Antenna (antennapedia) wrote,
Antenna
antennapedia

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Sir ACD and craft

My regular Sunday morning bath featured some Lush chocolatey bubble bath and a reading of "A scandal in Bohemia". I read sections of it aloud to Mr Pedia. This is a wonderful thing to do with prose, by the way. I mean, not taking valuable books and reading them in the bath, which always makes the spousal unit blanch, but reading the words contained therein out loud.


Doyle's command of his craft puzzles me. Allow me to maunder on about it.

The annotated edition of the complete Holmes (which I've recommended before and will recommend again to any Holmes nuts; great birthday or Christmas present for a fan)... where was I? Oh, yes, the annotated edition is full of pages-long excursions into explanations for various dreadful continuity problems. Example: Early in A study in scarlet, when Holmes and Watson are discussing becoming roommates, Watson lists as one of his faults that he keeps "a bull-pup". The bull-pup, whatever it may be, is never mentioned again, and there's an enormous footnote discussing why this may be. (Recall that this edition is playing The Game.) And the famous one is the migrating war-wound: shoulder or leg?

Doyle is sloppy.

And yet the stories themselves, considered as self-contained units, are solid. "A scandal in Bohemia" is great stuff. The interchange between Holmes & the King, in which the King progressively reveals the extent of his indiscretion, is pure comedy. The descriptive writing sometimes interrupts everything, yet it works. (Consider the bit where the King enters the flat.) His sentences are... well. Look at this one:
He carried a broad-brimmed hat in his hand, while he wore across the upper part of his face, extending down past the cheekbones, a black vizard mask, which he had apparently adjusted that very moment, for his hand was still raised to it as he entered.
It's a bit much, at least for me.

And then a big block of the action of the story is told by Holmes to Watson, who did not experience it firsthand. This is a chance for Doyle to show how Holmes thinks about the problem and the situations around him. Balancing the showing vs the telling.

This raises the following possibilities: It doesn't matter to most readers if you're sloppy about your between-story continuity. It doesn't matter to most readers if your sentences are sometimes lurching monstrosities. Those characteristics of your prose aren't what keep people reading on to "find out what happens next". It's all about tension.

Getting the ancillary details right helps, but it isn't essential. Current working theory, at least. I really can't help but want to get them right, though. I also think Doyle got away with a lot that a modern writer cannot.

Anyway, I'm working on improving my Watson. I recall why I left off writing this story: it's a lot of work. I do hope it pays off with delighted readers when I'm done. I don't want to waste the opportunity with a half-assed attempt.
Tags: craft, fandom:sherlock holmes, research
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