I will be dissect this king of entertainment, created by Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who fame, a fan favourite since Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead) and Mark
I've talked about hero-villain dynamics and the importance of the shadow on this blog before, so now I want to touch on how you can use that to manipulate your audience, namely through three things: doubt, loyalty and narrative POV.
First off, have a look at doubt, and watch this scene from the finale of Sherlock Series 2.
The villain, Jim Moriarty, who we've been chasing and engaging in a battle of wits with alongside Sherlock, suddenly gives us proof that he's an actor, Richard Brook, and that Sherlock hired him and invented all of the crimes.
And this post, from bakerstreetconfessions on tumblr, where, arguably, the Sherlock fandom resides, demonstrates the point I'm making:
This device, this challenge to the audience's perspective, planted doubt, even if it were for just a moment. They had to stop and ask themselves: hang on, has Sherlock tricked me? They were handed Richard Brook's resume, newspaper articles, a terrified man begging up and down that it was just a job. And we begin to think that the way Moriarty acted, the things he was capable of, only a man as clever as Sherlock would be able to do such things. And maybe he did. Maybe he created everything.
"How do you know you can trust him?" Sherlock asks the journalist. "What are his credentials?"
And then, we're asking the same thing, this time of Sherlock. We entered the story with John Watson, our narrative POV, and we know as much as he does. We've been taken into Sherlock alongside him, marvelling his intellect, his deductions, etc. And as Richard Brook is trying to convince John of his story, he's trying to convince us, and when John refuses to believe it, we sit with our narrator, for John's faith is the audience's faith.
This doubt is foreshadowed in Moriarty's story of Sir Boasts-a-Lot (Part One and Two), where we see a seed of doubt spreading like a contagion amongst the police. And we, as John, catch up with these other characters, when Sherlock catches us out on our doubt, our wavering loyalty. "You're worried they're right about me. You can't even entertain the possibility that they're right. You're afraid that you've been taken in as well. Moriarty is playing with your mind too. Can't you see what's going on?"
But that's the beauty of this episode, of this show, they entire Sherlock concept - We never know what's going on, and we'd never given a second thought to it until our narrative voice realised it. And then you realise that you have an incredibly unreliable narrator, for he isn't the detective who holds all the cards, he isn't the villain mastermind pulling the strings, he's just the sidekick, and so are we.
Of course, this sort of thing wouldn't work in all YA. But for the villains, the warlords and warlocks, if you can make your audience reconsider what side they're on, the "angels" or the "demons", even for a moment, you can change their entire experience in your book. I've talked about shadows before, and that intrinsic darkness in everyone is a fundamental part of pairing your villain and hero together. If you can question this, just like Moriarty managed to make the audience do, you have the opportunity to then interweave foreshadowing and subtext earlier through your work.
Your audience is loyal to your protagonist, naturally. Play with that. Subvert their expectations, investigate the archetypes and the conventions of your genre, of your "kind" of story and then twist them and morph them into something else. Why don't you entertain the possibility that your protagonist is really the villain?
So, comments below: Any books or films that have challenged your faith in the narrator or hero? Do you think maintaining archetypal traits is important, or should we subvert them whenever we can? Does a traditional story have its merits, or do you think it's time to craft our own traditions? What else did you learn from this episode? What do you think of restoring our faith after such doubt - should we, or should we stay true to these challenges?