Fear in Writing: Silence is Showing

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Silence is Showing

I am watching The Divine Lady with Corinne Griffith and Marie Dressler.  It is a silent film made in 1929 and tells the romantic story of the love between Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton.  The costumes are the ultimate in luxury.  The makeup is dramatic to the 'enth degree.  The love is melodramatic.  And the music is a a mix of emotion-inducing symphony and hopeful lyrics.  Drums take the place of cannons and beautifully crafted model ships fall in Admiral Nelson's daring naval battle.

The story is told in black and white.  It is told in near silence.  It is told with facial expressions and body movements.  It is told with emotion but without the obviousness dialogue brings.  In fact, it is not told at all--it is shown.

Just look at the photo of Griffith above and to the left!  See her eyes?  Her clasped hands?  The innocence implied by the hat and the chasteness by the gloves?  Her eyes are sad and begging.  Her mouth is barely open in a hopeful purse.  She is begging or praying or both and won't you, won't you give her the attention she wants?  She is so innocent and beautiful; how can you deny her?


Some of the best authors use descriptive action where an adjective might muddy the sentence.  Some of the best directors use movement and beautifully framed shots where dialogue might take attention away from the story.

Darren Aronofsky, nominated this year in the Best Director category for Black Swan (five nominations), is brilliant at this as Christopher Nolan, whose 2010 movie Inception is up for eight Academy Awards.

What great examples of showing stand out to you?

P.S. Don't forget to swing by Friday for guest blogger and author Frank Edwards and his new release, Final Mercy.


  1. Michele - You make such a good point that silent movies had to show; they couldn't really tell. I actually think Alfred Hitchcock was superb at showing the suspense and building tension in stories rather than telling. Facial expressions, shadows and light and much more told a much more suspenseful story than words would have.

  2. Michele; I understand your point, but as an actor, these films have me shaking with laughter. "Less is more" doesn't really apply to these pictures.

  3. Show is what the silents did best. I have Hitchcock's on dvd.

  4. If a story still thrills you and shocks you in silence, that is a good story.

  5. I'll have to go with Margot and say Hitchcock. He was a master at the tension through showing a scene sans words.