Wednesday 14 November 2018

The use of silence

Writing this in the week when the Armistice that ended World War One was commemorated, when the two minute silence is one of the most universal and poignant parts of any ceremony, has prompted thoughts on the power of silence to a writer. Aspiring - and not so aspiring - writers are told, or reminded, about using all the senses, and hearing can encompass all types of noise, from rain on the roof to opera to the sound of waves on the shore - which can be remarkably noisy, as you learn when you live by the sea. Some writers like to have music while they work, and will make a play list for a particular book. Sounds are very emotive for creating atmosphere - a distant bell, footsteps in an empty corridor, the sound of a door closing, very softly. All creepy, all very simple.

But what about silence? Not easy to convey in a book. Yet we have probably all experienced that feeling when silence has been so strong it almost seems like something you can touch. It can come in an empty, desolate place. It can be significant when there is an absence where there should be a presence - no sound were there should be one, like a heart beat. Silence in a conversation can speak volumes that words don't.

Silence might be a little difficult to convey. It needs some thought. It's not an easy option, but it can be powerful and worth thinking about.

I have two books in the half completed pile, which I am waiting to get back to, that open with a silent house, one an historical, one contemporary. I probably have both of them as neither manuscript is finished - I might have avoided repeating a similar scene if either was published - but I hope as they are different genres it will be OK. It's clearly a scenario that appeals to me. In both cases my protagonist -one male, one female,  is alone in an empty house where they have long memories and associations, and it is the prelude to leaving and beginning a new life, in neither case one that is sought or looked forward to. It is a scene of goodbye, and a certain amount of heartbreak. I hope it is a powerful beginning to the book. In both manuscripts I had to think about the effect of silence - in this case on memory. That absence where there should be presence - a kind of metaphor for all they have lost.

Fingers crossed that they work.

Now I'm keen to get back to them. Soon.

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