Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of BBC’s Sherlock, an absolutely excellent show.
In the first episode Watson asks DI Lestrade why he’s put up with Sherlock for five years. Lestrade responds, “Because Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day – if we’re very, very lucky – he might even be a good one.”
That one sentence summed up what I love about this character.
I’ve already mentioned that I have a fondness for characters who behave badly, but beyond that I really love characters that I can’t trust. The characters who are just as likely to make the wrong choice, as the right, and will probably enjoy it more. I’m talking about heroes here, not villains (though a villain who occasionally makes the right choice is much more interesting than one who is just pure evil).
So, I like the heroes who flirt with callousness on a good day, and villainy on the bad ones. I like feeling uncertain over whether or not they’ll choose the high road. I even enjoy how disappointed I am when they don’t. Now, I doubt this level of distrust in my real life relationships would be in anyway enjoyable. But in a story? Nothing keeps me more invested.
To really keep me hooked, though, there has to be that potential for “good.” If I don’t believe that the character could really, under it all, be a good person, I may enjoy their antics for awhile, but I’m probably not going to root for them in the long run. If a story can, however, convince me of this potential, I’ll cheer whenever those characters meet it and I’ll hurt for them whenever they fall short, even if in that moment of the story, they don’t care. Regardless of whether those characters make me angry, I’ll still be pulling for them to redeem themselves.
This is why no matter how entertaining the mysteries might be, the reason I keep watching Sherlock is for the internal struggle. That’s the outcome I’m really interested in.