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Sherlock | A Study in Pink | Act Breakdown | Act 01

We always find here that things are better with example. And just like all these rules apply to the larger narrative, in this case, the July 2010 Sherlock episode "A Study in Pink," it's also supposed to work for every scene. Every scene should have a Story Circle. Every scene should be concise.

So, let's continue to look at Sherlock: A Study in Pink. Every scene, in intricate, to show how this is done at such a high level of expertise.


Let's take a break from our breakdowns of individual scenes and look at Act 01 as a whole, now that it's over. There's a concept I teach in my classes when thinking about the story circle that I refer to as "Circles all the Way Down." We we think of our Story Circles, we tend to think of the story as a whole, the entire novel or episode. But it's important to remember that, the better the story is structured, the Circle scales down and also scales up.

Scaling Up: The Story Circle doesn't just apply to the episode, but also to the Season and also to the Series as a Whole. Sherlock, for all I've praised it, isn't a great example of this. It's seasons are not structured as ends but as a series of cliffhangers that keep the viewer coming back through delaying satisfaction, so it doesn't have the kind of Season-arc I'd typically like to see. And while it does have a mild Series Arc, it's fairly tacked on. Despite my love for it (and don't get it twisted, I love this show), Sherlock does not "scale up" it's Story Circle well.

Scaling Down: The Story Circle doesn't just apply to the episode, but also to each act within the episode, and each scene within said act. This Sherlock does very well. We've already been breaking down each Scene using Story Circle as we do, but now let's look at the Act One.

So the end of an Act is defined as when a character makes a choice they feel they cannot come back from. So in the larger episode arc, when the character makes the choice to Enter an Unfamiliar Situation, that's the first big choice they make, so that's the end of Act One. For this particular episode of Sherlock, that's when Watson makes the choice to join Sherlock on his adventure.

So let's look at the different stages of the Story Circle as they pertain to Act One of A Study in Pink:

Introduction: We open the entire series with a scene of Watson having a dream flashback to the war. He wakes up in a cold sweat, sad piano music plays, and we get lots of low lingering shots of him. He lives alone, in a bare apartment, he's depressed.

Wants Something: We see him with his therapist, who admonishes him for not writing his blog about his daily life as she'd instructed. She wants him to write down everything that happens to him and he says "nothing happens to me" in such a way the you know he wants that not to be the case.

Enters an Unfamiliar Situation: Upon running into his friend Mike Stamford, he admits that he needs a roommate but that nobody would want to live with him and he goes to see Sherlock, his enigmatic prospective roommate, and chooses to investigate him more.

Adapts to It: He talks to Sherlock at the morgue, looks him up online, and starts to question him at the home.

Get what he Wanted: He gets the action he wanted when it turns out his new roommate has been asked to help with a string of serial murders.

But Pays a Heavy Price for it: He's abandoned as Sherlock runs off to solve them.

Returns to Where he started: He's home alone again, just like at the start.

Having Changed: When Sherlock returns and asks if he'd like more danger, Watson jumps at the chance.


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