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Lessons From Sherlock

by Tessa Afshar

The British love their Sherlock Holmes. They love him so much that they have built a flat on Baker Street that supposedly once belonged to this fictional character. So it’s not such a shock that they would come up with another Sherlock Holmes television production. Personally, I can’t get enough of it. There are several reasons for this delicious fascination.

First, the series is full of unusual characters that delight you with their quirky personalities. They are far from perfect, but they somehow manage to inspire affection in the viewer. The famous detective is brilliant, but his social skills make a goat look sensitive.

Another element that makes Sherlock so absorbing is the wit. Some of the one-liners remind one of a cross between P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and a monologue by Johnnie Carson. As a result, the dialogue is consistently engaging:

Holmes: Anderson, don’t talk! You lower the IQ of the entire street [every time you open your mouth].

Some of the new plotlines are inspired by the original Conan Doyle stories. But so much is changed about the plot that you can’t assume you know what’s going on just because you have read the story. Whether you like the liberties taken with the original plots or not, you have to admit that they are at least fresh. You want to try to solve the puzzle, but you also find yourself rooting for the characters.

As a writer, I see parallels between the techniques used by a popular television series like Sherlock and what makes for a satisfying read in a novel. Although I am comparing two completely different mediums, there are certain overlaps. Character, plot, dialogue, and humor can mean the difference between a fan that will return to your work a second time or regret the time they spent with your work in the first place.

In my novels, it is important for me to develop imperfect characters that still manage to make you like them. Like Sherlock who is emotionally challenged, vain, and arrogant, my characters have plenty of imperfections. But hopefully, like Sherlock, you still manage to develop genuine affection for them, because unless you have a vested interest in these protagonists within the first few pages, you will put the book down. Sherlock fascinates. Do your characters fascinate the reader?

Whether in a movie or a novel, dialogue needs to be absorbing. I write historical novels, but I don’t see why I should write them with a heavy hand. How can you survive life without humor now or twenty five hundred years ago? I want my readers to laugh. I also want them to be moved to tears at the appropriate times.

My readers tell me that at the end of one of my stories they feel like they are saying good-bye to a friend. That’s exactly what I’m after.

Character, plot, dialogue, and humor. They work on TV and they work in books. It’s elementary my dear Watson (which, by the way, Sherlock never said.)

Tessa Afshar DecemberTessa Afshar was born in Iran to a nominally Muslim family, and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She converted to Christianity in her mid twenties. Her book, Harvest of Rubies, was nominated for the 2013 ECPA Book Award in the fiction category and was chosen by World Magazine as one of four notable books of the year. The sequel, Harvest of Gold will be released in July 2013.

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One Response to Lessons From Sherlock

  1. Karla Akins says:

    You are gorgeous! And I agree with you regrading Sherlock and the one-liners. Oh, to master that wit!