Analysing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Style of Writing

Analysing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Style of Writing

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Analysing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Style of Writing

The detective genre is very popular among the public and there are
many books, films and television programs based on it that, according
to research, are more popular with women than with men. Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle, who was writing in the 1880’s, uses a variety of
techniques to produce suspense in his Sherlock Holmes stories, all of
which are vital for the creation of tension.

All of his stories are structured in a similar way: at the beginning
the reader is given a very detailed account of the crime, then Holmes
and Watson investigate the scene of the crime, and finally right at
the end of the story the solution is provided by Holmes and all
becomes clear: ‘It means that it is all over’. This structural
technique keeps the reader guessing for the majority of the story,
leaving the reader in suspense until all is revealed at the end. This
is good because the reader is (usually) given all of the clues and has
a chance to play the role of the detective to try and solve the crime,
usually without success, which makes it more interesting, and the
reader is kept in suspense for most of the story.

Arthur Conan Doyle uses language that seems relatively old to us but
was normal for him in the 1880’s, and this proves to be very effective
because the words and general language are strong and varied, with a
wide range of vocabulary used. The language is very formal yet easy to
understand, apart from some words that had a different meaning from
what they mean now, for example the word ‘singular’ is used
excessively in the stories and it means ‘extraordinary’, unlike today
when it means the opposite of ‘plural’. At times in the stories when
the tension is escalating into a climax Arthur Conan Doyle speeds up
the writing by using lots of and verbs in sequence, for example in
‘The Adventure Of The Speckled Band’ where it says that ‘Holmes sprang
from the bed, struck a match and lashed furiously with his cane at the

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bell-pull’. The words ‘sprang’, ‘struck’ and ‘lashed’ are all words of
action and three of them in a row in the same sentence give a good
sense of the speed and panic being experienced by Holmes and Watson.

In ‘The Adventure Of The Speckled Band the level of suspense increases
on pages 282 and 283, where Holmes and Watson are about to uncover the
truth about the ‘speckled band’. The tension really begins to build
when Holmes and Watson are at the scene of the crime about to solve
it. Holmes commands Watson not to go to sleep as his ‘very life may
depend on it’, and this creates an element of urgency and fear. He
instructs Watson to sit in the chair and informs him that he will be
on the bed. In the paragraphs that follow there is an effective use of
detail. Holmes and Watson sit in ‘absolute darkness’, unsure of what
is to come and left to rely on other sense apart from sight,
emphasising smell and hearing. Setting the scene in darkness makes it
more alarming and nervy, particularly since it is described in first
person narration through Watson. To show that lots of time is passing
by Arthur Conan Doyle slows the writing down by slowing down events,
for example when the parish clock ‘boomed out every quarter of an
hour’, Watson’s description of the quarter hours passing by is very
slowed down: ‘twelve o’clock, and one, and two, and three, and still
we sat waiting silently for whatever might befall’ – the writing is
slowed down with the use of commas and the word ‘and’. After this the
writing suddenly speeds up when the action is taking place, and the
action is emphasised by the use of appropriate adverbs and verbs, such
as ‘suddenly’, ‘sprung’ and ‘seized’. By this point the tension is at
boiling point but suddenly, as quickly as it started, the action stops
and the truth is uncovered.

Another very good example of suspense is in ‘The Red-Headed League’,
just before the main resolution is about to take place. Again, they
are left to sit in ‘absolute darkness’, emphasising their use of other
senses, for example ‘the smell of metal’ and ‘the cold, dank air of
the vault’. Again the writing is slowed down, this time by a long
description by Watson of the atmosphere and what he was feeling and
experiencing – ‘My limbs were weary and stiff, for I feared to change
my position’. Then the word ‘suddenly’ emphasises a sudden change in
the surroundings and although the writing doesn’t really speed up in
the next paragraph the tension and feeling of suspense seems to
increase by something happening. The use of language is effective with
powerful words emphasising the proceedings, like when Watson sees a
‘lurid spark’. The word ‘gash’ is used and it makes the action seem
forceful, and when the ‘writhing fingers’ appear from the ground it
seems eerie and surreal. This descriptive writing makes the tension
build up to a climax until Sherlock Holmes springs out from his hiding
place and ‘seized the intruder by the collar’, proving his clever
theory correct. After this the writing slows down again as safety is

One more final example of suspense is from ‘Silver Blaze’, where
Holmes and Watson are following the trail of the horse. On page 18 in
the final paragraph the atmosphere starts out very calmly with a
description of the sunset. From here on Holmes and Watson are
speculating where the horse has gone, and when they eventually spot
the horses tracks the tension begins to build because something has
suddenly happened, shown by Watson’s description of Holmes’s
excitement at finding the horses tracks: ‘I heard him give a shout and
saw him waving his hand to me’. However, it proceeds quite calmly for
a while as they are following the footprints. I think that the most
tension in this part of the story is when Holmes has spoken to the
trainer who stole the horse, ‘Shall we argue about it here in public,
or talk it over in your parlour?’ and Watson, like the reader, is
ignorant in regard to what has happened, which is suspenseful but also
quite irritating as we have now been given all of the clues but still
can’t work out what has happened. However, all is revealed when Watson
asks ‘He has the horse, then?’ and Holmes explains to him what has

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s style of writing is extremely sophisticated,
witty, puzzling and successful. Although the structure of the stories
is very similar, the storylines differ immensely and despite using the
same technique of structure throughout, his stories do not become
boring. In conclusion, his techniques of creating suspense are
effective, with tension being built into some sections and into the
structure of the stories and only broken at the end, and this suspense
in his stories makes them interesting and fun to read.
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