“Try it yourself,” Dr. Watson told Sherlock Holmes when the latter complained about the good doctor’s accounts of their adventures. Holmes did so twice with, it is generally agreed, rather lamentable results.
Literally thousands of other writers also have produced their own Sherlock Holmes stories, usually with even more lamentable results. But now comes Leah Guinn with Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure ofthe Blank Page, an invaluable guide for budding pastiche writers.
As one who has written both Sherlock Holmes stories and an essay on how to write pastiches (you can find both in “The Peculiar Persecution of John VincentHarden”), I found this 62-page entry in the John H. Watson Society’s MonographSeries to be an excellent guide to the craft.
Ms. Guinn manages to be both academically rigorous (28 footnotes) and intensely practical. She begins with a survey of the field, neatly categorizing various kinds of Holmes stories in “A Field Guide to Common Pastiches.” Full disclosure: She very kindly mentions my Sebastian McCabe – Jeff Cody mysteries in the “Guest Starring Sherlock Holmes” category.
The sections on “Getting Started,” “Using the Canon in Your Pastiche” (even highly uncanonical ones), “Research in Your Pastiche,” and “Plot in Your Pastiche” (i.e., The Watson Formula, as fist outlined by Msgr. Ronald Knox), are all excellent.
My favorite section, however, is “Characterization in Your Pastiche.” In just two pages, Ms. Guinn nicely sets out some essential elements of our dynamic duo’s characters that no pasticheur should distort – but many do. For example: “Watson is a ladies’ man, but he is always a gentleman.” And I love this sage advice: “Whatever you do, don’t alter character solely to further the plot or dialogue.” Are you getting that, people?
Ms. Guinn’s last writing section, before she deals with the practicalities of publication, is called “Editing: More Fun Than You Might Think.” That is actually true. I wish that more pastiche writers would do it!