One of the talks I like to give to non-Sherlockian groups is called, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Sherlock Holmes.” Apparently, my mystery-writing friend Kathleen Kaska is of the same mind. In her recent book, Do YouHave a Catharsis Handy? Five-Minute Writing Tips, she dips into the Canon for an example of good writing.
Kathleen, no stranger to readers of this blog, is the author two awarding-winning mystery series: the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series set in the 1950s and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series, which includes The Sherlock Holmes Triviography and Quiz Book.
Here’s the passage in which she brings Holmes into her newest book:
What’s the difference between a run-on sentence and a long sentence? A run-on is usually long; however, a long sentence is not necessarily a run-on. A run-on sentence is grammatically incorrect. It also lacks sign posts for the reader to know how the clauses or thoughts are related. It is comprised of two or more independent clauses that are not separated by a conjunction or punctuation.
Here’s how a great passage would become a run-on sentence if the punctuation and the conjunction or were removed. Sherlock Holmes said it in Arthur Conan Doyle’s story, “The Adventures of the Creeping Man.”
“My line of thoughts about dogs is analogous to how a dog reflects the family life whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family a sad dog in a happy one snarling people have snarling dogs dangerous people have dangerous ones and their passing moods may reflect the passing moods of others.”
Thankfully, Conan Doyle wrote:
“My line of thoughts about dogs is analogous to how a dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones. And their passing moods may reflect the passing moods of others.”
Long sentences are best written with a stylistic purpose; and if done well, they can be literary works of art.
I once took part in a panel in which two prominent American mystery writers agreed that Conan Doyle was a great story teller but not a very good writer. They were wrong. He was a wonderful writer, and a great model for any other writer today, 87 years after his death.