Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Character Crafting Games for NaNoWriMo: "Sherlock Holmes" Your Characters

IMG_4396 (4) - CopyGillian Bronte Adams is a sword-wielding, horse-riding, coffee-loving speculative fiction author from the great state of Texas. Orphan’s Song, the first book in her fantasy trilogy is now available. Hang out with Gillian on her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page where she loves chatting about all things related to fantasy, books, villains, and adventures.

Creating characters is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Figuring out how they are unique and what makes them them gets me super excited.

With NaNoWriMo upon us—the month of mad scribbling, insane plot lines, and characters conceived through an overdose of caffeine—I thought it would be fun to explore a couple different character crafting games.

Today’s game involves everyone’s favorite sleuth…

Game #1: Sherlock Holmes Your Characters

Sherlock Holmes - NaNo Game

Anyone else a fan of BBC’s Sherlock Holmes? Don’t you just love how he can run into a random person on the street and figure out their entire life story from just a few miniscule details? Like when he surmises that John’s sister is an alcoholic from the scratches around the phone’s power connector. (Elementary, my dear Watson.)

The little details are a great way of showing your character’s personality/history rather than simply telling it in the narrative or dialogue. But a lot of times, we get caught up trying to move the story along and revert to describing the same thing we’re used to seeing all the time—hair, eyes, clothes, face, etc.—without trying to go any deeper.

When you boil down and hyper-scrutinize the unique aspects of your character’s personality, you might just surprise yourself with what you come up with!

For example, if Sherlock Holmes walked through my door, some of the first things he might notice are the burned-out porch lights that I haven’t yet gotten around to replacing, the nicks on the doorknob where I fumble to get the key in at night when it’s pitch black because I still have to replace the porch lights, the stack of books and papers scattered across the living room floor, the myriad objects that have taken root on the kitchen table, and the pile of (clean) dishes sitting in the drying rack.

From all of this, he might surmise that I am a busy and slightly preoccupied person of the creative variety who lives and eats alone, and who spends more time reading and writing than attending to housework or simple things like going to the store to purchase new light-bulbs.

Thankfully, it is highly unlikely that Sherlock Holmes would be walking through my door any time soon—can you imagine what a nightmare that would be? But setting his powers of observation and reasoning to work on our characters is a great way to get to know them better!

Let’s try it…

If Sherlock Holmes were to sit down for a cup of brew with Amos McElhenny from my fantasy novel Orphan’s Song, he might instantly catalogue the following details:
  • Salt-battered boots
  • Heavy overcoat covered in dust and mud stains
  • Clothes well-worn but not tattered
  • Scarred hands
  • Wild hair
  • When challenged, Amos takes a step forward—unconsciously assuming a fighter’s stance
From which he might surmise that Amos McElhenny is of Waveryder descent and originally from a small town on the coast—a place he still visits on occasion, as evidenced by the state of his boots. He is a traveling man and has been on the road for several years without being able to put much coin aside. But the life of a peddler is not the only life he’s known. The scars on his hands speak to the life of a warrior or soldier, while his wild hair is indicative of his rebellious and free thinking nature.

See what I mean?

It’s fun!

Your turn!

Write a scene where your character meets Sherlock Holmes. Over the course of the conversation, see just what juicy tidbits Sherlock can discover from your character’s setting, garb, appearance, and manner of speech.

Don’t have time to write a scene that won’t actually make it into your novel? (Unless your novel is set in London … on Baker Street ... in which case you’re golden!) Simply dig out your deer-stalker (you do have one, right?) and study your character through the windows of your mind palace, logging what you see and practicing your observational skills.

Once you look beyond the superficial, you’ll be amazed what little details you can discover—and how those little details can give such wonderful insight into who your character is and how you can best utilize them in the story.

What are some things Sherlock Holmes would notice about your character? And what does that tell you about who your character is? Share in the comments.


  1. Things Sherlock would notice--Tory Cassidy wears two dogtags around his neck. he must have had a very dear friend who died in combat under circumstances where the body could not have been collected. It was recent, because in tense situations Tory moves his hand to that extra dogtag, like he is clinging to all he has left of his friend.
    2. Tory dresses heavy in moderate weather, so he must be from somewhere warm.
    3. When bored, Tory taps his fingers like he's playing a piano. Only exceedingly musical people do that. If a musician joined the army, he either is very brave and patriotic, or was conscripted. Considering his slight build, (Stevie Rodgers sized) he probably was conscripted because the army was desperate.
    4. Tory lifts his chin at a haughty angle when talking to adults, particularly men around his own age. This is because he is short, and because he resents his height. He may have been bullied over it in youth.
    5. Tory's curly red hair has grown out to normal length, so he must have been deployed and on the field for several months.

