Smarter Story Structure (online course)

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With my online course, Smarter Story Structure, you’ll learn practical tips for overcoming plot problems like these in your screenplay or novel:

  • the story starts too slowly (according to a Goodreads survey, 46.4% of readers abandon novels for this reason)
  • the story doesn’t get going until halfway through (this happened in almost a quarter of scripts read by a studio reader in a year)
  • the middle “runs out of gas” (even John Grisham admits this is a tricky issue)
  • the climax doesn’t deliver fireworks, merely sparklers
  • the story is the right length…but isn’t a good read (uh-oh)

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Script Structure: Lessons from Sherlock Holmes 2 — Game of Shadows

The plot of Sherlock Holmes 2: Game of Shadows

If you read The Not-So-Sexy Script Essential Screenwriters Ignore To Their Peril, you’ll know I have a love-hate relationship with SHERLOCK HOLMES 2: GAME OF SHADOWS.

At the moment, I’m squarely on the “love” side of the fence. Still, even though I enjoy rewatching the movie, its structure bugs me. The first act doesn’t have a “hard” break.

There’s something slightly off with its pacing–at least at the beginning. Once the action reaches the Meinhard factory, the pacing is pitch-perfect.

Mostly, it’s the the set piece on the train (see plot points 19-23) which bothers my sense of timing. It’s a fantastic set piece, but it should be smack-dab in the middle of the movie…where the detective tracks down an extremist group and visits the opera house instead. After all the action on the train, these scenes feel, well, slightly anticlimactic.

Most amateur screenplays–which can’t rely on the star power of Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law to carry them–have midpoints which sag like old mattresses. So in this respect, you’re better off following the structural example of the first Sherlock Holmes movie, where a major action set piece occurred closer to the midpoint of the film.

Even though I have issues with its structure and pacing, SHERLOCK HOLMES 2 is well-plotted, full of entertaining twists and turns. And that’s why it’s included in Scribe Meets World’s collection of plot points.


