Saturday, December 19, 2015

Writing Lessons from TV Shows: Sherlock

Ever since I was a little kid have I loved Sherlock Holmes. My mom read me the stories then I read them myself then I loved the Great Mouse Detective and I used to watch black and white episodes of Sherlock Holmes. Finally I discovered BBC Sherlock and this by far my favorite version of Sherlock Holmes. I love this show so much I even bought fandom inspired teas based on characters of the show! Check out my reviews of the Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, Greg Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, Molly Hooper, and Mycroft Holmes blends!

Not only are Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman the perfect modern incarnations of the dynamic duo of Sherlock and Watson, but the score (Check out my favorite piece out of the soundtrack!), the camerawork, and especially writing of this show is so fantastic. In honor of Christmas special come in less than a week I'm writing a post about the awesomeness that is Sherlock.

Warning: There will be some spoilers.

1.) The Show Modernized a Classic Well - For the past five-ish years it's been a fad to modernize fairy tales and classic stories. Beastly and the crime show Beauty and the Beast are good examples and also an examples where I felt like the modernization fell short. I'm a fan of the Disney version and in Beastly, though the first three-quarters of the movie I enjoyed, I felt like the climax was sorely lacking and that disappointed me. Beauty and the Beast the show basically had nothing to do with the original story except that there are characters who remotely resemble the original fairy tale characters.

Sherlock is a perfect modernization of the Sherlock Holmes story. The characters act and look like those in the books. Each episode is a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery with a modern twist. I feel like I'm watching Sherlock Holmes only set in modern day. It has all of the same formulas just sped forward in time. It carries that same essence of the base material a good modernization should have. 

The show still has the hat.
How this can be applied to writing: Have you ever thought of modernizing a classic or fairy tale? Keep in mind the source material. The tricky part of basing stories after previously told stories is that there are existing fans. People like reading and watching something that still has that original touch and that's one of the reason I believe that Sherlock has become so popular, because the writers did just that. 

Watson blogs instead of writing a book.
2.) An Unlikable Protagonist is Made Likable - Let's face it. Sherlock Holmes on first impression is not a friendly fellow. He's unfeeling, he's stubborn, he's moody, he's insulting, and ... he keeps very unsavory items in his refrigerator. Despite all of this thousands even millions of people worldwide love this character. Why?  

Here are the two reason why I believe we like him. 

A.) He's funny - Anyone who has watched Sherlock for any length of time must admit that he is hilarious. He has witty lines, great dynamics with John and Mycroft, his remarks about "normal people" leave you chuckling, and his dislike of Anderson is hilarious. Humor makes one gravitate toward a character. If anyone is funny, we tend to like them a little bit more.

B.) We See That Shred of Feeling in Him on Occasion - Even though Sherlock claims to be a high functioning sociopath who doesn't care about any, we've seen on several occasions his inner humanity. My favorite example is when some men break into 221B and Sherlock finds Mrs. Hudson tied up and hurt. The rage that crosses his face and his disposal of the brutes is evidence that he cares deeply for her. Then later on he kisses Mrs. Hudson on the head and says something along the lines of "London would fall without Mrs. Hudson." If that doesn't show that he cares, I don't know what does.

How this can be applied to writing: When writing a protagonist who isn't a likable fellow keep in mind these two ways to make people like him. Show that he isn't all bad and/or have him/her make the readers laugh. The worst thing you want to have is your readers to hate the protagonist.

"London would fall."
3.) Dynamic Duos - Sherlock and Watson are the perfect pair and no matter what incarnation they've taken. They've always been true to their original personalities: Sherlock is the genius and Watson is our normal bloke. They're opposites in many ways. Watson wants to get a girl and get married. Sherlock cares nothing about romance. Sherlock has an obsession with dead. Watson heals the living. Watson is veteran. Sherlock has only rarely picked up a gun. They're a perfect example of opposites attract. Opposites often make the best sorts of duos like Sam and Dean from Supernatural and Merlin and Arthur from BBC Merlin.

How this can be applied to writing: Can you add a dynamic duo to your story? Can you main character have an inseparable best friend or sibling? There's lots of conflict and stories ideas that come with it. Why not give it a shot?

4.) The Anti-Protagonist Antagonist - Sherlock vs. Moriarty. These two have been arch nemeses since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the Adventure of the Final Problem in 1893. Why have these two become so iconic in literary history? I believe one reason is because they're the mirror images of each other. They have much in common. They're both brilliant and have a penchant for crime, but they go about it in a different way.

In Sherlock, Holmes is consulting detective and Moriarty is a consulting criminal. Sherlock could so easily turn to Moriarty's side because of their similarities, but he doesn't and that's what divides the two. 

How this can be applied to writing: Can you write an antagonist who is similar to your protagonist in many ways but the anti version? This could create a lot of tension and cause a lot of introspection for your main character. 

5.) Red Herrings - Red Herrings are distractions from what the real problem is. It's writing technique and it's necessary for a good mystery. In many episodes of Sherlock, Watson and Holmes go after leads that end up dead ending such as in the Hound of Baskerville episode (my personal favorite) when they believed the innkeepers owned a monstrous dog or when they thought the laboratory was breeding these beasts. The truth was something far more unexpected. 

Having these red herrings added more tension to the plot and more obstacles for our heroes to get to the truth. Many of these herrings are what we thought was going to happen, thus eliminating the obvious and adding a more complicated explanation and surprising the audience far more.

How this can be applied to writing: Red herrings doing need to be limited to mystery novels. Try adding some of your own when writing a book where the character has to figure out a mystery-like situation. This was done in well in Throne of Glass. The story isn't a mystery novel, but the crime subplot brought red herrings into play. 

Conclusion - BBC Sherlock is an excellent show. If you haven't watched it, be sure to do so. It has much to teach us in writing and it is certainly a thrilling ride!

Have you read Sherlock Holmes or seen Sherlock? Have you noticed these writing aspects? What movies have you noticed have good writing? Let's geek out together!

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