Applying the Bechdel test

This is an interesting exercise – have any of you ever applied the Bechdel test to your work of fiction?

For those of you who don’t know what it is, “The Bechdel test, also known as the Bechdel-Wallace test,[1] asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added…The test is used as an indicator for the active presence of women in films and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction due to sexism.[2]” – Wikipedia definition

You might be surprised how few of your favourite movies, tv shows and books actually pass the Bechdel test, but that’s for a separate post. Do YOUR works of fiction pass it?

I went through my first three Portia books today and found that yes, they do (thank God).

In Jewel of the Thames, Portia has many conversations with her guardian Irene Jones/Adler that have nothing to do with men. She also has conversations with her mother that avoid the topic. In total, there are 6 named female characters in the book – Portia, Irene Jones/Adler, Mme. LaPointe, Elaine Barclay, Mrs. Dawes and Mrs. Anderson.

In Thrice Burned, Portia does have a few discussions about the male characters with Annie and Irene Jones/Adler. She also has many discussions that do not involve men at all with the 6 named female characters in this book – Annie Coleson, Irene Jones/Adler, Elaine Barclay/Ridley, Mrs. Dawes, Emily Watson and Sarah Watson.

And in No Matter How Improbable, my detective once again has conversations with Annie and Irene Jones/Adler about male characters. But the majority of topics discussed by two women in this book are about the cases Portia is pursuing, which is perfect. It seems that in my third book I went all out, because Improbable also has 10 named female characters: Portia, Elaine Barclay, Annie Coleson, Nanny Pina, Princess Francesca, Mrs. Dawes, Lia, Dr. Heather Olsen, Sarah Watson and Emily Watson.

How did you do?

Villains you love

Do you have villains in literature/movies/TV shows whom you love?

You know the ones I’m talking about – those characters who but for a twist of fate would be the heroes of a story.

I’m writing my uber-villain right now and I’m thinking of writing a short-story from his point-of-view just to make sure I capture the depth of his descent.

Please share your favourite villains below, I need ideas my friends, and I’d like to pull characteristics from the BEST of the BEST.

This is by the way my One Fictitious Moment video on how to write a great villain – enjoy!

What’s in a name – part two!

New Name!
a new name for Gregory Charles!

If I haven’t said it before, let me say it now: I have an amazing publisher in Fierce Ink Press.

Last week they asked me to flesh-out my synopsis for book 2 in the Portia Adams Adventures, and I have to tell you, I find writing synopses MUCH harder than writing casebooks.

They were super-patient and helpful, teasing out the bits that really draw a reader in, and teaching me a lot about how to ‘sell’ your story.

But the most interesting thing that came up was the paragraph about Portia’s new boyfriend – the brilliant coroner I named Gregory Charles. They were as unimpressed with his name as I have been through the course of writing about him (here’s my post from last year about my issues with his name) and in talking out what his significance will be to Portia’s story arc over the next few books, we all decided he needed a new name.

He has that kind of dark-cool-sexiness that reminds me of Mr. Darcy or Spock or Sylar from Heroes.  I started by listing out some words that describe him: dark, cool, sexy, mysterious, brilliant, restrained, closed-off, intimidating.

After going back and forth about his character and how he develops over the casebooks, and using some baby name sites to brainstorm we settled on Dr. Gavin Douglas Whitaker (no more Gregory Charles!).

What do you all think of that?

What if Dr. Watson’s other grandchild was a psychologist?

'Take the red pill...'
‘Take the red pill…’

Oh boy. I just had a really cool idea: with Portia Adams the consulting detective now operating from 221B Baker St, how cool would it be if her cousin, another grandchild of Dr. John Watson, was a criminal psychologist?

I like that idea. I’m trying to work out if this new addition to Portia’s life should be a man or a woman. Regardless, there are all kinds of opportunities here for conflict, tension, competition, emotion… the list goes on and on.

This is a story after all, and I personally LOVE it when a character links to another character from canon, it’s like an inside joke between the author and I.

I have to think about it some more, but I had to write it down cause I haven’t stopped smiling since I thought of it.

