Deb Rachel Debates Silence

The winner of last week’s MWF Seeking BFF giveaway (chosen by a random number generator) is Jonita! Thanks, everyone, for sharing your very best days with us.


I haven’t seen The Artist yet, and, until yesterday, I didn’t really want to. The silent film, out now and on the short-list for basically every Oscar nod, is getting rave reviews, but what did I want with a film with no dialogue? I was pretty confident I would get bored and not be able to follow the story.

But then, my mom and aunt saw it and oohed and aahed enough to change my mind. And while reading this week’s posts from the other Debs, I kept thinking about this movie. If we rely on dialogue to move our story forward and give insights into our characters’ personalities and motivations, how is it that The Artist works so well?

I did some research on the film. Specifically, I was curious what devices the film uses to replace the dialogue. How does it communicate emotion? What about the lack of dialogue makes The Artist so standout?

I was struck by this quote from creator Michael Hazanavicius: “I loved the format [of silent movies.] The audience really participates in the storytelling process. That makes something very special in the way you (as an audience member) stick with the story – you do half the job, you create the voices, you create the dialogue, and you do it with your own words, your own reference. That makes the movie closer to you.”

There’s an interesting question here, I think, regarding how much work you want to demand of your reader/viewer, etc. We never want to explain too much, because we want a reader to use the lens of her own experience to ingest a story. But if we don’t do enough in our storytelling, if readers are left with so many questions that it’s distracting and confusing, then we haven’t done our job.

A book with no dialogue can’t work the way a silent movie can, of course. Words are all we have. But I wonder if there is an occasion when less dialogue is more?

What do you all think? How do you balance the line between telling too much and not telling enough? And, has anyone seen The Artist?  Verdict?

4 Replies to “Deb Rachel Debates Silence”

  1. I haven’t seen The Artist yet, but now I really want to — it sounds fascinating!

    I think a novel without any dialogue would rapidly grow tedious; there is a balance to be struck. Too much dialogue, and you might as well be writing a play (or screenplay … though not, of course, The Artist *grin*). Which is cool, but not precisely the right medium for reading — it needs to be seen. Narrative has to have a place in a novel, I think. If dialogue is for the readers’ “ears,” then the narrative is for their other senses, allowing them to see and smell and feel the story as well.

    Of course, this is a generalization on my part. A clever writer can make just about anything work under the right circumstances. 🙂

  2. A great question, Rachel–and as one who LOVES dialogue–both to write and read in a novel–I know I can’t go too long in silence (and the same could be said in life, just ask my family, but that’s another story…)

    I haven’t seen this film–I’ve heard of it and had no idea it was a silent film–interesting.

  3. Oh, I’ve never even heard of this film! Thanks for the heads up, Rachel.
    I think less is more is almost always a good plan for dialogue. Like Molly talked about yesterday, the actions that go along with the dialogue definitely help paint the whole picture, and having a good mix of dialogue, action and tags, when necessary, makes for a good balance and stronger writing overall.

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