The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (1892),

The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (1892),

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The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (1892),
The Ostler by Wilkie Collins (1855), and The Signalman by Charles
Dickens (1864). All of these are mystery stories

How do the writers try to create excitement, mystery and suspense?

Which of the stories you have read was the most successful and why?

I have chosen to write about three stories – ‘The Adventure of the
Speckled Band’ by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (1892), ‘The Ostler’ by
Wilkie Collins (1855), and ‘The Signalman’ by Charles Dickens (1864).
All of these are mystery stories that have been written in a similar
way, with classic ‘mystery and suspense’ techniques. These stories
were all written in the nineteenth century, and reflect this period
with the use of old language and settings. Also the use of horses &
carriage and the disadvantage of there being no electricity. Many
archaisms are used in all three of the stories and these reflect the
period. Nobody would use such language today, which also helps to draw
the reader into the story because the reader has to concentrate on the
complicated language and long sentences.

The narrative structure in ‘The Signalman’ and ‘The Ostler’ is very
similar, with both narrators reliving the stories and telling them to
the reader, where as, in the ‘Speckled Band’, the reader seems to be
being told the story as it happens. In the ‘Speckled Band’ even though
he is speaking from a time after the events of the story Dr Watson
tells us the story as it happens so you feel included, as though you
are there in the story with the characters. This also makes the story
seem more believable – factual rather than fictional – that it
actually happened and that Dr Watson was there. This allows us to
share his thoughts and feelings to further include us in the story.
For example ‘I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely
strange.’ This shows us Dr Watson’s feelings. Sherlock Holmes is one
of the main characters in this story and he is very well known for his
success as a detective. He is visited by a young woman (Helen Stoner),
who needs his help after the very sudden and unexplained death of her
sister, as she is worried for her own safety. This character actually
narrates the first part of the story (after Watson’s introduction),
while she tells Sherlock Holmes of the unsolved mystery. Her story is
told in first person narrative so the reader relives the time when her
sister dies. Pathetic fallacy is again used to create an ideal setting
for a murder.

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‘The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating
and splashing against the windows. Suddenly, amid all the hubbub of
the gale, there burst forth the wild scream of a terrified woman.’
This works because it sets a tense atmosphere and all murders usually
happen in storms. This gives us a head start on the story because we
have some idea about the type of mystery this is!

Dr Watson also tells us that this is the ‘most singular’ case ever
which draws the reader in, creating suspense that forces you to read
on in anticipation. The writer also creates mystery by keeping facts
from us and giving away only scrapings of fact like names of
characters. Also the writer does this with clues so that he only gives
away small, twisted clues that are hard to put together. The opening
of each of these stories is in the present tense – first person – then
skips back into the past to tell us the events of the story. This
makes the reader realise that this is something very important that
will set the foundations of the story. Also all of these stories are
straight into the action so the first line draws you into the story.

In ‘The Signalman’ the first line is ‘halloa, below there!’ which is
direct speech which intrigues the reader because they have no idea who
the speech is by, to or where he is. Mystery is therefore created
within the opening paragraph and makes the reader think.

This is very similar to ‘The Ostler’ where we find the ostler himself
talking in his sleep saying ‘wake up there, wake up!’ in the opening
paragraphs. The speech in this story is typical of a mystery story –
talking about death and murder. ‘Wake up there! Murder! O lord help
me!’

All of these stories include a typical structure for a mystery and
suspense story including setting, mood and atmosphere. These add to
the effects of the story and help to draw the reader in and make it
seem more like reality. When describing the setting, mood and
atmosphere, long sentences are used to slow down the pace of the story
so the reader concentrates on every last detail. ‘On either side, a
dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of
sky; the perspective one way only a crooked prolongation of this great
dungeon: the shorter perspective in the other direction, terminating
in a gloomy red light…’ This describes how damp, disgusting and
miserable the setting of this story is.

Pathetic fallacy is used to create atmosphere with the weather
matching the action and emotions of the characters in the story. ‘The
wind and the wires took up the story with a long lamenting wail.’ This
is from ‘The Signalman’ just after the signalman has told his story
about the spectre. This creates a spooky and eerie atmosphere that
adds to the suspense of the story. All of the stories are set in the
open countryside, usually at night, which adds to the mystery of the
story. This is because the characters cannot see anything; the
darkness conceals the truth. This also creates suspense because we
know something will happen in the dark as traditionally it does. In
all the stories there is only a small light, usually in the form of a
lamp or candle. This adds to the mystery as the characters can only
see within the band of light.

The characters of a mystery story are usually very sullen, quiet and
slow. This means that the characters usually work things out or
realise things later than the reader or the ‘sharper’ characters of
the story e.g. Sherlock Holmes. For example in ‘The Signalman’, and
especially in ‘The Ostler’ the characters are very unimaginative and
live secluded lives. In ‘The Ostler’ Isaac fails to see that the woman
in his dreams is his future wife! The characters in ‘The Speckled
Band’ are detectives so we know that there will be some mystery
invlolved in the story, which they will attempt to solve, most
probably succeeding.

This also means that because the characters in two of these stories
are very slow we know that they will fail to see obvious clues to the
mystery and intrigue us with how stupid they can be. For example when
one characters says she hears a low whistle it is actually a snake
hiss and there is quite a contrast between the two. We don’t know
anything much about the characters past lives apart from in ‘The
Ostler’, where we know that Isaac has ‘some pat sorrow or suffering.’
This adds to the mystery of the story because we are not given any
clues about the mystery.

There is a contrast in characters used in each of the stories to make
each of the characters seem either slower or sharper. In ‘The Ostler’
there is the ostler himself and then his mother who is much more alert
than him. In ‘The Signalman’ there is the signalman and the visitor
who seem like a normal person compared to the signalman. ‘The Speckled
Band’ does not have as much of a contrast but there is the difference
between the very sharp, quick Sherlock Holmes and the characters from
the mystery like the young woman Helen and her stepfather Dr Roylott.
Dr Roylott is described in terms of savagery, brutality and
ferociousness.

The endings of these three stories are quite different but also quite
similar. ‘The Speckled Band’ is the odd one out because it has a very
unpredictable but complete ending. This is because the mystery is
solved with a very different answer to the one the reader will perhaps
have thought of and the other two stories end with a question
therefore do not solve the mystery completely but leave it open for
interpretation. Where as, ‘The Ostler’ and ‘The Signalman’ are both
cliff-hangers and leave the reader thinking about all the possible and
impossible endings to the story. Also, because these stories don’t
have complete endings the whole story becomes a mystery that is hard
to make sense of. ‘Who can tell! said I.’ – ‘The Ostler’.

In conclusion, I think that none of the stories were more successful
than the other at creating mystery and suspense. All of the stories
are set in different contexts – one is a murder mystery, one a
supernatural mystery and the other a mystery of dreams and reality.

The two cliffhangers, to me, make the story more of a mystery because
it leaves the story is left open to the reader to interpret. But the
gain I think that ‘The Signalman’ is the better story because I
personally prefer supernatural mysteries which are not fully explained
or explicable.
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