The Words They Don’t Say

You can show a lot about your characters by what they say. But what about the things they don’t say?

This thought sparked from an observation I’ve made before. You see, I’ve met and known several people in this world who are naturally quiet or don’t talk a lot. And while a lot of the time those kinds of people are labeled shy, that’s not always the case. And what I’ve noticed is that even when someone doesn’t talk much, they can still give off a lot about themselves and their character.

I have two examples in mind of people from my life.

First is a friend’s sister, and she is also a friend, who I shall name Lilly.

And the second is a guy I shall name Jim. I don’t actually remember his name, since I only knew him a few days while we stayed in a guest house in North Carolina. I knew him from playing in the snow with him and his brother in the snow.

Now Lilly is a quiet type, and she has a quiet personality as well. She doesn’t talk too much, and has a mild or sweet way about her I think.

While on the other hand Jim is also not much of a talker, but has a more intense or even initiating air about him.

It is hard to pick out the nuances of what makes them appear this way, especially from memory. But I think it must be subtle things like body language and actions that give out those impressions. Lilly’s quietness was perhaps caused by her being passive or content with simply observe the world around her. However Jim’s motives I can not guess quite as easily on. Perhaps he meant his lack of words to be intimidating, perhaps he just did not feel the need to say much. Unlike his brother, who seemed to always be cheery and talking. The contrast was quite clear between those two.

Another way to see the character of someone who doesn’t spare many words, is by their action. What are they like when they do something? Are they calm about it? Aggressive? Energetic? Do they do it without complaint? And also what their actions are can tell you something. You can get a lot of different impressions from someone who is quite. Instead of shy or sweet, they could be perceived as mysterious or even dangerous.

As a writer, I like to take things from real life and use them if I can. So the question is: what can we do with a quite person in our story?

Even if your character isn’t the quite type, what impression can you give by the things they don’t say? Perhaps Molly has a trait where she runs her fingers through her hair when she’s nervous. Maybe to everyone Tim is a stuck-up loner; when really he just doesn’t connect emotionally with people unless he knows them well. And feels that he has enough close friends that he doesn’t seek out more, and is content and confident doing his own thing.

There are lots of things and ways you can create and build a character, this is just one way you could make or imagine one. The possibilities are endless, so go! Have fun, write, and create interesting characters!

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7 thoughts on “The Words They Don’t Say

  1. Please, lass, if you’re a writer, make sure you know the difference between ‘quite’ and ‘quiet’! Bugs the Dickens out of me.

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