The Mystery of the Second Alias
It’s been a while now since Spiral Mind was launched into the world, but it’s been enjoying its freedom, that’s for sure. In the meantime, I have been working hard on Volume 2 of the trilogy that Spiral Mind began, and I thought perhaps some of you readers and fellow writers are interested in what goes on behind the scenes of my mystery spinning stories. I hope this will be entertaining both for readers and writers alike, because every writer does things differently. This is just part of one single artwork being created by a single person over multiple years. Everyone speaks differently, so everyone writes differently and works differently. There are plotters and there are pantsers (one of my favourite words), the latter of which just sits down and writes without planning. There are people who write six or seven entire drafts of their book, and there are people who take forever to come up with one draft, but stick with it, mostly. Of course, there are writers in between these stereotypes, but it helps to understand your own writing process to know what other people will or will not tend to do. Most people are plotters in some situations and pantsers in others, and some people start out as pantsers and become plotters. Years of writing will change a writer’s process, and so will different projects, characters and genres. In this blog post, I am going to explain a little bit more about how I plan my mysteries in my Sherlock Holmes trilogy.
It is the most fun for me when a mystery reveals itself to me after several thousand words which I had not planned to write. Especially at the beginning of a project, it helps me to sit down and just put my characters in a situation to see how it pans out. In Part 2 of Spiral Mind, no spoilers ahead I promise, I had written more than half the text before I realised which mystery I could make out of it. This was a particularly neat experience, because there is a self-contained mystery just in that part, so I could reveal the solution only a few thousand words later. It was a brilliant example of how a writer’s mind unconsciously places clues into their world and with a bit of analysis is able to pick them up and turn them into a case that looks like it has been planned all along. Of course, here we are talking about my first draft, which then needed fleshing out and could have been changed around if the case hadn’t quite fit the evidence, but it was one of those times where nearly everything fit and upon reading it over, I found even more clues which I could fill in at the end.
Now, I really don’t want to say that this proves skill in any way. In fact, I wouldn’t have picked up any of those perfectly fitting clues if I hadn’t been reading one of Conan Doyle’s original stories while I was writing. This is one of my most exciting memories of the writing process, because it is such a good story in itself. It wasn’t at all like you expect – she writes some stuff, then she thinks she needs a case before the end of the Part, doesn’t want to rewrite the whole thing and decides to look at what’s there and recycle it into a plan. Indeed, I hadn’t been looking for a self-contained case at all. Part 2 is comparatively early on in my nine-part trilogy (each volume containing 3 parts), so I felt it was absolutely fine to answer some questions from Part 1, continue world-building and introduce some new characters and strands of the mystery. As I usually try to read things, like the original stories, alongside my writing that will inspire me and make me think, I was reading The Adventure of the Three Garridebs when I was about two thirds through writing Part 2.
Now, since I don’t want to spoil anyone, I am not going to go into specifics, but what I found in the story was a name, the second of three aliases, which had a striking similarity with another name in the canon. This alias appears only once in Conan Doyle’s stories, so I was sure I would surprise even a Holmes buff with the connection between the two names. Either way, I did connect them to form a case which I hadn’t expected but was now very excited about. I then proceeded to go through my text again, to be able to draw the clues together in the conclusion Sherlock draws, but I almost didn’t have to add anything in the preceding text. Of course, it has since undergone extensive editing, but the clues have stayed in place, as has the resolution. If you have already read Spiral Mind, or at least Part 2, I would strongly recommend that you go back and read The Adventure of the Three Garridebs, to be as amazed as I was to find this name there. That was all I needed to create the mystery contained in Part 2.
I would like to add that I believe this to be the result of the mysterious workings of the different adaptations and Conan Doyle’s texts floating around in my brain while I was writing rather than some kind of ingenious forward planning. The text always knows more than the writer. However, it takes courage to follow your characters into an unknown plot, and it takes good knowledge of your own text – and in this case the source material – to be able to pick up the clues your brain has laid out, simply copying the vibe it has experienced in the genre/original text. I don’t always have that courage, especially now that I have finished my first draft for the trilogy and am in the process of pulling the red threads out of 180,000 words to knit into a meaningful ending that leaves nothing unintentionally unanswered. It is a bit of a nightmare, really, despite the fact that after two volumes of the trilogy I felt an urgent need to plot and did so. The characters don’t like to take orders from me, even though they don’t want to upset me either – by which I mean Sherlock Holmes won’t take orders, and John Watson tries not to upset me. Bless them.
What you can hopefully take away from this, other than that you are not alone when you are writing and that there is lots of stuff out there to inspire you, whether as a reader or a writer, is that there are so many ways you can travel down the route of a story. I am sure that if Sherlock had seen me write the story the way I did, he would have pointed out the clues much earlier. In fact, he was behaving strangely in the story for a reason I hadn’t decided before I found the mystery. So, your characters will help you and what has been written before you will help you as well. Writers are just humans, but books are a different type of creature. Sometimes, you can lay down red threads to follow, sometimes you will find them lying there already. The most important bit is just to weave them together. And that would probably be best discussed in another blog post.