Ask me about Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss' reimagining of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detecting duo and I'll admit it. I am Sherlocked. If you're Sherlocked, too, you know the premiere of Series 3 airs tonight on most PBS stations. And even if you're not Sherlocked, you probably haven't been able to tune out all the tweeting, blogging, and other media coverage surrounding last season's finale--and this season's beginning.
So what is it about this British television show that makes tongues wag? And more importantly, what does all this viral enthusiasm have to teach us as TV viewers, as readers, and even as writers?
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman
are Sherlock Holmes and John Watson for
21st Century London
1) First of all, good writing rules! We think we know that. We say we know that. But to watch Sherlock, in my opinion, and its impact on viewers everywhere, proves it. What makes this show's writing good, however? As an adaptation, it sticks pretty closely to Conan Doyle's original vision. And his vision is foundational to our concept of detective fiction. So if you love a good detective show, Sherlock hits all the bells and whistles because Conan Doyle first told us what those bells and whistles should be. It teaches me that to be a satisfied viewer or a reader, I need to seek out work that jumps though all the hoops. And as a writer, this proves to me I need to pull out all the stops.
2) Secondly, smart really is the new sexy. Sherlock says this to Irene Adler. And he's right. To be satisfied as views and readers, we dig in to dig out the mystery. Conan Doyle knew this over a hundred years ago. As writers, we know every story we write has a mystery element, even if our work fits another genre. That element is "How will this story end?" By connecting the plot dots for our readers, and keeping them thinking "How will this end?", we keep them mentally engaged. They're smart! Meet the challenge to stimulate their brains and they'll think you're writing's sexy!
3) Thirdly, it's the connection that counts. Sherlock and Dr. Watson have a bond. Six times now, we've seen them push and pull as they try to stay connected, and try to stay apart. That's a Big Picture problem. If we have moms, kids, friends, or lovers, we know all about that tug-of-war in spades. This tells me I need to watch and read stories where the Big Picture things matter to the characters--because those Big Picture things matter to me. As a writer, it can hurt to write about those kinds of issues. But writing about them through characters means I'm making a connection. And as Sherlock had proven, that's what counts.
Now, it's your turn to talk to the Rockville 8. If you're not Sherlocked, that's all right. What show has taught you what it means to be a satisfied viewer, a rabid reader, or an excellent writer?