Device: The Long Silence


Use of white noise in coffee. Also, backstory here, the coffee is cold. Because the person is waiting for a letter from her friend that will never come, because her friend has moved on. /sad

The Long Silence probably goes by another name. It might even have several names, is probably broken down into sub-names and sub-uses, and maybe even has a fan club. I’m writing about it because I don’t know anyone who is (which isn’t saying much), and I’m in love with this idea for my own work. I want to share.

Sharing is caring.

So when I think about The Long Silence (TLS for the rest of this post), I generally think about two people (though it doesn’t have to be. Think Gone in 60 Seconds, Nick Cage and the Shelby GT, although note: this is much closer to an Unresolved Goal than TLS), either estranged or separated by an internal or external struggle–war, an event, ideological differences, death–and they no longer speak to each other. The world passes by, they carry their burdens or baggage or righteousness as a shield through their lives, assuming to never interact with the other person again.

Some may even be carrying a candle. A “What if,” if you will.

I’ve seen this done really well in books, in movies. Some with powerful dramatic effect (foreign movies do this really well: my father/society/the government forbids our relationship, even though we’re perfect warriors and love each other to the death! An hour later, they’re making out while throwing knives, simultaneously), some with emotional effect (He realized his mistake in ignoring his father after so long! Just in time to say goodbye before cancer takes him), some with steeling effects for a character (A simple piece of information changes another person’s selfish action into selfless act to save someone).

I love it. I’ve had a bit of a writer’s block for a while (3 years), and I had to sit down and dissect the path coming up to where my writing stopped: why does he refuse to see the world as it is? Because the world isn’t. Why? He has a mental block. What’s the mental block about? Unresolved brother issues.

TLS is a great way to develop tension, insight, internal discussion in a book. When done properly, it can propel a book forward, create depth, develop two characters at once. It can be very simple to do. You hear actors say “But what’s my motivation for this character?” It can be used for such a purpose. If only between two people. It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering or deep. Cause: she cheated on me. Effect: I’m not talking to her anymore, even if she is the world’s second best safe cracker and I just broke my index finger. But I neeeeeeeed her. Cause: I’m on trial for tax evasion, and I saw you kill a rottweiler (NOT a Bulldog) with a lead pipe. Effect: you’re a vicious, cruel psychopath and I don’t want you auditing my taxes. Or making me breakfast anymore. I’m a vegetarian because of you. End of discussion. (Story begins when evader gets out of prison and psychopath CPA is waiting in a beat-up 84 Ford.) #forizotastesbetterthanchorizo

BUT! It can also be done quite poorly (see final example on previous paragraph), and using this too often (the abuse of anything is still abuse) can make the reader overstimulated and with a feeling that the writer is being disingenuous for the sake of drama. Drama is good. Overdrama is bad. One character can’t have Long Silences for six people, say, and instantly needs a butcher, a baker, some candles made, and three blind ninja mice, all of which had betrayed him so seriously, earlier in life, that he must overcome obstacles to ask for help.

Note: TLS is NOT about one character keeping a secret from another, unknown to the latter. Meaning, Jonny can have a secret from Mafia Don ONLY if Mafia Don knows about Jonny keeping the secret and CHOOSING to separate himself from the only real love he’s ever felt. If Jonny keeps the secret from Mafia Don and never tells the man, and in doing so decides to skip town and leave his mafia ties behind, this device is only a Secret. It might become a LS when Jonny calls Mafia Don on his 50th birthday to congratulate him on his new boyfriend, inadvertently spilling the secret that his new boyfriend may or may not be a Gangster, and not Mafia, and Mafia Don DECIDING to ignore it in lieu of his bliss, and Jonny’s betrayal. Five years later, then, in the thick of things, Jonny saves the day and breaks TLS, overcoming his fear of sleeping with a horse head or walking with cement shoes or dining with fishes to make right his earlier departure.

Sorry. Previous paragraph might seem a bit convoluted. TLS is meant to create a plot landscape that allows for either major or minor growth to occur. TLS works best with one character (or both) going extra lengths to overcome his issue with the previous wrong/decision/event. TLS is not a matter of “Ah! I need help. She did me wrong but gosh golly gee, I’m over it and ready to make amends.” If it were, it’d be labeled something else. Like, perhaps, Forgive and Forget. F&F.

TLS also ends on a phenomenal tension-builder and story-improver, as well. The S. Silence, and the use of white space, allows the reader to cultivate questions. I’ll toot my own horn for a moment and say I’m reading Homer’s The Odyssey, and Homer’s use of silence (Telemachiad, or first 4 books of the epic) adds to the larger-than-life character of Odysseus much more than if the epic started with Odysseus. White noise is beautiful, if done right. Plays do it. Movies do it. Books do it. I’ve even heard that radio shows do it.

Silence, matched with The Long, becomes a great force in a novel. I’m practicing up on mine. What about you?

Thanks for reading!



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