lockwood copyLockwood and Co. by Jonathan Stroud

In a Great Britain beset by a plague of deadly ghosts only fully visible to psychically-attuned children, Lucy and her two other teenaged co-workers at Lockwood and Co. struggle to keep their exorcism business, and themselves, alive after they inadvertently burn down a client’s house.

What I learned, Part 1 – Resonance. I found this concept in the writing tips of David Farland (who has an excellent newsletter). The idea boils down to this: don’t be afraid of actively placing your influences into your writing, chances are that someone who likes the same things you do will enjoy your story all the more. Additionally, it can be an effective shortcut to making the reader experience your exact tone. Lockwood and Co. is an outstanding book, and from the first paragraph I felt it resonating with Sherlock Holmes. Lockwood and Sherlock, obviously have a connection, but beyond that, the list of failed “cases” from that opening text sound like they easily could be taken from Doyle’s writing. This dovetails perfectly with the fact that though the protagonists usually would be simply fighting the dead with silver, iron and salt, they end up embroiled in a 50 year old mystery.

What I learned, Part 2 – Every single detail contributes to mood, so consider ‘how’ you describe the setting. Stroud is a master of description, so many of his sensory images ring with allusions to death. “The last light from the door panes stretching out like skewed coffins on the floor in front of us… our shadows neatly framed inside of them.”

What I learned, Part 3 – Backstory becomes much more interesting the longer you hold off explaining it. Stroud begins with a case a few months after Lucy joins the upstart agency, only alluding to how “The Problem” (ghosts growing much more common and being able to touch) began roughly 50 years earlier and briefly mentioning that Lucy had to abruptly leave her last agency. So by the time, a couple chapters later, we learn what happened to Lucy’s old team we are eager to discover it. And while we never do find out why The Problem began, the hints at the end of the book make us believe we will eventually learn the truth.