Monday, July 26, 2010

The Importance of Being Silent

Every story has dialogue. Writers need to consider vocabulary and rhythm but don't forget the silences. Pauses in a conversation can serve many purposes. For instance...

A character has just said something shocking. There will always be a silence before any type of reaction is given.

A blind date will be filled with pauses in conversation. These pauses can be used to heighten the awkwardness of the situation, but can also be used to heighten the comedy.

Some people hate silences and will say anything to fill the void. This is a very useful tool if you write mysteries.

Just because there are no words being spoken, doesn't mean communication isn't continuing. Body language speaks loud and clear.

What isn't said is sometimes more important than what is.

When dealing with strong emotions, words are hard to come by. Let your characters be lost for words.

Sometimes, silence is golden. A well-placed pause can lift your dialogues off the page and make them real.

How often do you think about putting a pause into your dialogues?


  1. I think pauses are important. I want to know how to do it gracefully without writing the same thing over and over again. That might be a good blog post for me to do. I think this was a great post.


  2. My characters probably don't pause enough. Or use enough body language. These are things I need to remember to include. Will I ever be done with this edit?

  3. Clarissa; I'm glad you liked the post. Think about what people do when pauses occur. Everyone reacts in their own way.

    Carol; I have exactly the same thoughts when it comes to editing. I share your pain.

  4. I wrtie action and need to keep things moving. But regarding character development I ise pauses. Eating meals are a great time to insert pauses. Can't be talking with your mouth full of food.

    Stephen Tremp

  5. Karen; I wish you nothing but the best. Fiction writing may be a rocky road at times, but some of those rocks turn out to be diamonds.

    Stephen; You're absolutely right - a well-timed mouthful of food can speak volumes.

  6. Elspeth - Thank you for this!!!!! Pauses and silence can really play an important role in dialogue, and it's important to remember that. 'S a matter of fact, I just finished a scene in my WIP where there are a few silences because of characters hiding things and trying to think of what to say so it won't seem as though they are. I also like silence as a way to get witnesses talking. Hercule Poirot does that, and it works.

  7. You pointed out some excellent examples for the need to pause occasionally in dialogue. I like to add pauses dotted with little bits of body language.

  8. Margot; I've tried it in regular conversations. It's amazing what people will say when they think you're expecting them to say something.

    Jane; I'm pleased you liked the examples. I use body language all the time to show how a character's attention is shifting.

  9. I think we often leave out the pauses because we're in such a hurry to tell the story. We need to give the story's heart time to beat. Instead we are so eager, we kill it with a literary blood clot of too many words piled on top of each other.

  10. kd; I agree completely. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

  11. Thanks for the reminder to pause and let the silence speak for itself. I'm going to remember this. :)

  12. In acting and directing there is a technique I use that I call "playing the moment". That is so important when one character has said something of integral importance to the plot. The player with the next line needs to let that line resonate with the audience for a moment --- pause. That has helped me remember to do that in my novels, too.

  13. Kathi; I'm pleased to give a reminder. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment.

    Maryann; I know exactly what you mean! I used the same technique. Of course, on stage WHERE the moment is played can add to the significance. Pace is important, but so are the pauses.

  14. A pause is a great way to say something important without typing anything except a little ellipsis. Good post, Elspeth.

  15. I'm trying to learn about dialog by watching my family. I know when my husband is irritated: no matter how calm he keeps his voice, he runs his hand through his hair when he pauses.

    This is a great post - I'm going to watch for more body language hints during pauses.


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