Wednesday 8 July 2015

The power of silence

I'm a long time fan of the late Harold Pinter - whose plays famously make significant use of pauses. A masterly use of silence. I try to remember that when I'm writing, but find it a bit more difficult to convey in a book, without benefit of stage directions. The best I can come up with is the three dot ellipsis ...

I've been blogging about the senses recently, hearing being one. But absence can be powerful. Secrets, and I'm a great one for secrets, thrive on silence. The things left unsaid. And of course there's the strong, silent hero. A cliche, but an almost irresistible one. The heroine who can get the taciturn hero to open up is on to a winner in novelist terms. I'm not so sure how it would work out in real life. I suspect that the reticence would be habitual and might be difficult to live with, but hey, romantic fiction is about escapism, not real life.

What about the potentially creepy silence when you are alone in the house? And don't you just hate it when the cat or dog suddenly goes on the alert to something you can't hear?  Ominous silence, oppressive silence, companionable silence - how do you convey those? The challenge of describing a void? Although the first two could feel strong enough to be almost tangible. And very atmospheric.

Or there's silence in crowd - the lull in conversation when a chance remark can be clearly audible or the moment when a whole room falls silent - often because of the entrance of Someone Significant. Silence can, of course be uncomfortable. We want to fill it, especially if we are nervous in any way. I know I've used that one - let the hero keep quiet and wait for the other party to rush into speech and reveal something.

There doesn't have to be noise to have impact. There's a lot of fun in silence.

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