One of the points I make in my talk on what writers can learn from Sherlock Holmes is that Arthur Conan Doyle was a master of dialogue. Some of our favorite moments in the Holmes stories come in the form of exchanges between Holmes and someone else, not always Watson.
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."That passage from "Silver Blaze" is so familiar that it would almost be insulting to quote all of it. Perhaps less famous but equally powerful is this exchange with Dr. Leon Sterndale in "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
"How do you know that?I can't stop there. One final example out of many possible ones comes from The Hound of the Baskervilles as Holmes quizzes Dr. Mortimer about what was found at the scene of Sir Charles Baskerville's death. Holmes speaks first.
"I followed you."
"I saw no one."
"That is what you may expect to see when I follow you."
"Footprints?"In each of these passages, the writing is so skillful that you don't even notice what the author is doing. The lines are very clever in the first two passages, and very creepy in the third. But there's more to them than that. The author is giving us information in a very compelling way by having it drawn out of the source in the form of dialogue.
"A man's or a woman's?"
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered:
"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"
In the third passage, for example, Dr. Mortimer could have told Holmes straight off that a gigantic hound's footprints were found by the body. That would have provided the detective with all the information he needed to know. But this dramatic dialogue -- which closes out chapter three of the book -- has a much stronger impact on the reader.
Mystery writer and critic once said that Sherlock Holmes is mostly an attitude and a few lines of unforgettable dialogue. In truth, more than a few lines of the Holmes stories are unforgettable. Dialogue is one of the author's greatest strengths.