NB: Just a quick edit, I wanted to make sure it was feasible that a woman at this time could be a practicing psychologist, and yes, it seems the first woman to earn a Phd in Psychology was Margaret Washburn, and that was way back in 1894, a good 30 years earlier. Margaret Lowenfield could serve as a good model for such a character.

What’s in a name?

This is actually a funny blog post because I only discovered this by mistake while writing out the character profiles over the last month or so.
There are very few character names that I really really thought about before naming them: Portia Adams and Nerissa are two that spring to mind right away for example in that I walked around thinking about the best name for my protagonist for some time. I knew her last name had to be Adams based on the canon, but her first name is all mine, and led to the naming of her faithful bloodhound Nerissa.

BUT what is interesting is that the rest of the characters were named on instinct for the most part. Brian Dawes for example, was just the name that seemed to fit the character best, based on nothing but it seeming to fit. The same is true for Sergeant Michaels, Dr. Beans, Chief Inspector Archer and Annie Coleson.

I struggled with Dr. Gregory Charles (actually I still do) because it seemed to be a name that was too anonymous. But as the character is growing in my mind, more and more it seems to fit.

The funny thing is that while writing these character profiles I am discovering neat things about my seemingly random instinctive choices. Some really apt meanings of names have sprung out at me from Google that honestly make me feel like some higher power (the God of the Lexicon perhaps) was guiding my hand. It’s very weird, but also super cool.

This has led to planning the first names for Michaels and Archer (who up until now were only known by their titles and surnames) that I will not claim were random.

What about you guys? How do you decide on character names?

Character Profile: Brian Dawes

I’m starting a new category in this blog for character profiles (you can find them all here), and I think I’m going to start with Constable Brian Dawes, seeing as he is so central to the next casebook I am writing.

You might ask why I don’t start with the heroine of my series, Miss. Portia Adams, and the answer is that I did one for her when I first launched this blog, and you can find it in this post titled Keeping track of it all.

Using that post as a template, here is my character profile of Brian Dawes:

BrianFULL NAME: Brian Kevin Dawes, AKA Constable Dawes, Constable at Scotland Yard

AGE: in 1929 he is 24-years-old, therefore born in December 1905.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Brown eyes, 6’2″ tall, slim but athletic build, dark thick hair, dimples when he smiles, which is often, with a kind handsome face. In the latest casebook (8) he exhibits some minor form of claustrophobia while trapped in the bank vault. Over the course of The Detective and the Spy, he’s injured in the same explosion as Portia and becomes addicted to opium through the machinations of Gavin Whittaker.

LOCATION: London, lives in the lower apartment of 221 Baker St

EDUCATION: Basic schooling in London, joined Scotland Yard as a Constable in 1929.

PREFERENCES: Prefers beer over wine, favours pork over other meats, enjoys wide range of vegetables, but only really likes strawberries in the fruit category. He is also an Arsenal football fan.

SOCIALLY: Has both parents living in the downstairs apartment of 221A Baker Street with him, neither of who work, and whom he therefore supports. Dated Annie Coleson, in 1930, but they split amicably. He’s been exclusively dating Portia since  December, 1934.

Need a bit’o Biblical aid my friends

King James Bible
Bible image from

Now that Book 6 is transcribed into the magical computer box, I can no longer ignore the square brackets around the part of the book that refer to Reverend Joseph’s sermons.

He has two sermons that Portia witnesses, and they don’t need to be detailed, but should be as accurate as they can be to the Christian Bible. Not being a Christian (I’m a Hindu who is as fond of Jesus as I am of Krishna) I am left with the internet as my source of scripture.. and surprisingly, its not great for finding the passages I am looking to quote.

I’ve been using the Bartleby site here and it’s pretty good, but requires that you are more familiar with the text than <ahem> am.

What I need is a sermon that quotes a biblical passage on prostitution, and so far all I’ve found is Leviticus 19: 29

“Do not prostitute thy daughter, to cause her to be a whore; Deut. 23.17 lest the land fall to whoredom, and the land become full of wickedness.”

And Isaiah 57: 3

“But draw near hither, ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore. Against whom do ye sport yourselves? against whom make ye a wide mouth, and draw out the tongue?”