    1. sounds like a cool character there

    2. Ooh, this is awesome, Michaella! Tory does sound like one of those fascinating characters.

  2. I've never watched BBC Sherlock, but I watch BBC Doctor Who (classic, and present).

    So, I'm 'deducing' that a deer-stalker is that hat thingy he puts on with the little flappy things? Is it grey? (I've learned stuff about Sherlock from Pinterest. Bear with me.)

    (Amity (Lauren) Leston is my POV FMC in "Worlds Away", a fantasy of which I have finished the first draft of)

    From Amity's lack of trusting people, her trust was abused at some point.

    She only talks with people she (at least) semi-knows, which helps prove the point above. Introverted as well.

    She trips over many things, including air and hidden tree roots. Clumsy, and awkward.

    Trips over easy words, uses the word 'stuff' a lot, has trouble explaining things. Again, proves the point above.

    Is called Lauren once in a long while, and responds to it. Amity is most likely not her real name.

    Has to regularly explain things to the people she is with in this foreign fantasy world. I deduce that she was transported in to this world somehow (fallen in, perhaps?), and is not from here.

    That was outrageously fun :D

    1. Nice job, Emily! It is fun, isn't it? The deer-stalker, yes, that's what is now more commonly known as a Sherlock Holmes hat.

  3. Well, I'm just going to do the deer stalking, though I do sometimes watch Sherlock.

    1. Shadow's clothes are worn.
    2. She has a look like she is hiding something.
    3. She refuses to put down her heavy bag.
    4. She has several pouches with multiple small things.
    5. A bit of paper is sticking out of one of the pouches and it has a drawing of a young girl.
    6. There is a sad look in Shadow's eyes.
    From this he might discover that Shadow has been traveling and doing a lot of work, she has something in her bag that must not get put in the world. She is a wizard, so the thing in her bag must be a book, most wizard's love reading. Her little sister recently died.

    1. Ooh, a wizard? Very cool. And I love the name Shadow!

  4. This is such a cool idea! So doing this! I love BBC Sherlock. By just going into my mind palace, I know Sherlock would notice my character's rough hands, darting eyes, fur on his clothing and lots of scars especially needle scars.

    Stori Tori's Blog

    1. Mind palaces are awesome, aren't they? I'm certainly no Sherlock Holmes so I guess rather than deduce and sometimes my guessing are totally off the wall, but from this I'm catching hints of scientific experimentation? Maybe? :)

  5. Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Downey Jr., Basil Rathbone! I love basically EVERY adaption of Sherlock Holmes. I'm a bit of a Holmes nut. I'm Sherlocked. XD ha!

    Anyway, this is a really cool idea! I'll have to give it a try sometime! :D

  6. Thank you for the post! This is such a good idea, I'm absolutely going to try it on some of my established characters and see what the result of the meeting is. :) I have a mute character, Amaranth, that would be a real treat to figure out with dear Holmes.

    1. I would love to see how that meeting turned out, Kelsey! Sounds like it would be a fascinating one.

  7. This is such an awesome post! Thanks so much! This is all super helpful! :):):)

  8. Dorlin Hull has secretive eyes, red and black robes and furtive attention to everything around him. He reaches for his daggers at moment's notice, and goes around his business quietly, without doing anything to stir attention. His is extremely silent at everything, and it's very easy to not notice him in a room. The scars on his arms and the small, barely noticeable burns on his hands, coupled with his quick reflexes, must mean he is a highly trained warrior and assassin working solely for the Emperor and also a budding flameweaver in secret. His secrecy is there because of his training, except he reacts violently and coldly to someone who takes away his daggers ad questions his past, which must mean something happened in his early childhood that even he does not look back to, and that it is associated with his daggers. One can deduce from his anti-social behavior and his fear of fire that his home burned down and that it took a loved one with it, and they would be correct. He does his missions quickly and makes no mistakes, for when he does the consequences are severe and unfortunate, and his rude, insolent cold profile, even to his master, means that somewhere, in there, he despises the Emperor. His discomfort with killing is not at all obvious, as he is adept at being an unreadable book. The fact that he is afraid of fire along with the fact that is starts burning in his hands unexpectedly and suddenly creates quite a conflict, which is the reason he resists the Path of the Flameweaver at first.

