Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Holmes, House, and Other Recurring Characters

On this day, in 1859, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born.  What would the world be like had we never had a Sherlock Holmes?

Last night, as I watched the special show before the last show of House, I was most interested in the segment where the writers talked about how Sherlock Holmes influenced them, even down to the names of the characters:  House/Holmes (say the last name out loud to remember that it sounds like Homes), Watson/Wilson.  And of course, the reasoning on the show can be very Sherlock Holmesian.  If you consider every possibility, you're more likely to find the answer.

I don't know how often Holmes had an a-ha moment of epiphany as he was doing something completely unrelated.  That type of discovery has played a large role in House.  Or maybe that's just what I remember most.

I read somewhere that Conan Doyle created a recurring character in response to the 19th century periodical and its demand for a continuing story with cliffhangers that would require readers to buy the next issue.  Dickens was a master of this form.

Conan Doyle was a doctor, so one might imagine that he had less time to create a novel in segments.  But he could create a character that audiences would be hungry to see again and again.  Much of modern television works the same way.

I wonder how much modern literature works that way.  Certainly much detective fiction works that way.  I could make a case that blogging is similar.  I go back to my favorite blogs not so much to learn something, but because I like the blogger's voice.  I'm happy to read my favorite bloggers talk about what they're reading or what they're writing or their work lives or their children or their gardens.  It's the voice I want to hear, not the content.  And occasionally, I do want to tune in to the narrative to see what happens, but that's usually secondary.

I also find inspiring the story of Conan Doyle's literary success (ultimately he would write 4 novels and 56 short stories).  He managed to write while building a medical practice that would flourish.  It can be done!  We can hold down full-time, demanding jobs while creating a body of literary work that will outlast us and influence creative types over 100 years later.

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