Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Strong, Silent Type

One of the most popular archetypes in literature is the strong, silent type. This is usually a male character whose basic traits can transfer easily from genre to genre. The strong, silent type is easily found in romances, thrillers, mysteries, and horrors, and the list could go on to every type of fiction in the market. There is something inherently attractive about a character who does not need to explain himself, who meets every obstacle and plot twist in his path with a staid sense that he will overcome, and who does not fill endless pages with dialogue which fails in its attempt to charm.



Although readers can generally spot this archetype from page one, they often don’t mind its reoccurrence because every good reader knows that it is the job of a good writer to imbue this stereotype with all of the unique traits and ambitions which boil just under that surface of silence. One strong, silent type can be as vastly different from the next as the author chooses, and these differences often unfold slowly, making the character a mystery in themselves.

In spite of the type’s popularity, I believe that it is actually a very difficult character to write. In a first person narrative, the character’s narration may contribute to a feeling that he speaks much more than he does and only a very gifted writer will be able to subtly hide the mysterious quirks which ought to be quintessential to the character. The third person perspective requires the perfect balance of exposition and dialogue. Too much and your character will no longer be “silent”, too little and his motives will not be clear. He may seem too callous, too dull, too lacking in opinion, or, worst of all, simply not present.

For me at least, these issues can go unobserved until edits. As writers we should know everything there is to know about our characters. I remember being told in a writing seminar years ago that my readers may never know the color of my hero’s first car, but I had better know it just the same.

This mental storage of information and empathy can become treacherous when it comes to the strong, silent type. He does not explain himself and if we fail to do it for him because we already know the answer and forget that the readers do not, we will present nothing more than a bland stereotype who does a few strange things here and there.

I am tackling this issue right now in Land of Battles. Yngvarr’s character is set. I know him backward and forward. He is, after all, the hero of my trilogy. I plan on spending years with him. However, for the readers, his character was left murky at the end of Prince Dead.

The issues which were not discussed in the first novel take center stage in the second, but it is hard to explain them in great detail without weakening the character. He is the legendary warrior, the berserker who cannot be killed, and, now, the king. However, it is his weaknesses which guide the first half of this new novel. They must be explained without being too Freudian, too whiny, too boring, or too cliché, and he is certainly not the man to do the talking.

I need an epiphany and a plan, and until I get both, my progress is painfully slow. I think it may be time to enlist the aid of friends and family to help me solve the problems, but I hate showing weak writing to others, and at the moment I am not at all confident in my first fifty pages. I will never publish something I am not confident in, but I have also set a deadline for myself. Hopefully, progress will be swift, and I will have an update soon.

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