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Sherlock | A Study in Pink | Scene Breakdown | Scene 05

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 05, where Watson starts toward Entering an Unfamiliar Situation in his Story Circle.


There's a very, very short scene first, and where it goes is open to some interpretation. It's very simple: Watson goes home, looks at the strange messages Sherlock sent from his home, is intrigued and goes on his computer to search Sherlock Holmes.

That's it. There's no dialog, unless you count on-screen text messages as dialog. The scene doesn't have a Story Circle in and of itself, or any conflict to speak of. It is however Concise, very concise, and proves its point very quickly: Watson is intrigued by Sherlock.

But there's more to this scene than meets the eye at first. Remember I've mentioned The Kuleshov Effect before, the theory that scenes are given more meaning by the scenes around it, when viewed cumulatively? Okay, well this is a very short scene, so it's a great opportunity to look for that.

Let's think of the different ways we could have accomplished this scene. We could have just had Watson see the texts on his phone at the morgue right after Sherlock left and looked him up from his phone. In having some time pass, we're communicating that this is a lingering fascination. But more than that, think about where we are in space. We have Returned to Watson's apartment, Having Changed.

We started this journey with Watson in Scene 01 with him in his apartment, depressed, on his computer, unable to do anything. Now he's back in his apartment having gone out into the world, he's back at his computer, and he chooses to do something. And he smiles to himself when he does it, when he thinks on this weird man he met and looks him up.

Spoilers, but we're nearing the end of Act One here, and there will be a little Story Circle for just Act One just as there's one for every scene within Act One. So when we kind of step back and view this little scene as a part of the larger narrative of the entire Act One, we start to see it's place. It's also important that it shows Watson's Agency. Your main character has to be shown doing things because they want to, not being led around by the nose. In the last two scenes, he was pushed into action by Mike Stamford. In the next scene, it might be argued that Sherlock pushes him along. We need to establish that Watson wants this. So, we have this small scene with just him in it, and him choosing to learn more about Sherlock and take an interest.

Stepping back a little, the Story Circle that I champion is based on a much larger model, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In that there are way more steps, so many that I find it cumbersome, but let's look at some that would happen around this point in the story: There is a call to adventure, the Hero Refuses the Call, the Hero Accepts the Call. You could definitely interpret Mike Stamford's scene with Watson in the park as a very literal Call to Adventure here, but especially prevalent is Watson's refusal. He wants no part in this crap, he's playing the grumpy old man. And here, we see him flirt with Accepting the Call. So maybe. Maybe the writers are using an older model of the Story Circle. Or maybe they're using some hybrid of old and new as it suits them.

But looking at this little scene again, what if we didn't divide the scenes up the way I have here, in these posts? I already group them differently than the script does (script definitions of scenes make no sense to me, I'm not a screenwriter). What if what I've called Scenes 3-5 are actually one scene?

If that were the case, we'd start with Watson alone and wanting to be left alone, but Mike Stamford coaxes him into getting a coffee. We learn that Watson also wants a roommate to be able to afford to live in the city. We then Enter an Unfamiliar Situation when he follows Mike to the morgue of the hospital they used to work at to meet Sherlock.

Side note here, but there's evidence that this is an intended reading of the material. Despite this having been where Watson and Mike went to school together, when Watson walks in he says: "It's certainly changed since I was here." I beg of you: why the hell would they have him say this. Why does he have this line? It doesn't serve a purpose strictly in the Setup-Remind-Payoff sense. It's not like there's a tense battle later and Watson's not knowing the layout of the morgue will come into play. The only thing it does that I can see is confirm, out loud, that this is an Unfamiliar Situation for Watson. He says it, out loud. "This place is not familiar to me."

So there's some evidence to me that while Scene 04 is meant to be a single scene from Sherlock's point-of-view, it's actually a part of a larger scene structure from Watson's point-of-view. From this point-of-view, the scene with Mike getting coffee was not a scene in and of itself, but the start of a scene, and now we're in the second part of it.

So in typical "Adapts to it" fashion, Watson is tested when he's in this new environment, by Sherlock. He's asked questions, evaluated. Then at the end, he Gets What he Wanted in that Sherlock has decided they will be roommates, but his (mild) Pay a Heavy Price is that he's left with more questions than answers.

He then Returns to Where He Started, in his room, but more importantly, alone, and as we've stated above, has changed.

Okay so that works as well, this small scene with no dialog, when paired with the two before it, forms a larger narrative. Neat. Can it work the other way, too?

Well, spoilers for the next post, but yes. You can also view this little scene as the start of the next Story Circle, as a part of the next scene. In the next scene, Watson is going to finally show agency. That is the point of that scene, the concise tip it reaches at its end. So this little scene could be read as the start of that: Watson starts alone, wants to know more about Sherlock. He Enters an Unfamiliar Situation: being his roommate. There's some adapting, it seems like he's getting what he wants, then Sherlock bounds off without him (Pays a Price), leaving him alone again, like he is here, but he's changed now: he's not going to stay sat down.

See that works, too. This tiny scene that seems like it only works on it's own, it's the connective tissue between a half-dozen scenes, linking Story Circles together as the end of one and the start of another, providing consistency to all. Isn't that fun?


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 Six!



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.


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