Making Silent Characters More Interesting?

Any advice to help a silent character stand out more? Aside from just giving them twice as much actions as a character with dialogue.

Small movements go a long way.

3 Likes

Giving very detailed descriptions of how they look will also help them stand out. Like describing the way that their hair moves, or their facial expressions.

Actually, psychologically, most people use facial expressions more often than words to interpret social interactions.

Silent as in mute? Not as in doesn’t talk a lot?

If the character can’t talk the character needs to do other things to make known what they need, want, agree or disagree with etc. Therefore it is alright to give them more action or more expression through body language during a conversation, because that’s what they’ll need to do if they want to communicate.

If they have something important to say they can possibly write or, if the other characters are close family members, some might have learned sign language to facilitate communication. A mute character isn’t necessarily unable to share their thoughts.

Just like every other character you can make a mute character interesting via their personality, their situation, their goals, something being at stakes for them, something in their past, their relationships to other characters, hinting at a secret they keep etc. It may be harder, especially if they’re not the POV character, because you need to make these things known to the reader and can’t convey them through speech.

You can give the mute character an important role for the story or a skill that is needed.

You can portray how the character deals with, compensates for and feels about their handicap. This character has an unique experience, different to that of your other characters, and something must be interesting about it.

You can put the character in a situation where their muteness is crucial to the scene. Maybe it’s what stops them from being able to prevent something terrible. Maybe they have to be creative to find a way around their handicap and succeed against all odds. Maybe it can even benefit them because it forced them to learn a skill that happens to be crucial in a given situation or because someone wouldn’t suspect the mute character.

3 Likes

If you mean silent, just during this one dialogue, then what may make them stand out is the reason why they choose to stay silent. Something they try to hide, a reason they don’t talk to these other characters or about that topic etc.

If they can talk but don’t talk a lot you can make the things they say important. Maybe they don’t talk as much because they think before they speak, but what they say has a lot of impact. When they chose to speak up it may also reveal something about their personality - why they speak up in that situation and not another.

3 Likes

Silent (not mute) doesn’t necessarily mean that this person has nothing to say. In the story that I’m currently writing, one of the characters is quite silent overall and rarely interferes in discussions. Nevertheless, he’s very observant and loyal and he comes to my MC to give her a pep talk when she needs it the most. She then notices who he really is and realizes that there’s more to him than meets the eye, but he’s generally quiet to get a better idea of what other people are like.

The thing with silent people is that when they finally do say something, it leaves a strong impact.

1 Like

As in only speaks to another character and rarely through that character to someone else.

Body language and how that character replies are the only clues the reader gets to what she’s saying.

Do you get to show their internal dialogue at all? It might be interesting to have a character who has a lot to say in his own mind, but stays silent around everyone else.

I’m interested in an answer to this, myself. I have several characters who are either completely wordless, or speak in the shortest amount of words ever. In my mind, I think they’re more interesting when they’re juxtaposed with a very talkative character so that you can see silence as a main character trait and maybe appreciate it more. But I don’t know how it plays out in anyone else’s mind.

I wouldn’t mind trading reads with you to figure out what is or isn’t working, if you’re interested.

I think you’re right that there needs to be a trade/replacement. Even if the character can talk, but just doesn’t want to, their time in the scene needs to be filled or replaced with something other than verbal communication.

I have a fairy and a dragon that do this. Writing wise, this is because I feel fantasy creatures lose some luster the moment they open they start blabbing because what they say or how they talk rarely live up to my fantasy creature hype.

The fairys are side characters restricted to their translator and reactions, while the dragon is the main character, so he gets to lean on the narrator a lot more.

I don’t have either posted but I can take a look at yours.

Honestly, I think the best solution here would be to read great novels featuring silent characters. Have you ever read Carson McCullers’s spectacular The Heart is a Lonely Hunter? If not, I’d highly recommend it. This is the first sentence:

In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.

Here’s a link to a sample of the book.

John Singer, one of the book’s protagonists, and a mute, is compelling precisely because of how little he does, how deeply, and without judgment, he listens, and how little people can gather from his reactions. They all see him as on their side, as a source of consolation and strength, etc. The book plays with this in a way that’s so wrenching, and so profound. Really worth checking out.

There is such a thing as an inner dialogue though :sweat_smile: But if you’re writing 1st person then that’s not a choice (this is precisely why I don’t like 1st person-you only see things from one perspective).

You could make the narrator notice small things and offer interesting opinions and backgrounds on the silent character though. That will shine some light on the character. You could think of it as someone trying to guess what the cat wants trying so hard to fit her fat butt into a small box :rofl:

I’d suggest making another character obsessed with them. That way, we can see all that makes them interesting based on WHY another character admires him/her.

1 Like

Also, give them weird quirks, hobbies, names… Rumors.

1 Like

Oh, mine’s just a collection of scenes on google docs right now. I don’t want to take up your time if you’re not getting anything out of it. I’m sure I’ll find a way to throw it in someone else’s face soon enough.

I wrote about a Bronze Automaton who didn’t speak and didn’t have facial expressions. Two things revealed what she was thinking:

  1. The things or actions she paid attention to.
  2. Sign language. Not the modern type that people with language disabilities use. Common sign language, like pointing at things, nodding, shrugging etc. Sometimes I would have the other characters decipher what she meant.
    I think it worked!

Non-verbal language is also an effective form of communication. That includes body language, posture, changes in expression, appearance (how they’re dressed, if they’re well kept or disheveled, etc.), their gait, level of eye contact, etc. You will have to be focusing on these aspects more if your patient is non-verbal. SHOW not tell!