Monday, July 28, 2014

Writing Sherlock just to see what's under the hood.

With a mere two days left until the deadline for entries to "Bootalicious: The first, the only, Sherlock Holmes e-story contest with boots!" I find myself at 1402 of the 2500 word limit. At which point the second problem with writing for Sherlock Holmes story contests comes in.

First, of course, is getting the idea, getting comfortable in the idea, and starting the writing.

Second, then, comes that moment when you realize you have to land this plane you've just gotten airborne, and you have to do it with only so much fuel and runway left. Story contest judges can be very persnickety about their word count limits. And as so few of us are Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, they're not going to let our works get fatter and fatter just because the market can't get enough of our prose.

Sources on the web say a short story should be between 1,000 and 7,500 words long -- a limit that Watson went over many times, but then, his novels were a bit short by modern standards as well. The "Bootalicious" contest limit actually makes its entries qualify as "short-short stories" and there is where the Sherlockian writer can get into trouble.

There are so many trappings we love that go with an enjoyable Sherlock story. The Baker Street scene, the Watsonian commentary, the descriptions of the clients . . . and then one feels the need to set up a mystery, of course, which must be followed by a solution to said mystery. All of that basically makes it three stories in one. And while one could allow 2,500 words each for the trappings, the mystery, and the solution and get a 7,500 word story in, pulling all three parts together in 2,500 provides something of a challenge.

If you've never written a Sherlock Holmes story, it's an exercise well worth trying, even if you're certain you have no talent whatsoever. No one else has to read your story for you to get something out of it -- the mere act of trying to put together a similar beastie to those stories you've enjoyed all your life can give you a different perspective on what makes them, and what makes them  enjoyable.

It's a little like tinkering with an old car, just to see how it runs. You want to pick a car you're not depending upon to get you were you want to go, just as you don't want to quit your job just to see what writing fiction is like. There are professionals out there who have that covered. But a little tinkering in your spare time never hurt anyone, and can be quite educational.

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