How do you describe silence?
How to evoke the stillness of the early morning, when it feels like even the grass and the trees are asleep and you are the only living creature looking out at the crisp majesty of the world?
Or the heaviness of the silence when you’re at home alone, darkness crowding at the edges of the warm halo from your bedside lamp, malevolent shadows lurking just out of sight, impotent until you foolishly extinguish the banishing light?
Or the soundless shattering of your heart into a thousand painful shards when all hope of joy is extinguished by a single, heedless rejection?
Some of my favourite books have had very little in the way of dialogue. Instead, skilful writers have invoked the power of silence to transport readers into the worlds of their creation.
Their writing is often spare, their sentences short and clean. They choose words of deceptive simplicity and combine them with elegance in descriptive sentences that, while brief, still saturate the mind with colour and meaning. The plot-lines are similarly sparse, action often confined to the hearts and minds of the protagonists.
There are no superfluous words to distract from the image or emotion wrought. The reader, newly arrived at the scene, is left to experience it in silence, to look around and notice the details, perhaps to draw from their own experience for additional depth and texture.
This morning, a good friend posted an extract from his book-in-progress, Post-Mortem. Like the writing I describe above, this work is simple, powerful for the absence of flourish. It is a beautiful piece of writing – evocative, heart-wrenching and flooded with silence.
Carina, have you ever read any of Anne Tyler’s books? I find she has that quality, also, the ability to portray with stunning effect both the minutiae and internal struggles of everyday, ordinary lives. She conveys the humanity of her subjects through simplicity and a sort of quiet observation. Now that you write about that silence, yes, it permeates her books, too. I have most of them, if you ever want to borrow any.
Tamara, I’ve only read Saint Maybe but I agree, Anne Tyler’s writing does have that quality. I was thinking particularly of Shipping News and Snow Falling on Cedars as I wrote that post. Beautiful language. Sometimes stark, occasionally sweeping, descriptions with the barest covering of words. Dialogue only where necessary. Yet so much happens in the minds and hearts of the characters and, as the reader, you are right there, thinking and feeling along with them.