Back in Talking the Talk I started a discussion about dialog. This time around I’d like to give you some food for thought – there are some memorable characters that don’t talk. Done right these can be really powerful sidekicks.
Remember Someone Has To Talk
There are some of you out there – and I know this from experience – who are thinking you’re going to write a novel or feature where nobody talks. Ok, you’re within your rights to try this but it’s going to be extremely difficult to pull off.
The closest movie in recent memory that pulled something close off was Cast Away with Tom Hanks. It works because Hanks is awesome, but he also spends a lot of time talking to himself. There are also scenes in the first and last acts showing “normal” life, so we can juxtapose these aspects of the story. (It makes his time on screen with Wilson even more poignant)
Silent Characters and Their Role
Characters who don’t talk can serve several purposes.
They can provide comic relief. One of my favorite silent characters is the intrepid Gromit from Wallace and Gromit. The general pattern is Wallace screws something up, Gromit gets the shaft, Wallace begs for help, Gromit saves the day, and things end on a happy note.
When Gromit reacts, he’s totally silent, but so much emotion is conveyed through his actions that he’s really memorable. (And we laugh with him at some of the absurdity in the story)
Also along these lines there was a villain in The Tick animated series named Wingnut that had a screw and wing nut for a head. He worked for Chairface Chippendale in the plot to vandalize the moon with a big laser. The Tick defeats him by loosening the wing nut, which knocks him out.
There was a Wingnut action figure that I couldn’t find but desperately wanted, because he’s one of the funniest villains I’ve ever seen.
The Enigmatic Hero
You’ll sometimes see a silent hero in an ensemble piece. This character is recognized as a badass who you don’t want to mess with. Other members of the team are glad to have this person on their side.
A great example of this type is Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe. I grew up in the 80’s when he was introduced. Anyone who was lucky enough to get a Snake Eyes action figure was always pumped; when we’d play with them fights would break out over which was the real Snake Eyes. If we were acting out a scenario, things would get close to fisticuffs over who got to play him.
This guy is in few of the cartoons we watched religiously, but he steals the scenes he’s in. If he was on a box of cereal or a pair of Underoos it became a must-have. (Talk about a memorable character!)
Mysterious Henchman and Silent Killers
There are a couple of these types of characters in the James Bond movies. One that comes to mind first is Oddjob from Goldfinger. Having a big guy who doesn’t say anything but is capable of giving the hero a run for his/her money is intimidating. When people don’t talk, you don’t know what they’re thinking.
This is similar to the killers in the Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises. They don’t talk, so you can’t reason with them or understand what motivates them.
In horror it’s scary when a character runs across a silent killer and they haven’t grasped the threat yet. A few characters are going to get knocked off before the true nature of the threat finally becomes apparent. They can represent death: silent, uncaring, remorseless.
What do you think? What’s your favorite silent character?