Story Unboarded: Sherlock and Watson Dynamic

in writing •  21 days ago


For a couple different reasons, I’m putting IMHO on hiatus. To replace it, here is Stories Unboarded, where I will talk about the principles I use when writing. So, without further ado, let’s talk about the Sherlock and Watson dynamic.

I’m not sure if there is another term for this, but I think calling the Sherlock and Watson dynamic already explains what it is and how it works. Sherlock was a famous detective with inhuman insight and abilities of deduction, while Watson was his assistant of more modest abilities. This dynamic named after them is a method for organically introducing exposition through dialogue, as well as allowing further potential questions from the reader to be posed by the uninformed character.

The “Sherlock” is the knowledgeable character. This is the person who has a large amount of knowledge, and frequently drives quite a bit of the plot. Compared to the other characters, especially the Watson character, this one is the most likely to have secret plans and convoluted schemes designed to thwart the antagonists. This is facilitated by the degree of separation between the audience and this character, as being inside his head would make it hard to hide anything from the audience without them feeling lied to during the big reveal.

In contrast, the “Watson” is the everyman character. While they can be stupid, they are more frequently of average intelligence. By being uninformed on various matters, they can naturally pose questions to the Sherlock character. Of course, the Watson character still needs to contribute something in order to have a reason to be hanging around the Sherlock character. Usually, they are a subordinate, an apprentice, or even a specialist in a different area to the Sherlock. That final option can present some interesting situations, as it can reverse this dynamic when the situation at hand is more suited to the previous Watson’s knowledge and skills compared to the previous Sherlock. Such an option has the additional benefit of further justifying the Watson’s existence within the story.

Those are the basics of the Sherlock and Watson dynamic, and all one needs to know to understand the principles at play. But characters can go further than that in terms of characterization, and usually do. When putting two characters in close proximity like this, a good practice to get into is drawing contrasts and comparisons between them. Such as, one character is obsessively clean while the other is a bit of a slob. Or maybe one character has a very strong sense of morality, while the other is willing to bend the rules when it serves his agenda. Creating foils between characters is a subject in itself, though, so maybe I’ll leave that for a different entry.

In summary, this is just one of the techniques I use in my writing. I hope you found it enlightening, and feel free to let me know if you want to see more of this in the future. I plan on doing at least a couple more of these, but how long it goes overall depends on the response I get.

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