    Oh, the fun of it. I only have one chapter and one and a half scenes pinned down, and I already know a myriad of insights about my character. Thanks for the post! :)

    1. That's awesome, Jonathan! I love really getting to know my characters before I venture deep into the story, since so much of what they decide and how they act and respond depends upon who they are.

  9. This is a great post! I've never watched BBC's Sherlock, but I've seen a lot about it on Pinterest.

    What I imagine Sherlock would notice about my main character, Liesel:
    - Her fingers most often carry the smudges of typewriter ink.
    - She wears her hair in a braid, away from her face, but more than a few strands are usually loose and are sometimes slightly sticky.
    - When she picks something up, she immediately uses one arm to hold it and supports it on her left hip.
    - Her shoes, though mostly scrubbed clean, bear traces of dark earth and hints of cattle that live in the area.
    - She most often wears a shawl around her shoulders..

    From this, he may (or may not...) be able to surmise that she frequently uses a typewriter that could be slightly damaged, meaning that she would have to re-wind the ribbon as she types on it. Her hair she ties back so it won't get in her way, but it's slightly sticky and a few strands are loose because of a toddler who plays with her hair frequently, pulling it down. The way she holds things implies that she's used to holding a baby or a toddler who is old enough to sit up on his/her own, and that she usually holds this child while doing other things. Her shoes, more or less clean, imply that she's used to keeping things around her clean; even things most people wouldn't notice, like shoes, but that she's not entirely obsessed with it, as evidenced by the dirt and such that remain on her shoes. The dirt implies that she lives in a land that's good for farming, and is out in the dirt frequently, and the hints of cattle imply that she or someone near her raises cattle. The fact that she continually wears a shawl shows that she's used to moving in and outside frequently, so she got used to just leaving on something that wasn't too heavy for indoor use, but that would keep her warm.

    1. Yay, I'm not the only one who knows about Sherlock from the neverending world of Pinterest. XD

    2. xD Oh, no. Certainly not. It amazes me how much I can learn about different fandoms, television shows, and movies on Pinterest.

    3. I love the detail about immediately supporting things on one hip when she picks them up. My mind instantly jumped to someone who is used to holding a toddler, so it's a great detail in that it's unusual and unexpected but it's something readers can instantly recognize!

  10. Love this idea! Definitely going to use it in the future!

  11. Haven't watched Sherlock Holmes, but I have read one of the books. :D I'll have to do this sometime with my characters.

    1. The books ... well ... the books are just amazing! The TV series is brilliant too, but I shall always love those books.

  12. This is such a cool idea! The problem is that if I even tried to imitate Sherlock, he'd suggest that I lower the IQ of the entire street and perhaps I ought to stick to something more up my alley, like pretending I am an amoeba. Plot twist: Sherlock ends up with a black eye at the end of my scene just because I can't deal with his criticism.

    1. Love this. I'm afraid this is how Sherlock would respond to most of us if we ever happened to engage him in conversation. Characters like him are so much fun to watch, but I feel like they would be terribly difficult to get along with...

      And Sherlock probably could learn a thing or two from getting a black eye now and then!

  13. Amazing idea!! Thank you so much!

  14. If November McNabb and Sherlock were to meet he’d notice the following things:
    1. Her hair, which has never been dyed, is perfectly styled in waves that fall around her shoulders.
    2. She’s wearing a white crop top and tight jeans with flats.
    3. She has a worn reddening green clover-shaped silver ring on her right hand on her ring finger
    4. Her clothes smell faintly of smoke
    5. Her eyes wander during conversations and she seems distant at times
    6. She spins pens and pencils around in her fingers
    7. Her arms are slightly muscular.
    8. There’s a slight indent on one side of her mouth
    In which he’d infer she (1) has a specific image she must uphold to the public which is being well put together and problem free, she stays true to herself as well having never changed her hair color. He also infer that she is (2) comfortable in her skin to the point of not minding showing off her figure to the world and is also not overly dramatic as she keeps to flats. The (3) worn ring on her right ring finger indicates that she still holds dear the person who originally gave it to her although it was a while ago and she has not taken it off either. It was mostly likely a boy as well going from its location. She also (4) spends a lot of time around someone who smokes or smokes herself but considering there are no burns on her fingers nor does her breath smell foul it is most likely the former option as opposed to the later. Her (5) wandering eyes dictate that she’s easily distracted and curious and often ends up lost in thought. Her (6) spinning pen/pencil habits stems from her being a baton twirler and she is subconsciously keeping up her practice. Her (7) femininely muscular arms indicate that she is particular fit and does a sport that requires strong arms, however going by the way she holds herself she is a tennis player and not a softball player. And (8) the slight indent in on one side of her mouth shows that she smirk often as opposed to genuinely smiling which means she has recently becomes rarely happy and that she’s often prone to smug and insolent behavior.