Plot Points from Sherlock Holmes 2: Game of Shadows

  1. Dr Watson, Sherlock Holmes’s intrepid sidekick, types a story which gives us background information on the current political state in Europe. Due to a series of bombings, tensions run high.
  2. Irene Adler, pursued by Holmes in disguise, hurries through a market while carrying a small parcel.
  3. She’s protected by a group of bodyguards. Alone and unarmed, Holmes still manages to defeat them.
  4. At an auction, Irene gives the parcel to a doctor. He, in turn, gives her a mysterious letter. Holmes appears, seizes the letter, and disposes of the bomb contained within the parcel.
  5. Outside, Holmes discovers the doctor’s dead body. He was killed by a poisonous dart.
  6. Irene meets with a stranger at a restaurant, who turns out to be Professor Moriarty. At his signal, the restaurant empties. After consuming poisoned tea, Irene stumbles to the floor.
  7. Ignorant of Irene’s downfall, Holmes dines alone.
  8. Watson visits Holmes’s office which is overrun by plants. In “urban camouflage,” Holmes shoots arrows at Watson. Holmes’s housekeeper urges Watson to take Holmes to a sanatorium.
  9. Holmes vows to unravel Moriarty’s “spider web,” but Watson is skeptical. After reviving Watson’s dog (felled by one of Holmes’s arrows) with sheep extract, Holmes presents the extract to Watson as a wedding gift.
  10. While Holmes pontificates on the evils of marriage, they drive to Watson’s stag party.
  11. Holmes and Watson meet up with Mycroft, Holmes’s eccentric brother, who holds an important government position.
  12. Distracted and clearly looking for someone, Holmes delivers a toast to Watson. In a huff, Watson takes to gambling.
  13. Turning the tables on a fortune-teller named Madame Simza or “Sim,” Holmes reads her fortune, finally giving her the letter he had stolen from Irene. The missive indicates that Sim’s brother has “found his true purpose.”
  14. A Cossack hiding in the rafters attacks Holmes and Sim. She dispatches with the Cossack quickly, but he was wearing rudimentary Kevlar, and gives them a spirited chase.
  15. Tied together by a cord, Holmes and the Cossack engage in fisticuffs. When the cord is cut, the Cossack escapes.
  16. Hungover and rumpled, Watson arrives at his wedding. Still, with joy and dignity, he marries Mary.
  17. As Holmes leaves the wedding, a mysterious henchman of Moriarty’s (Colonel Moran) invites Holmes to meet Moriarty that afternoon.
  18. At their tête-à-tête, Holmes and Moriarty speak in riddles. Holmes requests that Moriarty “remove Watson from the equation,” but Moriarty delights in collateral damage and refuses. To cap it off, Moriarty reveals to Holmes that Irene is now dead.
  19. On their way to honeymoon in Brighton, Dr and Mrs Watson relax in a first class train compartment. But their vacation is cut short when someone tries to kill them. Together, husband and wife defeat the assassin.
  20. Also on board the train, Holmes, disguised as a woman, kills even more would-be-assassins. At an opportune moment, Holmes throws Mary out of the open train compartment. Watson almost chokes Holmes to death.
  21. We flashback to a few moments prior, when Holmes apparently replaced one of the assassin’s ammunition cartridges with a tube of lipstick.
  22. Clinging to the outside of the train, Holmes and Watson argue. After appropriating another train compartment, they’re shot at by a blitz of bullets…until Holmes’s lipstick case jams their machine gun. When the machine gun operator tries to shoot again, the gun explodes.
  23. We flashback again, this time to Mary’s tumble from the compartment…after which, we learn, she was picked up by a rowboat manned by Mycroft.
  24. Holmes asks Watson to join him on this case…their last one.
  25. The intrepid duo takes the ferry to Paris to search for Sim’s brother. Holmes says good-bye to Irene.
  26. At a book signing, Colonel Moran gives Moriarty a ticket to an opera.
  27. At a gypsy camp, Holmes and Watson locate Sim. From the drawings her brother has sent to her, they deduce that he’s fallen in league with an extremist group suspected in causing the bombings all over Europe.
  28. Around a campfire, they dance and drink.
  29. At Mycroft’s abode, a telegram arrives for Watson’s wife.
  30. Holmes, Watson, and Sim visit Ravache, the head of the extremist group. He tells them that Sim’s brother, Réné, isn’t there–he was taken away by an anonymous benefactor whose money and power dictate their every move. Suddenly, Ravache shoots himself in the head. The kitchen staff hears the shot and chases after Holmes et al.
  31. After they exit through a trap door, Holmes scours a dungeon looking for clues. Sim freaks out about her brother. Based on Holmes’s interpretation of a clue, they head towards the opera.
  32. At the opera house, Holmes deduces that a bomb is hidden within a stage prop. But instead of a bomb, he finds a chess piece. From his box, Moriarty gloats. Holmes mentally reviews the clues he had seen, realizing that the bomb was intended for a finance summit taking place at the Hotel de Triomphe.
  33. Holmes, Watson, and Sim race to the Hotel, but they’re too late. A cake explodes, killing every minister at the meeting. Admist the wreckage, Holmes discovers that one man didn’t die because of the bombing. He died because he had been shot.
  34. Holmes tracks the path of the bullet. From the evidence, he deduces the identity of Moriarty’s henchman. The gun-for-hire, Colonel Moran, used to be a sniper in the British army. The bombing was designed to mask the assassination.
