Reality Really Is Stranger Than Fiction

The proper actor for Lord Peter Wimsey
This is partly a Lesson from Fan Fiction. But it goes beyond that.

In my fan fiction, I've realized that having my characters miss information or clues--that time traveler is a con-artist!--because they are busy, tired, or simply preoccupied is unbelievable--

Even though it is entirely true-to-life.

In the novel Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey delivers the following monologue:
You see...if ever you want to commit a murder, the thing you've got to do is to prevent people from associating their ideas...You see, it's only in Sherlock Holmes and stories like that, that people think things out logically Or'nar'ly, if someone tells you something out of the way, you just say, 'By Jove!' or 'How sad!" and leave it at that, and half the time you forget about it, unless something turns up afterwards to drive it home. For instance, I told you when I came in that I'd been down to Salisbury, and that's true, only I don't suppose it impressed you much. I don't suppose it'd impress you much if you read in the paper tomorrow of a tragic discovery of a dead lawyer down in Salisbury, but if I went to Salisbury again next week, and there was a Salisbury doctor found dead the day after, you might begin to think I was a bird of ill omen for Salisbury residents, and if I went there again the week after and you heard that the see of Salisbury had fallen vacant suddenly, you might begin to wonder what took me to Salisbury...and you might think of going down to Salisbury yourself and asking all kinds of people if they'd happened to see a young man in plum-colored socks hanging around the Bishop's Palace.
He goes on to suggest that only after his theoretical behavior in Salisbury caused suspicions would his listeners remember something he mentioned years before about Salisbury.

Humans love the power of hindsight. We love to claim that we always saw the various relationships of action and inaction and interaction amongst tangents, red herrings, apparent red herrings, things and people and events and news and weather....

The truth is, Sayers through Wimsey is right: a particular set of events means little to nothing until and unless something gives that event a reason for it to come to our attention. As brain experts point out, the human brain tends to eliminate "unnecessary" information in day-to-day life. It takes training to slow the brain down and ponder whether the unnecessary information might actually be necessary.

But in a novel or short story or episode or movie, the information has been brought to the brain's attention. We have to pay attention; consequently, if a character ignores that information, the character looks stupid--

Which is unfair to the character. There's a great House episode which didn't get enough emphasis in which Chase points out that House has chased a particular hare down a rabbit hole dozens of times before--he was wrong all the previous times; why should he be right now? "Because it's this television episode" is not a realistic answer.

Watson truly isn't stupid. Sherlock is simply very observant. 

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