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MBM: “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson”–by Sarah Belliston

It’s the fifth day of March Book Madness, and I’m loving it. Tons of great writing tips and advice so far, and we’re not even half way.

(If you’ve missed any days, make sure to catch up. The schedule is at the bottom of this post.) 

Today, Sarah Belliston is here talking about the writers of Sherlock. You may have noticed that Sarah and I have the same last name. We married brothers (although she and I look more like sisters than they look like brothers).

Sarah was one of my first readers with Sadie. When she didn’t run away screaming, when she said she actually liked it, I had the courage to keep writing. Today, she and I still swap manuscripts for feedback. I love having her as a writing partner, and I’m happy she’s here as part of March Book Madness.

(See her previous post at the end of this one.)


Sarah Belliston:

“Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson”

That’s the final line of dialogue from the pilot episode of the BBC Sherlock, co-created by the amazing minds of Mark Gatiss (aka Mycroft) and Steven Moffat, of Doctor Who fame.

Even if you don’t know about the British geek invasion that was crammed in that last sentence, you know Sherlock. You know Dr. Watson. The story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I tried shortening that to Sir Doyle and it just couldn’t do it) has been dramatized on screen over and over and over again.

Sometimes it’s vague; I for one didn’t know House MD was Sherlock until after it was off the air. I did a literal face palm for not seeing the Wilson/Watson comparison.

Anyway, the story is one we all know, or think we know. A detective solving crimes with his medical sidekick and the occasional use of cocaine. So the BBC had its work cut out for it when it wanted to remake it.

But this time there was something different.

There were two writers who loved the books, that had read them again and again and again, and knew what made them good.

They changed the parts that needed updating to put it in the 21st century and left behind the parts that weren’t all that important.

Like did you know that cocaine solution was a common use in Doyle’s time period for depression and anxiety? He wasn’t an addict by any means. He used it as a crutch–a crutch Moffat brilliantly replaced in his version with cigarettes. Don’t we all know someone who is smart enough to know better, and yet they still indulge?

Moffat and Gatiss did the same thing with the plots of the stories. They kept everything they could. The villains, the methods of the crime, while updating the unimportant.

For instance, Sherlock proves his skills to Watson the first time (in the books) by describing Watson’s pocket watch. In the new version, he analyzed Watson’s cell phone.

I’d give more examples but that gets into spoilers and we all know “no spoilers!” Okay, only Whovians do.

But here’s where the last line caught me.

“Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson”

Sherlock and Holmes

It was so perfect, I realized it was planned in advance. Great lines like that almost always are.

The writers knew before they penned one word that they wanted the final image of the episode to be these two iconic names. And since it was the pilot, the whole plot of the episode was the story of how they got together, these two men that have been solving crimes for centuries.

But how the writers set it up was the genius part.

It’s Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, that says the line, and it would seem out of place for him to just say the names of two men he’d just been talking to and knows quite well. So the writers gave him a reason, or more aptly a character who would need that specific bit of information:

Mycroft’s assistant.

Well, okay, so he can tell his assistant, but why would he need to tell her? The men were in her presence too, she should have been paying attention. So if she wasn’t paying attention, what was she doing? What does everyone do? Play–I mean work on her phone. And yet, it would be strange for her to be distracted when her boss is talking. So they made her distracted when anyone is talking to her. They had her ask to repeat information.

The writers put a scene earlier in the episode with her talking, or not talking, to Dr. Watson. Every time you see this character, she has her phone out, tapping away. So at the very end when she asks, “Who?” It’s perfectly reasonable.

And then Mycroft says, “Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.”

And you can’t help but smile because of how perfect it all is.

Want a particular plot point in your novel?

That’s fine, but make sure it fits with your characters. Make sure you’re okay with changing your characters so it does fit.

Have a really great line of dialogue?

Fantastic, but you better build up that line with a good foundation or it will fall flat.

I’ve heard before that men are plot-driven writers and women are character-driven. Besides being an awful stereotype, it’s really misleading that you can be one or the other.

Some stories start with a plot, some with a character, but by the end you had better think of both.

Have any of you done this with success? Or have you found when it didn’t work out so well? Did reading this make you think of a book where you saw this principle in action? Where?

Previous March Book Madness post: 2013, Pinterest for Authors, by Sarah Belliston

Rebecca’s thoughts:

Thanks, Sarah.

I have to admit, I haven’t seen Sherlock, new or old. Sorry. (I also haven’t seen Downton Abbey, but don’t hate me. I’m not a TV person.) But I can appreciate good writing, wherever it shows up.

You can always tell when an author is trying too hard. When they’re using a character (like the assistant) or a device (like the phone) to have a perfect moment, a perfect line.

But in this case, great writers make it look seamless.  They introduce things (phones) and people (assistants) well before they’re needed so the moment doesn’t feel contrived.

My soon-to-be-published book, Citizens of Logan Pond, has an ugly, olive-green couch that causes some contention at the end of the book. Instead of having the couch just randomly pop up at the end, I’ve had it make appearances throughout the book. Hopefully, when it causes issues at the end, it feels natural.

Because let’s face it, we can all spot the expendable ensign (Star Trek). We don’t even cry when they’re killed because we expected it since they suddenly appeared out of nowhere in this scene.


But great writers weave and build up to things so when it hits, when that ensign is blown to smithereens, it’s unexpected and fabulous. 🙂

Thanks again for your thoughts, Sarah!

What about you? How do you write–or cover–those needed elements or characters without making it obvious? 

Sherlock Holmes

If you’re new to March Book Madness, it has nothing to do with basketball (sorry) and everything to do with books. March is National Reading Month, so March Book Madness gives me an excuse to discuss everything about writing, editing, and reading books with some amazing authors.

If you’ve missed any posts, here they are:






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