I rambled on about dialogue the other day. How to make two voices sound different by drafting the scene with no names. But there are occasions when words are either unnecessary or not enough.
You know how it goes: someone drops a bombshell ‘I’ve leaving’ or ‘I’ve contracted leprosy’ – what follows is not likely to be ‘Really, darling?’ (Unless of course the reason darling is leaving is because she never listens anyway and that is what she would normally retort.) In times when words are going to be few or non-existent, you need to keep your head. What you add in will either be body language or description. ‘He looked stunned’ will not cut it. You need to work out just how stunned he is, then how he reacts when he’s stunned (cries, vomits, hits her over the head with a cricket bat) and how that manifests itself in your words. Because he might not have anything to say, but you have to.
Writing silence is hard. I know because I am writing silence at the moment. Actually, that isn’t true: I have been re-writing silence because I discovered that the passage I was revising wasn’t working and I was trying to figure my way through it. It’s one of those ‘I’m leaving’ scenes, but with a dirty great difference: there is no affair, no obvious big deal. Nothing has really changed in their relationship, yet everything has changed and the reason he’s leaving is pride, pique even. Getting his mood right, getting their actions and reactions was proving hard. He won’t be crying, vomiting, or hitting her over the head with the cricket bat, but he’s said it and so I’ve had to work through it. And I found it very difficult.
Writing silence is one of those occasions where if you’re not careful the whole thing descends into melodrama and becomes unbelievable. If the moment is high drama and the characters are very dramatic and the genre dictates that someone will end up dead here, then you can go at it full tilt, with lots of language, foul and otherwise before killing someone off. But often high drama is written low-key and nobody is going to die, just hurt. And that may mean there are no words and precious little action. You can lengthen the silence by internal dialogue, but that only works inside one head. You can’t ever be in more than one head at a time. So emotions need to be translated into visible reactions and words found for those reactions.
I have discovered that there is a book called The Emotion Thesaurus: A writer’s guide to character expression by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman. I have not yet thoroughly investigated it (downloaded from Amazon to Kindle, but probably will buy the ‘real’ book as Kindle version isn’t easy to negotiate. Not sure if this will help anyone else, but I’m giving it a try.
And if you’re writing silence, I wish you well.