  35. Over breakfast, Holmes, Watson, and Sim discuss the case. The man killed, Meinhard, owned a weapons factory. Before Meinhard died, Moriarty had bought a huge number of shares of company stock.
  36. In a flashback, we witness Holmes (in disguise) following Moriarty. Holmes realizes that Moriarty’s next move will take place in Heilbronn, where Meinhard’s factory is located. To reach there, Holmes needs the help of the gypsies, “who know their way around borders.”
  37. On horseback (or in Holmes’s case on “pony-back,”) they cross the border into Germany.
  38. At Heilbronn, Watson sneaks into an office to send a telegraph to Mycroft. Meanwhile, Holmes sneaks into Meinhard’s factory. He discovers an array of biochemical weapons and machine pistols. His recon mission is interrupted by Moran, who’s accompanied by twins. The twins drug Holmes and are then instructed to find Watson.
  39. As Watson looks for Holmes, Moriarty tries to elicit information about the contents of the telegram. In response, Holmes explains Moriarty’s master strategy. The villain owns everything necessary for war, “from bullets to bandages.” Now that Moriarty has the supply, he intends to create the demand.
  40. Moriarty begins to torture Holmes. Still looking for his friend, Watson is almost shot by Moran. Holmes tells Moriarty he sent the telegram to his brother Mycroft.
  41. Watson takes over an army tank and uses it to strike the factory. After Watson rescues Holmes from the rubble, Watson carries him to the armory.
  42. Moran rescues the Professor. A shoot-out ensues.
  43. Hoping to escape by boarding an oncoming train, Holmes and Watson, along with Sim and the other gypsies who have joined them, flee towards the railway. Several of Moriarty’s men pursue them.
  44. Holmes et al race through a forest, evading bombs and bullets. A bomb from a massive tank named Little Hansel brings the group to the ground.
  45. When they recover, more fighting and gunfire ensue. With a precise shot, Watson fells Colonel Moran.
  46. Holmes, Watson, Sim, and one other gypsy manage to catch the train. But the Colonel succeeds in taking one last shot–killing a gypsy.
  47. Inside the train car, Watson tends to Holmes’s wounds, but it’s no use. Holmes isn’t breathing. Watson angrily administers CPR. It doesn’t work. In desperation, he injects Holmes with the sheep extract Holmes had given to him as a wedding present. It works!
  48. They journey to Switzerland to join Mycroft, who’s attending a major peace summit. At dinner, Mycroft says the government won’t cancel the summit, even though Mycroft has told them about what Holmes has learned.
  49. Playing with Mycroft’s oxygen device, Holmes puts all the pieces together. Moriarty will engineer a world war by using a lone gunman–Sim’s brother, Réné–to assassinate an attendee of the peace summit.
  50. At a ball for the political dignitaries, Sim and Holmes dance.
  51. Then Holmes dances with Watson, revealing that the twins who hunted them at Heilbronn were not really twins. They were a surgical experiment conducted by the doctor killed by a poisonous dart at the movie’s beginning. From this, Holmes deduces that Réné’s visage has been altered to resemble that of an ambassador.
  52. Holmes narrows down the possibilities to six. He entrusts Watson and Sim to discover which one is Réné and leaves to face Moriarty.
  53. On a balcony, Holmes has set up a chess board. As he and Moriarty play, Watson and Sim make their own deductions.
  54. Sim identifies her brother. Watson pounces on him. Mayhem ensues. Réné is dragged away. Colonel Moran shoots him with a poisoned dart. Réné dies.
  55. Meanwhile, Moriarty gloatingly claims to Holmes that war is inevitable. Now it’s Holmes’s turn to gloat–he’s transferred all of Moriarty’s fortune from the professor’s bank account.
  56. In response, Moriarty threatens to harm Dr and Mrs Watson. Holmes envisions how a confrontation would play out. Both Holmes and Moriarty conclude that because of the injuries Holmes incurred at the factory, Holmes would lose.
  57. And Holmes does–but he drags Moriarty down with him. Both plummet to their death in the waterfall below. Observing from the balcony, Watson is devastated.
  58. They hold a funeral for Holmes. Later, Watson finishes up typing his story, praising Holmes “as the best and wisest man” he’s ever known. Before Watson leaves for Brighton (at last!), Mary presents him with a package. Inside is Mycroft’s oxygen device!
  59. Realizing that Holmes survived, Watson leaves for his delayed honeymoon. Meanwhile, in urban camouflage, Holmes alters Watson’s manuscript, adding a question mark after “THE END.”

Final thoughts

What did you think of SHERLOCK HOLMES 2: GAME OF SHADOWS? Did you think its pacing was off during the first half, or am I being too obsessive about screenplay structure?

Oh, and if you haven’t already read The Not-So-Sexy Script Essential Screenwriters Ignore To Their Peril, now’s a good time to check it out!

Typewriter (with modifications) by Xlibber

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mateo July 1, 2013, 2:25 pm

    nice one, keep articles coming.

    • scribemeetsworld July 2, 2013, 7:02 pm

      Thanks Mateo!

      Let me know if there’s a movie whose plot points you’d like to see on Scribe Meets World!

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