Evolving Ideas: 5-Minute Sherlock Rebuilding
For the most part, the version you read on last week’s blog was meant to be Sherman’s start and end point. A fun, easy short-story setup that I could play with from time-to-time as ideas occurred. But part of me kept wondering… could I make it into a real book? As it was, the answer was an obvious no. The original structure was built for speed: get in, make the jokes, jump out before everything wears thin. The idea kept persisting though, a thought challenge to play with when my mind wandered.
Over time, shaving away bits and tweaking details, I had a pretty solid set-up in my head, yet still nothing book-worthy. It was one realization that clicked everything into place, but we’ll get to that in a few paragraphs. The point is, by the time Audible and I were discussing our next project, I knew 5-Minute Sherlock was ready for the next step. Today we’re going to talk about the actual logistics of taking that step, how the shorts were evaluated and restructured to make the jump from quick-blog to full series.
What to Keep
Evolving a premise boils down to what to keep, what to change, and what to change radically. The keep stuff was fairly easy in this case. I loved the name and the general premise: for five minutes at a time the protagonist is a super-genius, but it doesn’t stop him from being a pain in the ass. Another easy call was keeping it an homage, rather than aim for real Sherlock fiction. Sherman works much better as a person’s interpretation of Holmes than being presented as an actual version, plus I wanted to build my own world to support the new stories.
That said, I also knew I wanted to keep the allusions to original Sherlock lore woven in. Using Moriarty in the second short was no accident, I was having a lot of fun imagining ways to play on the expectations of these long-established character concepts and associations. Granted, there is a lot more of that in the novel than the shorts, though had more shorts been written you’d have seen it emerge more frequently.
The last piece I knew had to stay, and also change, was the dynamic between Watson and Sherman. He still needed to be Sherman’s semi-exasperated keeper, the one who actually had to clean-up after whatever shenanigans Sherman caused. They of course needed to be roommates, both for the expected setup and because it makes an entertaining dynamic. So what about this starting point didn’t get kept? Well, that leads into the next topic nicely.
What to Change
The part of Sherman and Watson’s dynamic that wasn’t clicking was their lack of friendship, at least on the page. Put-upon-assistant-with-dreams-of-murder works short-term, we need a little more character depth for a real story. This was one of the first things I changed in the rebuild, and why the first book is more or less an origin story. Building a powerful friendship between Watson and Sherman was going to be the heart of the series, the explanation for why Watson puts up with such constant frustration. A shared bond makes it a buddy comedy, instead of a madman berating an employee.
Obviously, the next changes were to the setting/premise. Rather than being an actual relative of Sherlock Holmes, Sherman is now just a person who believes that. This was essential to establish a lot of things: why everyone immediately gets the Sherlock references, that this is not taking place in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s world in any way, and that we’re in a world meant to be at least similar to our own. It was also essential to give them some purpose, hence why they moved toward a more traditional detective office setting.
Funnily enough, Watson was pretty solid from start. I changed his name very slightly for reasons I truly have lost to the sands of time, and of course added the leg/backstory to bring in more original Sherlock themes, as well as expanding on his character’s depth. But much like the man himself, Watson has been my stable point through all this.
The last change to cover in this section was one of tone. You might notice the original shorts were much bluer than The Case of the Damaged Detective. Despite what you might have guessed, that change was entirely on my end, not a request from Audible as publisher. As the updated premise was taking shape, the highlighted vulgarity didn’t really make sense with the new version of the character. I started writing some test dialogue, and found it far funnier when Sherman used needlessly elaborate, and often incorrect, language to curse people out, rather than just going crass. It was a fresh tone to go with a fresh character, because Sherman probably changed the most in the update, even if not all of it is immediately visible. Speaking of…
What to Change Radically
Remember my realization that clicked everything into place I teased? Told you we’d get here. The lynchpin in this evolution of a premise came when I figured out that Sherman wasn’t just a comedic figure: he was also a tragic one. We see this idea of synthetic genius tossed into stories here and there, but even the ones that try to add some weight or cost to it will often exempt their MC. Messing with the brain would have consequences though, and even a successful version would come with side-effects.
That was my “aha” moment, understanding that Sherman isn’t an asshole by choice, he’s paying the price of his change, struggling to get through the world. From there, so much of it all fell into place. This new starting point let me tweak some of his worse qualities (the cursing) while adding in new quirks and depths (rain, the sleep fits, his constant need for stimulus) that helped round the character out.
Outside of Sherman himself, it was clear the world overall needed a good shakeup. Our prior stories were narrow in scope by design, but that approach no longer works when you’ve got a larger tale to support. I had to expand outward, figuring out where this drug came from, how he was exposed, the greater mechanisms at work behind the scenes, all that fun “actual plot” stuff. It almost seems silly to point out, but the other radical change was the introduction of larger plots. Both for the self-contained entries, jumping from shorts to books, and also in terms of creating an arc for the series overall. Those things were definitely not around for Version 1.
While that’s certainly not the entirety of the changes, I don’t want to go too in depth past here because we’re dealing with a new series, so there will be plenty of spoilers ahead. Join me next week as I dig into how I started expanding the story now that the structure had been retooled.