Everyone once in a while, I wake up in the morning with an idea for my post theme popping out of my head — that’s exactly what happened to me today. After writing about our peerless pal Sherlock, I woke up thinking that if I could ask his creator A. Conan Doyle one question, it would be: What’s your secret? How did you manage to conjure up a character so convincing and beloved that grown men cried and wore mourning bands to their offices when you propelled him off a cliff prematurely? How did you breathe so much life into a fictional hero that whole biographies have been written about him and Sherlockian scholars make a living by decoding him?
Now, oceans of ink have surely been spilled on this theme, but I think we can all agree on a few of the “tools of the trade” that Doyle used to perfection — ones that we can also fruitfully employ in creating memorable characters of our own. First, he based Sherlock on a real person; rooting him in reality made him seem real — and all too human. Second, he gave him a profession with an aura of mystery and danger — always intriguing for a reader. Third, he enlisted Watson as a likeable and credible sidekick who acts as everyman to Sherlock’s superman. Fourth, he endows Sherlock with an impressive set of personality quirks: the amazing deductive powers, the violin playing, the cocaine habit, the wild mood swings. And finally, Doyle evokes a powerful sense of place: Baker Street and the gaslit, foggy streets of London.
When I think of a character in contemporary fiction who seems memorable for many of the same reasons, Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo gets my vote. She’s got a steel-trap mind, a shady profession as a computer hacker, plenty of personality quirks, a complicated life, a likeable sidekick, and a colorful home base. Sherlock and Salander: perfect together!