmes was created by the Scottish writer, Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 and is considered the model of modern consulting detectives, a fictional character that has endured across the world through detective stories.

Admired for his good looks and intellectual prowess, the mere mention of Sherlock always brings this character to mind. But with each new movie and television show, Sherlock has changed slightly in looks and behavior to match the styles and mores of that generation. But where did he come from? How did Doyle land on this forever character? What keeps his persona beloved to readers of all ages and genres?

Conan Doyle modeled Holmes’s methods and mannerisms on those of Dr. Joseph Bell, his professor at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Holmes’s mysterious ability to gather evidence utilizing his distinctive skills of observation and deductive reasoning paralleled Bell’s method of diagnosing a patient’s disease.

The famous line, spoken by Sherlock: “When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” set the stage for dissecting a mystery, much as Bell’s diagnostic wizardry.

Across the books, Dr. John Watson, Sherlock’s famous sidekick – through whom Doyle narrated the books and explained Sherlock’s detecting methodology – bear a likeness to Nick Carraway as the narrator and hero worshiper of Jay Gatsby. Their traits and vulnerabilities are referenced by both narrators.

Both Gatsby and Sherlock are handsome. Both hide their webs of intelligence and transcendent use of disguises. Both have cravings larger than life for decadent lifestyles and illegal pursuits. Both had no patience for stupidity. Both thrive on privacy. And both have vulnerabilities that endure them to readers.

“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
       ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Clearly, the world still counts on Sherlock to keep our confidence. Check out Sherlock Services.  Security of your Personal Information:  Sherlock Services secures your personal information from unauthorized access, use or disclosure.

Both fictional characters have part of their lives narrated by a sidekick; trusted sidekicks, who count themselves lucky to be in the genius’s presence, men who tolerate psychological abuse to sit at the feet of their master – perhaps this is how Doyle experienced Dr. Bell when he was in medical school. Both narratives have no real idea who or what their hero truly is or what drives him or why their egotistical personalities aren’t more off putting.

Watson describes his associate, for surely they aren’t friends, as exhaustingly moody and complex with bouts of mania and depression. Gatsby vibrates with a mania that simultaneously engages and  repels those around him. Holmes spends endless hours priming his pipe and smoking, playing the violin, and at times disappearing into an opium den. Gatsby spends countless hours dressing himself and his mansion to draw people to him and prove he is what he imagines himself to be, although he barely interacts with them. Like Sherlock, his role is an observer.

Sherlock treats his long-time housekeeper with absolute disrespect and yet, she adores him. He turns his interactions with Lestrade, the bumbling Scotland Yard detective, into a cat and mouse game. Since Gatsby is only one book, there is not a cadre of characters to return as Lestrade does in Doyle’s stories. But Fitzgerald brought a curious group of people to the page to promote Gatsby’s secrets and apparent ongoing bad behavior, probably criminal. Moriarty is the formidable antagonist for Sherlock, the one man on Earth that keeps him on his toes. Sherlock calls him the Napoleon of Crime. The antagonist of Gatsby remains a mystery. Most likely himself.

Every author dreams of the adoration both of these characters have borne over the decades. When Doyle killed off Holmes and Moriarty in 1893, there was an outcry against Holmes’s demise that found even the British royal family distressed. People on the streets wore black mourning bands and finally, the one blow that can bring a character back: More than 20,000 readers canceled their subscriptions to the popular Strand Magazine, in which Doyle’s stories ran. One can only imagine the fee Doyle received for resurrecting Sherlock.

Least you think Gatsby is “just a fictional character,” read this piece from the UK’s Daily Beast. The analogies are quite grand.

Trivia:  Holmes’s meerschaum pipe and deerstalker hat are not original to Conan Doyle’s writing. The American actor, William Gillette, introduced the curved meerschaum pipe on stage, possibly because it was easier on his jaw during the long performances. Sidney Paget, illustrator, introduced and used frequently the deerstalker  cap in The Strand sequels, possibly because it was —it was the current fashion by etiquette for country living.

Cumberbatch has carried the mantle of Sherlock admirably, I think.  His writers have him wear the egotism and intelligence and vulnerabilities well. And, of course, he’s lovely to watch on screen – well, not exactly lovely. You get it.