Does anyone have a better suggestion?

And the second sermon I seek to quote is about violence, and I found Psalms 58:

“Yea, in heart ye work wickedness; ye weigh the violence of your hands in the earth.”

Again, anyone have a better suggestion?

Defining a character

Man in the shadows
Who was that masked man?

This post was prompted by a blog post I read over on and if you get a chance, you should go read it in full. Essentially, the blogger over at myrthtown defines a process in their latest post on how to really develop a character. Now, their post was specifically around a NEW character, but I thought I’d apply it to a character who has already been introduced, but I feel quite frankly I don’t know well enough. So here goes:

Name: Gregory Charles
Profession: Coroner
What does Gregory Charles want? Money, Respect, Standing in the Community
Why does Gregory Charles want those things?
1. He was an orphan, a grew up with no money and no support.
2. He is very bright, more so than most around him, and wants that to be obvious.
3. He sees people around him who get treated better than him because of the class they are from.
4. He has a new girlfriend (Portia) who is monied, respected and as smart as he.
5. Because he is ambitious and competitive.

Expanding on the following:

1. a As an orphan he had a hard life, one he is seeking to leave behind as quickly as possible.
1. b He does not have any known siblings or relatives, so he is used to being alone
1. c His chosen profession is equally lonely, that of a coroner.

4. a The woman he has chosen to date is also an orphan but had the opposite experience, being loved, sheltered, and now monied.
4. b Despite the gender difference, one could say that Portia is more successful at her profession than Dr. Charles is at his.

Engineering and Architecture – or how to create a secret compartment

Diorama of Portia's Apt
Diorama of Portia's Apt

I’ve never been good with spatial reasoning, I really have to see something to understand it, let alone to describe it in prose in a book!

I wanted to include a secret hiding spot where Holmes would have kept his really top-secret stuff, and that Portia could discover and use to her own advantage as well. My idea was that the spot be somewhere behind the fireplace, but in trying to articulate both its discovery and usage, I struggled to explain it clearly.

So I kind of built it, with cardboard, to be able to describe it things that are happening in a scene. Its kind of a little diorama. Hopefully it will be useful in the future when I do other descriptive writing, but at the very least, it will help me be consistent (like when I describe Portia coming out of her bedroom and bumping into her dresser on her right – let’s establish the dresser is on the right!!).

This first pic is of the whole apartment (the bathroom is in the lower right quadrant, the fireplace on the left and Portia’s bed is hidden in the top right quadrant.

This second picture is of the a close up of the fireplace itself.

Diorama image 2: The Fireplace
Diorama image 2: The Fireplace

Note the two white columns on either side and the mantlepiece.

The chairs are the wingbacks Portia usually sits in and in the very left of the image you can barely see the stove. Yes, I know, try not to get distracted by the horrible details, this is NOT my forte.

Now if you look at the third image below of the diorama in close-up you see my clumsy fingers demonstrating how the white columns rotate forward, allowing for limited storage behind them and beside the actual fireplace. I figure with the brick all-round the fireplace area, and the white columns being made out of wood, the hidden contents should be reasonably protected from a fire in the fireplace.

Close up of the fireplace demonstrating the hiding spot...
Close up of the fireplace demonstrating the hiding spot...

What think you?

Starting Book 6

Whitechapel prostitutes
White chapel prostitutes

Finally finished transcribing Book5/ Box 850 which means I can start in on Book 6. Actually, I started writing Book 6 before I was finished transcribing, but now I can do it without guilt!

Anyway, right off the bat, I need a clearer picture of the status of prostitutes in Britain in 1931. I think I want to incorporate them into the Baker Street Irregulars. I think they could be a nice evolution. Sherlock Holmes was able to use the street kids of England to get him information he didn’t have access to. I don’t think he ever had prostitutes as his sources of information, but I feel Portia Adams could … but I need to figure out if her upbringing and social status might make her prejudiced towards the profession.

Since Whitechapel is so well-known for housing brothels at this time, it may be a likely spot to place this book’s main events.

As part of that research I came across “Life and Labour of the people in London” by Charles Booth. I would like very much to get a ahold of the whole series, does anyone know if it has been PDFed?