For hundreds and hundreds of years there have been people who have the ability and imagination to write interesting, entertaining stories. Gradually, however, writing has evolved to satisfy the changing times. The stories I have looked at, The Red Room by HG Wells and Examination Day by Henry Slesar, were written about 100 years apart, and yet they have a common goal, to build up suspense. When you look closely at the two stories you can see differences, and similarities, in the way suspense is built up. The most clear and obvious difference between the two is in the styles.
Firstly, there are certain words and phrases that Wells uses that make it clear it is a Pre 20th Century piece of writing. He uses words such as ‘apoplexy’ and ‘atavistic’, which are both words that would not be used in 20th Century writing As well as this in Wells’ story, like much of Pre 20th Century writing, there are certain phrases that are reversed. Phrases like ‘ said eight-and-twenty’ and I are not used in writing nowadays. In 20th Century writing it would have been ‘I said’ and ‘twenty eight’. Slesar too uses words and phrases that people in Wells’ time would not have recognised, such as ‘comic books’, ‘stuff’ and ‘loudspeaker’.
This difference is probably the most significant in marking out the stories different time periods. Another difference in style is the type of descriptive language that is used. Wells builds up suspense by describing the surroundings, ‘a bronze group stood upon the landing, hidden from me by the corner of the wall. Slesar chooses to put more effort into describing his characters feelings and moods, using such phrases as ‘his father rattled the paper in vexation’ and ‘shook hands gravely with his father’, this creates a tense atmosphere.
Wells spends a lot of time describing the corridor and rooms of the house. He writes things like, ‘the long, draughty subterranean passage was chilly and dusty’ and ‘there were two big mirrors in the room, each with a pair of sconces bearing candles’. He creates tension and suspense through these surroundings by creating a mysterious, dark, shadowy picture in our head. This sort of descriptive language of the surroundings is typical of Pre 20th Century writing as, in those days there was no television and far less travel.
People would have had very little of the places in the stories looked like. In this example, most of the readers would have never have been inside this sort of grand house/castle and, therefore would have no idea of what it would have looked like. A lot of description of the surroundings would be needed for the readers to create a picture of the area in which it is taking place. Nowadays we have television and travel more often, so when a place, like a castle, is mentioned we can automatically picture it.
However, Slesar does include some descriptive language of the surroundings in his story. He pays particular attention to description of the exam room and building. Slesar gives the government building a very dull, unwelcoming feeling. He uses words and phrases such as ‘cold’ and ‘official’ to create a very negative feeling about the whole place. It is almost as if he is trying to get us to imagine it as a prison, describing it ‘with long benches flanking metal tables’ etc. Slesar is also showing us the lack of individualism that he believes comes with a totalitarian government.
All of the rooms and people have numbers instead of names, such as ‘600-115’ and ‘room 404’. As well as this all of the workers are wearing the same ‘insignia-less tunics’ and the government’s representative on the phone is described as having a ‘clipped, brisk, official voice’; it has no expression, no individuality. I think here Slesar is displaying his disapproval of a totalitarian government. However, Slesar uses description of the surroundings to build up suspense too. This becomes most clear when in the actual exam room. Slesar builds up an image of a dark, mysterious, futuristic room.
He does this by using words like ‘silence’, ‘drowsy’ and ‘dim’. This creates this very mysterious image of the room, and the reader is not quite sure what will happen next, which creates tension. As well as using the surroundings to create suspense Slesar uses a lot of description of the characters emotions and behaviour. He says things like ‘and the moistness of his mothers eyes, the scowl on his fathers face, spoiled the mood of fluttering expectation’. He is trying to create a miserable, gloomy, tense atmosphere so that the reader wonders why they are so depressed.
He wants you to put yourself into the story and feel all the emotions that the characters are feeling so you will enjoy the story more. The two authors have another difference in style, the sentence length. Slesar tends to use very even length sentences, usually fairly short ones. This keeps the story moving along at a steady pace and keeps it flowing. However, Wells does not use even sentence length throughout and varies them throughout. This is especially noticeable when the man is in the Red Room. Wells mixes up the length of the sentences a lot in this part of the story.
Generally he uses long ones, but will include the occasional short one from time to time, ‘The candle fell from my hand’. By using long sentences it allows him to use lots of punctuation, comas, semi colons etc. When reading aloud, this method of writing makes the reader snatch at breath. The reader must read quickly and by the time he reaches a bit of punctuation he will need a breath, so will snatch at it quickly in order to keep the story flowing along smoothly. In a way Wells is using punctuation to act as stage directions, telling the reader how to read the passage.
Punctuation tells the reader when to take a breath, creating a breathless, panicky feeling. I am sure that Wells designed the story to be read aloud, as during the later part of the 19th Century people would gather together to hear stories read. Not everyone was able to read so they would come together to hear one person read stories aloud. It is for this reason that Wells has structured ‘The Red Room’ the way that it is. While the two authors styles different they use similar techniques to create suspense.
They both fit into the ‘suspense’ genre and have similar themes, although it may not be obvious at first. They are both linked with fear and death. Another important similarity between the two stories is the titles, ‘The Red Room’ and Examination Day’. Both of these titles give clues away as to what the story is about, without giving it away completely. ‘The Red Room’ is a mysterious title, as the reader does not know what is inside the room. He gives us the word ‘Red’, which can be associated with blood and danger, so we get a slight idea that it is a ‘suspense’ story.
This was probably Wells’ intention, as ‘suspense’ stories were very popular in the late 19th Century and this would have made more people read his story. Henry Slesar’s story is called ‘Examination Day’. Like Wells’ title it is mysterious and helps build up suspense. The reader is not informed as to what the exam is about and wants to read on to find out more. It is this element of the unknown, which keeps the reader guessing and helps to build up the suspense. As well as the two authors using very similar methods at the beginning of the passage, they also use similar ones at the end.
Both Wells and Slesar have quite abrupt endings with a bit of a twist. The purpose of this twist at the end is to surprise the reader, which makes the story more enjoyable and the reader will remember it for longer. The twist that Wells uses is more, subtle and complex than in ‘Examination Day’. This is because the audience that Wells aimed his stories at would have been expecting a more complicated, formal story with an ending to suit, whereas today there are not as strict guidelines; if a story is good we will read it, no matter what the layout etc as we are less rigid and conventional as people in the 19th Century.
In Wells’ passage he makes the reader think that there is a ghost in the room and then, at the very end we learn that there is no ghost, just fear that has built up through rumours, ‘Fear that will not have light nor sound, that will not bear with reason, that defens and darkens and overwhelms’. He builds up the reader’s expectations of finding a ghost, and then completely turns it on it’s head and shocks us. This is a very effective twist. Slear’s twist is not as complex and clever as Wells’, yet it is still effective.
Slesar surprises us at the end when we find out that the boy has died for doing too well on the test. This is very shocking to the audience and is a good twist to finish with. It is effective because we all expect doing well on the exam to be good news, but it is the worst news ever. However, I don’t think it is as effective as Wells’ ending’ as the reader is not expecting a twist at the end, but in ‘Examination Day’ the reader expects a twist. Both the stories have to achieve the same goal, using various similar and different techniques and methods.
They build suspense through mystery and an uncertain future. Both of them are written in the style and language that is typical of the time period they are written in, and use methods you would expect from this time. Wells uses fairly complex language and techniques, which is what people in the late 19th Century would have wanted. People nowadays may not appreciate this level of complexity and, therefore, Slesar has kept his language and techniques simple. Writing is all about writing what people want to read, and as man has evolved over the last 100 years, so has writing to suit our developing needs.