Write like you mean it.   Mahala

5 Peas in a Pod

Today I Forgot My Umbrella Leonid Afremov

I am so pleased that my new class Guide to Writing Fiction – teaching through ESILL – threw open the doors for lively discussion and new ideas for short stories or a full-length book. This class looked at the relationship between Art and Writing with a sprinkle of Music and Writing. We’ve “walked into” famous art pieces to examine what the artist was saying and explore ideas about what we would write using the painting as a prompt. Rarely do any of the ten people sitting around the table have even a similar idea about what it means or the same idea about a potential protagonist or plot, proving once again that we all see things differently and imagination is indeed a powerful gift.

The Harvesters Pieter Bruegel

We’ve used 5 Ps or Peas in A Pod to broker our discussions about the People, Protagonists, Places, Plans, and this coming week, Puzzles that authors use to develop a story. Confused? Take a look.

People    =    Characters are the fictional people authors create. The people serial authors use to create a comradery that keeps readers returning. Clue: Harry Potter, Hermione, Ron


Protagonist    =    Main Character(s) about whom the story centers, the character who has a yearning/passion for something that drives much of the action, and the character who must change in some way by the end of the story. Clue:  Scarlett O’Hara

Places    =    Settings within the story, through which concrete, descriptive language takes the reader, a place about which the protagonist feels strongly. The importance of exploring the places from various character points of view. Clue: Mitford Series, Fried Green Tomatoes

Plan    =    Inciting Incident is the metaphorical door through which the protagonist walks to find their new normal. The opening gambit or first plot point that creates a story.  Clue: Water for Elephants

Puzzle    =    Plot is the things that happen to and around the protagonist, the things that absent them, there is no story. It’s a puzzle that keeps the author guessing as they write and the puzzle the author creates to keep the reader guessing as they read. Clue: True Colors by Kristina Hannah

In an article about writing (which I’m embarrassed I can’t remember where) three excellent authors and editors who write about the art of writing were asked: What they found to be the most important aspect of telling a story. Their responses resonated with me. Each had more than one sentence in their response, but this is it in a nutshell.

Chris Vogler:  “Connecting with the emotions of the audience.”

James Bell:   “…keep the reader wanting – needing – to know what happens next.”

Donald Maass:  “Whatever it is the author wants to say, or wants us to see, understand or get.”


Write Like You Mean It!  Mahala

Guide to Writing Fiction


This class is similar to basic creative writing classes I’ve taught in the past.  It has four primary differences:

  1. Three classes instead of four.
  2. Four craft tools discussed.
  3. Only a wee bit of homework, no long writing projects.
  4. Look at writing and its relationship to art.

Created for the writers at all stages, this unique class employs classical art to tickle the little gray cells and jiggle loose new ideas. It is not a what but more of a why discussion. Thursdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., September 12 – 26, Tuition $30, Materials fee $6, at Trinity Presbyterian Church educational building in Fairhope.

Is a story short? Is a story long? Is a story just write?

Should the puzzle be 25 or 500 or 1,000 pieces?

Do you need more than one character to have a story?

Is there a place where the story takes place? Or more than one?

How does the protagonist find the path through the story?

                                          Write like you mean it.   Mahala       

Tea & Empathy for Writers

The Competitive Edge

What is a “Faith-Based Book?” This question was posed to me from a Christian writer who used that expression when discussing a new book and got a rebuff from another writer. So I decided to do a little research and at first, everything I found supported the writer’s use of the definition. However, I couldn’t help but wonder why a book about the faiths of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. wasn’t referred to as a faith-based book.

Loving research and feeling a little small about thinking faith-based could only refer to Christian (which I am) writing, I changed a few words around on my internet search and discovered a far different take on the adjective. The search proved the point that a writer has an endless job to research every (not very realistic) aspect of their genre, marketing campaign, etc. As with my pondering on the original question, I also wondered how far and wide and deep and high the research had to go and a writer has to spin without always ending in an argument with someone. The answer is probably infinity, also not feasible.

Take a look at just a few of the sites I found and tell me what you think about the term “faith-based” that every Christian publisher I’ve found thus far uses to describe their books and publications

I’m not sure defining a book, especially for children (adults too actually) as Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhism, Islamic, etc. is a good idea since the basic tenets of most known religions teeter on what I know as the Golden Rule, and to exclude others may deny the material to an audience that might gain valuable knowledge of others and their beliefs, which just might be a good idea in these times of mass global confusion. {I realize that is a Faulknerian length sentence.}


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