Creative writing

The following extracts come from Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, featuring his most famous character, the detective Sherlock Holmes, who is assisted by his friend Dr. Watson. Studying how Conan Doyle develops the story through description, dialogue, characterisation, etc. will help you improve your own short story writing.

In the opening chapter, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are looking at a walking stick left behind by a visitor. Note how the writer informs us about the personalities of the two men by giving hints rather than fully explaining – a useful approach for the writer of short stories.

Mr Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he stayed up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. I stood upon the hearthrug and picked up the walking stick which our visitor had left behind him the night before. Just under the head was a broad silver band, nearly an inch across. “To James Mortimer, MRCS, from his friends of the CCH” was engraved upon it, with the date “1884”.

“Well, Watson, what do you make of it?”

Holmes was sitting with his back to me, and I had given him no sign of my occupation.

“How did you know what I was doing? I believe you have eyes in the back of your head.”

“I have, at least, a well-polished, silver-plated coffee-pot in front of me,” said he. “But, tell me, Watson, what do you make of our visitor’s stick? Since we have been so unfortunate as to miss him and have no notion of his errand, this accidental souvenir becomes of importance. Let me hear you reconstruct the man by an examination of it.”

“I think,” said I, following so far as I could the methods of my companion, “that Dr Mortimer is a successful elderly medical man, well-esteemed, since those who know him give him this mark of their appreciation.”

“Good!” said Holmes. “Excellent!”

1

What can we work out about the relationship between Holmes and Watson from the way that Holmes addresses his friend?

2

Which characteristic of Sherlock Holmes comes across in this incident?

Later in the story, Watson stays near the scene of the crime and he sends written reports back to Holmes. This passage is of interest as it uses word choice to create an atmosphere.

October 16th. A dull and foggy day, with a drizzle of rain. The house is banked with rolling clouds which rise now and then to show the dreary curves of the moor, with thin, silver veins upon the sides of the hills and the distant boulders gleaming where the light strikes upon their wet faces. It is melancholy outside and in. I am conscious myself of a weight at my heart and a feeling of impending danger – ever-present, which is the more terrible because I am unable to define it.

3

What narrative stance is used here?

4

Why does the writer describe the weather, the house and the surrounding landscape?

5

Which of the following words best describes the mood created in this extract?

6

In which of the following expressions does the writer project his own feelings onto the description of his surroundings?

Watson is staying in the large, isolated Baskerville Hall. In this passage the writer uses various techniques to create suspense.

I found myself weary and yet wakeful, tossing restlessly from side to side, seeking for the sleep which would not come. Far away a chiming clock struck out the quarters of the hours, but otherwise a deathly silence lay upon the old house. And then suddenly, in the very dead of the night, there came a sound to my ears, clear resonant and unmistakable. It was the sob of a woman, the muffled, strangling gasp of one who is torn by an uncontrollable sorrow. I sat up in bed and listened intently. The noise could not have been far away, and was certainly in the house. For half an hour I waited with every nerve on the alert, but there came no other sound save the chiming clock and the rustle of the ivy on the wall.

7

Which of the following senses does the writer emphasise in this section of the narrative?

8

Which of the following words best describes the mood created in this passage?

9

On which of the following does the writer concentrate in this passage?

10

Which of the following aspects of the narrative is most effective in creating suspense in this extract?