Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hush! What's that sound? Nothing...

Most people are uncomfortable with silence. This holds true both in life and in writing.

When having a conversation--especially a heated conversation--our first reaction is to fill it with something. There's a reason the phrase "comfortable silence" was coined. Most of the time, silence isn't comfortable for any of us.

While in college, I briefly thought about being a psychologist. I was fascinated with the human mind, especially with neurological disorders. I ended up graduating with a minor in psychology, which was unrelated to my science major. One of the classes I took was Introduction to Counseling, which taught tools and techniques for conducting a talk session. One of the tools they gave us was, merely, silence.

When you want to get someone to talk, you just... stop. It's difficult. Even now, after many years, my first reaction is to open my mouth and say something. But if you let the silence stretch on, if you hold out against the uncomfortable feeling bubbling inside of you, the other person will likely fill the void and reveal something about themselves in the process.

In writing, silence is also valuable. In critiquing others' work, I've noticed that we all have a tendency to do something like this to create silence between two characters:

"He waited for her to talk. The silence stretched on."

Rather than showing the reader, making them feel the silence and the wait--which is what we want to do in all aspects of our writing, right?--we're telling them something. And I don't need to tell you that telling is bad. Better to show.

I found this example in The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. It's a great example of how you can show "waiting." Adam has called his friend Blue from a parking lot. Her aunt picks up the phone. He asks to talk to Blue. Upon finding out who he is, the aunt answers:
"How wonderful. I'll go get Blue."

There was a brief, uncomfortable moment while voices murmured in the background of the telephone. Adam swatted at gnats; the parking lot needed to be mowed again. The asphalt was hard to see in some places.

"I didn't think you'd call," Blue said.
Rather than saying, "Adam stood there and waited for Blue to come to the phone," the author put us in Adam's shoes. We heard what was going on through the phone--and haven't we all been there, hearing muffled voices on the other end as the phone is passed from one hand to the other? We waited with him in the parking lot, looking around at our surroundings, seeing the weeds poking through the cracked asphalt.

And she never even used the word "wait."

S. L. Saboviec grew up in a small town in Iowa but became an expat for her Canadian husband, whom she met in the Massive Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game Star Wars: Galaxies (before the NGE, of course). She holds a B.S. in Physics, which qualifies her to B.S. about physics and occasionally do some math for the sci-fi stories she concocts. Her dark, thought-provoking science fiction & fantasy contains flawed, relatable characters and themes that challenge the status quo.

Her short fiction ("I Am NOT Little Red Riding Hood") has appeared in the webzine Grievous Angel. Her debut novel, Guarding Angel, received an honorable mention in the 23rd Annual Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards: "... A fascinating story of a particularly loving guardian angel. Overall, the writing is emotionally grounded, character-focused, and technically superior..." The sequel, Reaping Angel, is available now.

You can call her Samantha.

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Kara Reynolds said...

I love The Raven Boys. Great example! I definitely rely on the "telling" version of silence too often.

Karen Baldwin said...

I'm not much on small talk especially when meeting someone for the first time, so often there are gaps of silence...and always it's uncomfortable.

JeffO said...

I had a supervisor who loved to employ the silence thing while interviewing candidates for a position (or in everyday conversations). It was kind of annoying.