I've always been somewhat addicted to Sherlock Holmes. The stories, I mean. The adaptations have been somewhat hit and miss. I like the TV series with Jeremy Brett, hate the Robert Downey Jr. movies with a passion, and love, love, love Sherlock, the new(ish) version with Benedict Cumberbatch. The second series just ended and I'm already suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms.
But I'm not here just to swoon over handsome detectives and profess undying love for Sir Arthur's original tales. No, I'm going to try and be useful for a change.
Sherlock is awesome. It's also an example of great storytelling. Here's how I figure we can absorb the winning formulae-
Be funny. Sherlock may be the star, but John's exasperated expression and his doomed efforts to curb Sherlock's rudeness make for some of the best and funniest moments in the series. Everyone likes a laugh. No matter how grim or dark or tragic a story is, it needs some levity somewhere. You wouldn't call THE HUNGER GAMES light reading, but it has a few laugh-out-loud moments. We, as readers, need a respite. The odd funny line or outright dose of hilarity can turn a good book into a great one.
Make your protagonists loveable. No matter how rude, callous and cold Sherlock is, we love him anyway. Because he's clever. Because his characteristics make us laugh. Because underneath it all he so clearly cares about a few important people in his life. And John has his flaws, but he's steadfast and loyal and oddly sweet. By the time we've spent an hour and a half with them, we love them.
There's no secret to creating a character every reader will love - and maybe that's not possible - but if you can make your readers love a character so much that he or she can make them laugh and cry, you're already on to a winner.
Be clever. This is hard. Even harder than being funny, because the only thing worse than a writer who is obviously trying and failing to be funny is a writer who is obviously trying and failing to be clever. The brilliance of Sherlock Holmes has been the character's selling point for a hundred years and Sherlock's detective is no different. But it's the cleverness in the actual storytelling that's truly brilliant. A good twist, surprise or neat puzzle can make a book sparkle.
Don't take it too seriously. I have no doubt Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have a blast every time they sit down to write an episode of Sherlock. Have fun. If you have fun writing it, people will have fun reading it.
And while you're at it, casting Benedict Cumberbatch won't hurt either.
Any other Sherlock fans out there?