Do you know what happens today? The Sherlock Christmas special plays tonight! To celebrate I thought I'd finally post something I've been mulling over.
I adore the BBC Sherlock, so last year I finally started reading the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (really, his name is a mouthful though). There have been many Sherlock adaptions, especially in recent years, and trust me the originals do not disappoint. In fact, it fascinates me to see Sherlock's origins in comparison to the many versions of both character and story that exist today.
One thing I noticed about the story is that Sir Doyle ('scuse me, sir, do you mind the abbreviation?) often uses dialogue as a way of telling us what's going on in the story.
No, not that bad form of cheating where the characters talk about things they both know of simply to inform the audience.
I mean things such as:
"And an exceedingly interesting case it appears to be. I would not have missed it for worlds. But there is a ring at the bell, Watson, and the clock makes it a few minutes after four, I have no doubt that this will prove to be our noble client. Do not dream of going, Watson, for I very much prefer having a witness, if only as a check to my own memory."
Sherlock Holmes, The Noble Bachelor
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Instead of leaving off the dialogue to go into a whole:
There was the bell. Downstairs, Mrs. Hudson's rushed footsteps padded to the door."
Sir Doyle has Holmes abruptly interrupt his own conversation to mention the ringing of the bell. The reader understands that someone has arrived without being taken step by step through all the specifics.
Also, the part when Holmes asks Watson not to leave with the most specific words, "Do not dream of going," implies that Watson has readied himself to leave. Sir Doyle evokes the image of Watson preparing to leave through Holmes' dialogue. We can see it without a tedious narration of it.
In fact, we can image it in our own fashion, whether Watson has gathered his newspapers together to leave, or has already stood from his chair, is left entirely to the reader.
The latter example could be my own supposition, but:
1) In the books, Watson always believes Holmes will not wish him to hear the client's tale.
2) Many of the old television shows, that follow the original story closely, always show Watson preparing to leave with similar dialogue (this is a common occurrence in the Holmes series).
3) Holmes' mind works so fast, it makes sense that in writing there would not be enough time for a narration of the action coupled with Holmes' verbal observation/request. (Although this may be debatable as it is told from Watson's viewpoint.)
4) Sir Doyle's frequent use of this dialogue trick makes me think he's using it with real purpose.
Either way though, I don't often see this used in books today. It's not good to use it very often, of course, as it is better to show things. But it can be very useful, especially in writing from a deep level of POV.
1) It helps keep things concise, if you're going for a short story (like the Holmes series).
2) If you're character's mind jumps from one thing to another abruptly, there may be little time left in between for narration.
3) It can give the impression that the character is talking fast.
4) Also, a character will talk like this if he is very distracted and/or experiencing sensory overload (this has my life written all over it).
5) If the characters are so wrapped up in conversation that they only absorb the their environment as an afterthought and so mention it in their dialogue. It's the old, delayed reaction sort of thing (again, this is me to an embarrassing degree). For instance:
"That's very fascinating indeed! Didn't the doorbell ring?"
4) It's useful when you do not want to, or it seems unrealistic to, continually "place" your characters. The whole "he went to the door" or "he saw the flowers," can get tiresome as far as narration goes. Showing it through dialogue can mix it up a bit. For instance if you originally had one character seated then he says something to the effect of,
"'Oh, let me get the door for you.'"
We know without you telling us that he's now getting up and going to the door. Then you don't have to go through the charade of:
"He stood and dashed to the door."
Again though, conveying the action through dialogue leaves the image up to the readers. Some will see him dash in a blunder. Others will seem him athletic, and so forth. . .
So if you want to show us exactly how he went to the door and opened it, then you'll want to narrate it.
"He dashed smartly to the door, polished his knuckles on his shirt, and finally opened the it with a cocky bow.
It all depends which way you wish to go with it. I hope this was informative or helpful. It's at least fun to experiment with:
"Yeah, here'd be good." They set it [a table] under the window. "Nudge it against the wall some more. Yeah like that."
(My characters say "yeah" a lot for being in a fantasy.)
I hope you get to watch the Sherlock Christmas special. I'm pretty much like:
So have you read the Sir Doyle's originals? What are your favorite Holmes adaptions whether books or the screen? Any recs?