If you have never seen the BBC production of Sherlock and you are an avid reader or even interested in good, solid writing, then shame on you! I watched the final episode in season 3 and wept, screamed with delight, shouted with shock, and almost fell out of my chair in the final five minutes! Such is the sheer wonder of watching any show from the Mark Gatiss/Steven Moffat team responsible for the modern adaptation of Sherlock and the past three seasons of Doctor Who.
In one of my blog posts, I mentioned what I consider the smartest science fiction television episode of modern times, “Blink!” written by Steven Moffat. As a writer of Christian speculative fiction, I truly appreciate smart, clever writing. Too often, our modern writers over explain things or, worse, never explain anything leaving you hanging in an eternal limbo of unanswered questions.
Recently, Steven Moffat came under criticism for his stories containing “plot holes”. Hmmm. Plot holes? Reading between the lines, unanswered questions. Here is what he had to say about his “plot holes”.
“I think people have come to think a plot hole is something which isn’t explained on screen. A plot hole is actually something that can’t be explained. — Sometimes you expect the audience to put two and two together for themselves. For Sherlock, and indeed Doctor Who, I’ve always made the assumption that the audience is clever.”
Ah, are you are clever reader? Or, do you prefer for the author to spell everything out in great detail?
In the business, we authors use the acronym, RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain! You see this rule violated with increasing frequency. I call it the tyranny of “as you know”. The new show, “Intelligence” abandoned subtlety for blanket exposition and was quickly cancelled. Things are explained to the audience because we are so stupid, we might not get it. Many lines of dialogue can be prefaced with “As you know, so and so has this computer chip implanted in his head which gives him the ability to . . . .” This bleeds into another staple of writing, “Show, don’t tell”. A “clever” writer shows the facts we need to know instead of spelling them out.
In the recent third season of “Sherlock” viewers (spoilers ahead — don’t read this paragraph if you have NOT seen season 2) waited for TWO years to find out how Sherlock survived his demise at the end of season 2. Great debates raged online. In my home, my daughter and her best friend and I watched the episode three times and came up with our own theory. Now, the lazy writer would have started off this new season with a quick and dirty explanation of how Sherlock survived. Instead, we are treated with numerous live action replays of some of these “theories” in what is some of the most clever sequences ever. In fact, the viewer doesn’t learn about the truth until near the end of the episode and it is an integral part of the unfolding story of Watson’s reunion with a supposedly dead Sherlock.
Plot holes? I think not. I was engaged. I was a part of the process. It was hard. It was tedious. But, it was fun!!! And, as a reader, the best books make me carry part of the load. The best written stories make me work along side the author in solving the “plot holes”. “Lost” has received great criticism for its finale. But, if you watched the show, you realized it was addictive and compelling. For the entire run of the series, fans formed theories and ideas. The reason the finale was not satisfying is because the hype over the finale (like the new Star Wars movies back in 1999) could never satisfy all of the various theories floated by fans.
Steven Moffat recently ended the 50 year run of Doctor Who with his own “trilogy” and the story he wrote changed the entire direction of the show for the next 50 years. Theories were abundant on the internet and in homes around the world. My own family was rife with theories. My son and his wife had their own theories that were, to me, quite exotic and bizarre. The point of all of this is that we were ENGAGED. These supposed “plot holes” served to pull us into the story. We worked hard for months leading up to the finale trilogy realize that the excellent writing of Steven Moffat would go in a direction we could never have seen and also, instead of disappointing us, it would leave us supremely satisfied. And, that was the results for us when the credits rolled at the end of “The Name of the Doctor”, “The Day of the Doctor”, and “The Time of the Doctor”. We have forgotten the joy of anticipation!
We need “plot holes”. We need writing that engages the reader or the viewer. In a culture where answers are just a text away; where information flows through our brains like “c**p through a goose” as Patton once said; where choices are endless and we live in a whirlwind of instant gratification it is comforting to know that clever and skillful creative minds out there still value the “plot hole”. As for me, I want to work to solve the problem of the story; I want to step into the world created by the writer and be just as stymied and stumped as the protagonist. In short, I want to be IN the story, not sitting back just observing. I want to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.
So, keep on resisting the urge to explain. Continue to show, don’t tell. And, you will have a rapt and grateful audience!
Remember, my own three books in the “Chronicles of Jonathan Steel” complete the first trilogy in my thirteen book series and are available at 11tdemon.com for a special price right now. Check them out and see if I was successful with RUE and Show, Don’t Tell!