How To Write a Novel — Riddle

Day 53 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 53 — Riddle

Yesterday I spent some time working on how the lifts in The Smell Tower worked. Each one follows a number sequence. Today Charlie wants Staghorn to show him the plans of the building and I wrote in my notes that she sets him a riddle, and if he solves it she will show him the plans.

I must have been thinking about all those number sequences because I’m working on a number riddle. I came up with the idea from a very simple riddle on the internet, then played around with it for thirty minutes or so to come up with this:

On my way into town,

I met my double upside down,

We said hello, and then goodbye,

I left my square,

So who am I?

These are the story threads for today.

  • Charlie tracks down Staghorn eating her lunch.
  • Charlie finds the plans for The Smell Tower and discovers Miasmus has secret floors that no lifts go to.
  • Charlie riddles with Staghorn. If he solves the riddle then she will show him the plans to the building.
  • Charlie says he learnt everything he knows about deduction from his dad.
  • Staghorn is eating toast for lunch.

Against the clock

To keep the words flowing I’m going to write against the clock in three fifteen minute bursts. My aim is to write roughly 750 words.

Charlie headed down to the restaurant and was pleased to see Staghorn just finishing her lunch. He sat down next to her.

“You must have spent ages on the plans for this place. It is so clever,” he said.

Staghorn finished her last mouthful. “You wouldn’t believe it. Took me years. The plans are the pride of my portfolio.”

“I’d love to see them,” said Charlie.

“Would you now?”

“Yes. I think you’re a genius and it would be a great honour to be able to see your work.”

Staghorn sat up straighter. “It is not often that I find someone who appreciates what I do. But I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand them. I haven’t even shown them to my Pensa pals.”

“I’m clever,” said Charlie.

“For a twelve year old, maybe. But this is adult stuff. When you’re older maybe.”

She stood up and headed towards the door. Charlie followed after her.

“Ask me anything. I bet I can answer it,” he said.

Staghorn paused. “Anything? You sure?”

Charlie wasn’t sure that he’d be able to answer anything. He’d never learned to knit, for example. If she asked him anything about how to make a jumper he’d be lost, but he wasn’t bad at the basics. Besides, what did he have to lose?

“Sure, anything,” he said.

“Alright. You come to my floor, forty-three, in half an hour and I’ll ask you a riddle. If you get it right, I’ll let you have a look at the plans.”

Charlie spent the next thirty minutes trying to remember every riddle he’d ever heard. There was one about an egg, and another about a towel, but the details were a blur. His dad’s favourite trick was to ask you what goes in a postbox — post. Then what goes in a toaster? Charlie always answered toast, even though he knew the answer was bread.

He arrived early to floor forty-seven. The lift doors opened onto a corridor, much like his floor. Charlie ventured along it, calling out hello.

“In here,” came Staghorn’s voice from a room on the right.

Charlie walked into a soft wonderland. Under his feet a thick, spongy carpet in a deep purple cushioned his steps. With big loops of thread, it looked like Staghorn had knitted it herself. In fact everything in the room looked like she had knitted it. A large sofa with a cover knitted in a geometric design crossed the centre of the room. Small tables with family photos sat either side, each with its own knitted placemat showing one of the planets. At the windows hung heavy knitted curtains. They were drawn back to let the sun shine in at the moment but concertinad faces peered out from them. Charlie thought he recognised the crazy hair and deep set stare of Einstein.

“Take a seat Mr Quick,” said Staghorn. She held a rolled up piece of paper in one hand and pointed to the couch with it.

Whilst Charlie sat, she unrolled the paper.

“This riddle was devised by me. So don’t think you’ll know the answer already,” she said. Charlie thought she might have been reading his mind.

She cleared her throat and read,

On my way into town,

I met my double, upside down,

We said hello, and then goodbye,

I left my square,

So who am I?”

She handed the paper to Charlie to look at. “Five minutes should suffice I think.”

Charlie forced himself to stay calm. Five minutes? That hardly seemed time to work out what it meant, never mind find an answer. He shut his eyes for a moment and pictured his dad. Although his dad wasn’t the best private investigator, he had told Charlie how to approach a problem. First, pick out the important bits from the rest.

Looking again at the paper, Charlie saw that some of the rhyme seemed to be just there to confuse him, whilst other words seemed like the key parts. Two words in particular he thought must be important — double and square. They both suggested it was something to do with numbers. Doubling was easy, and he’d done square numbers at school. They were the ones where you timesed something by itself.

“Can I have a piece of paper please?” said Charlie.

“Of course,” said Staghorn, pulling a sheet from a drawer and a pencil as well. “Three minutes left.”

Charlie focussed and chanted to himself. One times one is one. Two times two is four. Three times three is nine. Four times four is sixteen. Five times five is twenty five. Six times six is thirty six.

He wrote those numbers down: 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, 36.

He read the riddle again. Met my double upside down. What numbers can be read upside down? One if it is just a stick, or eight. But they would be the same upside down as right way up. What he needed was a number that would still be a number upside down but not the same number.

“One minute,” said Staghorn.

Charlie pushed a wave of panic back down and rubbed his sweaty palms on his jeans. The numbers on the page started to swim. He blinked. Then the answer came to him. Six. When you turned it upside down it was nine.

“Six,” he said.

“Is that your answer?” said Staghorn.

There was something in the way she said it that made Charlie pause. She was smiling. It wasn’t the right answer.

“No,” he said, “Just thinking aloud.”

“Ten seconds,” said Staghorn.

He read the riddle again. My double upside down is my square. If six was my double, then I’d be three. And three squared is nine. And nine is six upside down.

“Sorry, times up,” said Staghorn.

“Three,” shouted Charlie.

Staghorn’s face froze.

“It’s three isn’t it?” insisted Charlie.

“Yes, it is,” she said.

Charlie beamed at her. “Great. Told you I was smart. Can I see the plans now please?”

“Yes,” said Staghorn, taking the riddle from him and putting it away.

He waited but she didn’t reach for anything else.

“Where are they?” said Charlie.

“Not that clever, eh?” said Staghorn. “You’re sitting on them.”

Charlie stood up and looked again at the cover on the coach. What he had thought was just a geometric design was actually an architectural drawing. He lifted it up and laid it out on the carpet. It stretched across the entire room. One hundred and one floors all mapped out in great knitted detail.

“What are these?” said Charlie, pointing to some symbols in the corner of each floor.

“Those tell you which lifts stop on that floor. Here you can see the primes that you have access to.” She pointed to a letter P on floor forty-three, her floor. It was the only symbol on that floor.

“Then there are the Fibonnaci floors,” she pointed to an F, “And the Sevens,” a number 7, “and so on.”

Charlie noted that the first floor had six different lifts.

“How does anyone ever find their way?” said Charlie.

“I make them have lessons on how to reach the floors that they need to,” said Staghorn.

“But some of them don’t have any symbols.” There were three that he found like this: sixty-eight, seventy-five and ninety-two.

“Those are the most secure floors. You can only access them from an adjacent floor. Now I think you’ve seen enough. I have to get back to planning out the security for the launch.”

Whilst Staghorn gathered up the throw again, Charlie scribbled the numbers of the three most secure floors on his piece of paper and stuffed it in his pocket.


The words flowed fairly quickly today once I had the riddle that Staghorn would pose. It took me a little longer than just the three fifteen minute sessions, but I wrote 1,275 words today. A good amount and I don’t hate the scene.

Total words so far 24,988.

Tomorrow I write the scene where Charlie investigates the secret floors.

Please subscribe to get the full series as I write it.

If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *