top of page

Sherlock | A Study in Pink | Scene Breakdown | Scene 02

Okay, so we've talked about Story Circle with regard to BBC's Sherlock, and we've talked about Four-Corner Opposition with regards to it, and we've talked about Rule of Threes, and Conciseness and Quadrant Method with regards to BBCs Sherlock and now we've even examined the first scene using all these methods, so let's keep it going.

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. Continuing on to Scene 02, which we're calling everything from the first three murders to the end of the press conference discussing them.


So to start off, we see three murders. There's a pretty big, flashing obvious Rule of Threes happening here, because this is a story about a serial killer, and to be classified a serial, there need to be at least three.

As we discussed when talking about Rule of Threes, there's two classic ways to go about it: just doing it: doing three things and the third thing is the payoff, or setting the pattern by doing three things, and then the fourth thing is the surprise. In this episode we're doing the latter. These three will setup and remind the pattern, and then the titular woman in pink will break the pattern and become important in her breaking of it.

Without going into crazy detail about each, let's look at all the things these brief snippets about the victim's lives, and their murders, Set Up.

Firstly and incontrovertibly, we Set Up the method of their demise: the pills they take. We see that all three times, it's clearly focused on, it's important. We get this hammered home: these three people were killed taking these black-and-white pills, seemingly of their own free will. This is great, and there's little variations of each of them: different settings, different reactions, what have you. It repeats without being monotonous, that's great.

We also Set Up The Cabbie. Repeat viewings of this episode make you smack your head with how obvious it is. The Cab lingers in the background of shots like a predator, but the writers are careful to make it different in all three instances: if we'd just seen three people hailing cabs from the airport in a row, we would have gotten it straight away. But one hails from the airport, one gets a cab while walking in the rain, and one drunk who has had her keys taken from her. And maybe some people got it on the first viewing? But that's okay.

There's some other things here. The first victim, the man getting the cab from the airport, is shown to be a adulterer. This isn't something he shares with the other two, at least not from what we're shown. He does, however, share this with the woman in pink, who is revealed to be a serial adulterer. This is a clever Red Herring. It's technically a Setup and the Remind, but there's never a Payoff because it's a false lead, just there to hopefully muddy the waters and distract some viewers. In reality, the Pink Woman's cheating is a totally different Setup. But look how clever we are! That's how you set up possibilities in your crime narrative: you Setup something and Remind it, but don't have it Pay Off. Lovely!

Let's skip over to the news conference Detective Inspector LeStrade is hosting to discuss these murders. Are these things all one scene, or two different scenes? I'm not sure in screenplay terms, but I'm calling them all one scene. Were I writing this in a novel, they'd be all once chapter.

So there's lots of Conflict happening in this scene, all coming from Four-Corners. We have people representing the Police in one column and people from the Public in the other, and then we have a row of people who think these murders are Linked, and a row of people who think that apparent suicides Cannot Be Linked.

LeStrade in with the Police and thinks these murders are linked, but his partner Sally doesn't necessarily agree. The Press grilling him with questions don't see how they could be linked, but Sherlock does, and he keeps texting all the people of the Press all the items in the facts he disagrees with.

Look at the tension this puts on LeStrade, the main character for this scene. Everyone is against him. He's arguing, worried about how he'll come across, frustrated, being checked by Sally who is worried about how he'll be perceived. How much more boring would this scene be without conflict? If LeStrade just gave the facts and everyone agreed and moved on with their day? Conflict drives a scene. Get your Four-Corner oppositions in there.

An interesting note on that: just like every scene has its own smaller Story Circle that reflects the larger Circle for the whole novel, most scenes should also have their own Mini Four-Corner Opposition as well. My general rule of thumb is, whatever your Four-Corner is for the whole story? One of those characters must be in every scene of the tale. So on the Four-Corner for the whole episode, we have: Sherlock, Watson, LeStrade, and the Cabbie. LeStrade is the star of this scene, so we're still learning about the conflicts that will drive the story as a whole, even if Watson and Sherlock aren't present. Even if you break this scene into two, the murders and the announcement, you still have the Cabbie, who is on the four-corner for the episode as a whole.

See how this works? This is fun.

So we mentioned the texts, let's look at that. It's a motif that is really confined to this scene. It gets dabbled with here and there, but it's really only used here. Sherlock uses texts to send live corrections to all the police and press in attendance in real time, showing off how smart he is.

So far we've only spoken about Rule of Threes as it pertains to the narrative as a whole, but just like The Circle and the Four-Corner Opposition: these tools exist in the micro as well. We don't just Setup things to be Reminded in another scene and Paid Off in a third, we take tiny moments and Setup, Remind, and Pay Them Off all in the one moment.

In this case, we're Setting Up, Reminding, and Paying Off the interrupting texts. They happen (can you guess?) THREE TIMES. And then, on the fourth time, it changes: Sherlock texts just LeStrade and says "You know where to find me." The writer is showing his penchant for three setups, then a difference, here, mirroring the structure of the murders themselves.

What else are we Setting Up here? We're setting up that Sally is frustrated with Sherlock and doesn't like him, and that antagonistic relationship between Sherlock and the Police will be Reminded later at the site of the Pink Woman's death, and then Paid Off when the Police raid Sherlock's house. In addition to being a part of their dynamic going forward, it also has to have a Setup, Remind, and Payoff to be included in the episode. No waste, here, everything used.

We've also setup that Sherlock is smart, we've alluded to the fact that he doesn't like to use the phone only to text which will be reminded and paid off later when he doesn't answer the phone while he's with the Cabbie.

Walking out of the conference, Sally is furious, saying he he to stop Sherlock from doing that. LeStrade, rather cheekily, responds: "If you can tell me how he does it, I’ll stop him."

This Sets Up the dynamic between LeStrade and Sherlock: LeStrade acknowledges that it's wrong, but also has respect for him. He finds it funny, even when he's frustrated. These traits will carry through their relationship. LeStrade is not an enemy of Sherlock, he's a foil.

Looking at it from a Conciseness point-of-view, where the last line of a scene should be the reason the scene exists at all: what does this last line infer? It's reinforcing that conflict between Sherlock and LeStrade/The Police, but also confirming: he is smarter than them, and they may need him. That's the point of this scene.

Let's look at the scene from a Story Circle perspective.

  1. Show who your character is. We see LeStrade, at the job. We see him at the front desk, hunched over, maybe annoyed, but in this position of authority.

  2. They Want Something. He's clearly set up as Wanting to solve the murders, but also Wanting this Press Briefing to go well, and it isn't. He wants it to be over with. There's a tension set up in LeStrade: he likes the police work, not the PR. In a weird way, thinking about it, this makes him a great foil for Sherlock, who also revels in the work put hates the PR side, shown later in the series as his disdain for Watson's blog.

  3. The Enter an Unfamiliar Situation to get what they want. So, knowing that he doesn't care for the PR side of things, leading this Press Conference is outside his normal area of expertise. In doing this, he's entering an unfamiliar situation with the goal of catching this killer, the thing he wants.

  4. They adapt to that new situation: He endures the questions of the Press. Some of the Press are sympathetic to his stance, others, like The Daily Mail, antagonistic. But he answers three questions, and gets them all corrected by Sherlock. Note his exasperation every time he gets pushback, because he has conflicting wants here: he wants to catch the killer, but he also wants this briefing to be over.

  5. They Get what they want: The Press Briefing ends. He didn't catch the killer, obviously, but he wanted this part of the job he hates to be over, and now it is.

  6. They Pay a Heavy Price for it: The briefing went badly, Sally is chastising him.

  7. They Return to where they started,

  8. Having Changed: He's back to square one, but now has gotten an invitation of help from Sherlock Holmes. So we have something new to go on, to propel us into the next scene LeStrade is in.


See? This is how it's done. All tools used. Perfectly balanced. And as the viewer, you're none the wiser. It seems like magic, it seems like it just happened. It seems fresh and original, but it's done using the same tools of the trade that have existed for a hundred years. Join us soon for Scene Three!


 Like this and what more of it? I teach interactive online classes over Zoom, three-four times a year for 10 weeks. Take your writing to the next level! Click the link for more information or to contact me.


bottom of page