    1. Wow, I can tell you've given this character a lot of thought! Awesome.

  15. Sherlock Holmes meeting Lim, the Ganorian servant girl... hm, not likely. But if he did, this is what he would notice:

    1. She is a thin, somewhat short girl who keeps her eyes on the ground. She says "sir," and "my lord" a lot. She is also barefoot.

    From this, he could deduce that 1) she eats very little, and 2) she has been raised a slave.

    2. She has a deep red scar from theboutside corner of her right eye down to her mouth and a look of fear in her eyes.

    He could deduce that she has been mistreated at some point in her life.

    3. Her modest servant's garments have grass stains on the knees, which she constantly tries to hide. She often returns home witb leaves and pieces of bird's-nests in her hair.

    Holmes could guess (and rightly!) that she is hiding something and going out somewhere she shouldn't go.

    But for her friend, the princess Gloria, Holmes would see:

    1. She has glowing white wings and carries a bow and full quiver with her everywhere. Her face is constantly defiant.

    He would deduce that 1) she is of a different nationality than Lim, 2) she is trained in combat, and 3) she is trying to prove hrrself to others.

    2. Her long blond hair is often tangled from the shoulders down.

    He might deduce thst she spends much time flying, tangling her hair in her wings.

    3. She walks with a military carriage, but only when she is being watched.

    She does many things because of others' expecations.

    Wow!!! I should do this for ALL my characters!

    Quick question: Lim is my MC, and absolutely essential to the plot, but she seems to be overshadowed by Gloria as the more vibrant character. How do I keep Gloria from taking over????

    Thanks!! GREAT exercise!!!!

    1. Oh, a winged warrior? Sounds fascinating! That might put Sherlock aback a bit... though he's done a bit of "flying" himself...

      Without really knowing the background of your story, there are just a couple things that come to mind. But they may or may not be helpful to your specific story, so feel free to take what's useful and ignore the rest! :)

      If it's a scene problem, where you notice Gloria is taking over the scene through calling attention to herself, you might try removing her from the forefront by having a distraction that calls her to the side or giving your main character something that pulls her away with the other characters she needs to be interacting with.

      Or it's just a general problem, I'd suggest trying to really dig deep into Lim's character and figure out what makes her sympathetic (just going off your description, it could be the fact that she was a slave and has been mistreated) and focus on writing her in such a way that readers will connect with her. Sure Gloria may be bright and bold and quick to catch the eye, but if the readers connect with Lim and invest in her goals, she won't lose her place as the main character.

      Just a thought!

    2. Yep, it was a general problem. But there are a lot of ways I can make Lim more sympathetic...
      1) She has to make the choice- to marry or to save the kingdom- without knowing if the groom will forgive her for running away on their wedding.
      2) She is forced to do something completely against her scruples (REALLY sad scene. I almost cried.)
      3) Her best friend, "father," and protector is brutally murdersd because of her.

      It seems like almost EVERYTHING bad happens to Lim.

      Thanks for the advice!!! I am definitely using it.

