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Monday, March 22, 2010

The Strong Silent Type

I'm still deeply mired in the lands of edits. My self-inflicted goal is to have these first fifteen chapters completed by Saturday, I'm not sure that will happen. However, I am enjoying my silent character.

Looking through some of my other projects I've noticed that most of my books have a Silent Character. The SC comes in many forms: an child with a disability, an infant, an animal, someone too scared to talk, a person who only speaks a foreign language - just to name a few.

The SC appeals to me on a very personal level because my eldest daughter didn't speak for the longest time. Until she was six years old we didn't know why Eldest wouldn't talk to us. I thought I'd done something wrong, the terrible Mommy Guilt. Therapists told us she would talk when she wanted to, or that the condition was all an attitude problem.

Even knowing the cause didn't solve the problem. At age seven Eldest has the vocabulary of a three year old. She's a gifted student, her math skills are several years ahead of her current grade, but she can't communicate what she's thinking. For people around us, it's frustrating. But I speak the language. I understand when no one else does.

My characters always learn the language of the SC. They know when the SC is angry, tired, or hiding something. To an outsider those are three blank looks. If you know the language though, you know angry means the muscles around the eye are tight, or that looking away signals fatigue, or that the SC only looks at the sky and rocks on his heels when he's lying.

This time around my SC is named Ulric. Even when he is human he is a very visual character. His mouth quirks, he hides smiles, his body language adds nuance and layers to everything he does. The MC, and Ulric's foil, is a doctor named Roan who is so weighed down by guilt and fear that she rarely shows any expression. Her body language is tight, abbreviated, erased...

Each character brings something different to the story. Each views the events in a different way. The amalgamation is what makes the story more than Girls Meets Boy, Girl Fights Bad Guy, Girl Saves the World. The unique personalities of the characters make the story unique. And this is a good thing.

So... off I go to beat chapter thirteen into submission. It should be fun.

*puts a hand to her ear*

Hark! I can hear the superfluous words whimpering even now!

*grabs a red pen and rushes off to stab redundant phrases*


  1. I'm going to get guys angry at me, but I was thinking that writing a 'silent (human) character' is bound to come easier for female writers, especially those who are moms. <- Then again, dads count too. :)

    Stop me if I'm wrong, but women are more likely to read into facial expressions, body posture, tone of voice. Whereas guys get frutstrated if they are expected to notice those things instead of talking it out. :]

    And don't forget how people always understand exactly what their two year old is saying and carry on a full conversation with said 2yo. <- Then a few years later, they could be watching home videos and be totally lost. :)

    Heh. But I do have a dog character in the novel I'm working on. He is a animal guide, which means he is intelligent to have a full conversation with other animal guides, but has to rely on body language to 'train' the protagonist. <- I know dogs, so this is easy for me. But then I have to show and make it obvious for readers what's going on.

  2. I can imagine how hard it is for you. I'm glad she/he is starting to talk. And what a neat perspective it gives you for your silent characters.

  3. Catherine - I've never been male, so I won't presume to speak for them. I know some of the males I write are very aware of facial expressions, others aren't. I think it's a learned behavior rather than something attached to gender. That said, parents seem to be better at picking these things up than other people.

    Laura - Thank you. Eldest is a girl, she's delightful, and even this has been a blessing in a way. It certainly gives me better insight into body language!