  16. If Sherlock Holmes met Jack Hamilton, he would notice:
    Expensive but worn clothing
    Coat is old, but just the right size
    Scar over nose
    Seemingly permanent frown and lowered eyebrows
    Keeps feet spread shoulder-width and his hands tend to be in fists, or in his coat pockets
    Because of these things, Sherlock would deduce that Jack has a rich benefactor, though he has not seen this person for some time (the clothing is about three years out of fashion). The clothing must have been hand-me-downs, as the coat, though three years old, now fits Jack perfectly. It would have been too large for him three years ago.
    The scar on his nose was done intentionally by a left-handed man with a knife. It slides over the bridge of his nose to Jack’s right--the knife-wielder’s left--obviously being held with the left hand. (Ever tried sliding a knife in the opposite direction than your wrist wants to go in?) The scar appears to be about five years old, so putting Jack’s age around thirteen, means that this left-handed man knew him as a young child. The way Jack avoids conversation about the scar points to the conclusion that he still speaks to this man.
    The lowered eyebrows and evidently unchanging frown Jack has shows that he’s had an unhappy childhood and is unused to smiling. He frequently lapses into silence, and though he appears to be very bright, he takes his time speaking. Conclusion: He is an introverted fellow who feels it necessary to think out what he is about to say before saying it.
    He keeps his feet spread shoulder-length and his hands in fists. It’s a fighter’s stance--Jack is a street rat, and is used to resorting to fistfights to keep others from taking his street corners. Sometimes he keeps his hands in his pockets. His hands are cold. The winter isn’t fully on yet, so he must have sensitive fingers, or perhaps he’s worried about his fingers getting cold. May have a history with frostbitten fingertips.

    Ha, that was long. XD Great exercise! Thanks so much!

    1. Very nice, Catsi! Jack Hamilton sounds like quite the interesting character. I especially like the detail about the frostbitten fingertips.

    2. Thanks, Gillian! :) He's a lot of fun to write about.

  17. Sherlock gives Mora the once over. He sees the rich fabric of her tunic, the traces of many wrinkles in it, and the uncomfortable way she wears it. From this he deduces that she wears it every day she can further deduces that it is not something she would have picked out for herself. Gift. Now if the person who gave it to her was a woman she would have gotten a girl's tunic not a married woman's one, that says gift from a man, but not a romantic gift. "Not a romantic gift?" She can't take her eyes off the body guard with the grumpy face. He isn't the sort of fellow to give a girl clothes. Father then or other close male relation.

    Now look at the way she walks. She kicks her feet too much, she's used to a fuller skirt, there are green staines on her thumb, Rockweed. She's used to being with the Tibiri people and she's a healer, or was in training to be one.

    She's got a body guard and her hands are relatively soft but there are traces of old calluses. She is used to hard work such as scrubbing and gathering wood but has not had to do it in recent months. But there are fresh pricks on her finger, the positioning says darning not embroidery, she's a servant then in a fancy place.

    "Sherlock, you said body guard?"

    The man? He's a body guard. he stands stiff and straight while she looks at the wares in the stalls and despite their disgustingly obvious attraction to each other he doesn't offer her his arm when they walk. But when there was a sudden noise his hand went to his hip but there was no weapon. He's a body guard but he's undercover.

    That isn't a hairpin in her hair by the way, it's a tiny ornate dagger. They are not only under cover but they expect danger. Those sulfer burns on the heel over her hand and the iron rust on her elbow? She's been working at an alchemists table recently but very awkward at it.

    Conclusion. She's the daughter of that foolish looking man over there who is fingering his money in front of the sandle makers. His hands have many burns but they are old and his tunic has iron rust on it from where he's carefully wiped his hands.

    Now a body guard a tibiri raised girl and a weak looking man out undercover preparing for danger. What does that fit?

    "Part of the team spotted spiriting the prince out of Cunn."

    Correct John.

    "That and the fact that that's the queen beckoning them from the corner."

    1. Well this has me quite intrigued! I'm so happy you wrote out the scene. I could practically hear Sherlock spouting all of that glorious information from his wealth of knowledge ... only to completely gloss over the queen beckoning from the corner...

      Where would Sherlock be without John?

  18. Thanks for the great post, Gillian--it got my creative brain juices flowing! If Sherlock Holmes met my heroine, here are a few things he would notice and the conclusions he might draw:
    1) Cropped hair - unusual in the cultural context of 1940s Germany (long braids standard), indicates her slightly defiant streak
    2) Wears a wristwatch, delicate earrings and fringed socks - the Nazi League of German Girls discouraged jewelry and accessories; again, demonstrates her individualism and also good aesthetic sense
    3) Extremely short fingernails - the unmistakable mark of a serious pianist!
    4) Hunched posture - self-conscious and insecure
    5) Charcoal smudges on pads of fingers - loves to draw
    6) She's smuggled fashion magazines into her apartment (also discouraged by the Nazi leadership) - although she is beautiful, is starved for love and craves affirmation