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Meta: The Sound of Silence (Writing, 24)

In the first hour of the new 24 series, 24: Live Another Day, Jack Bauer -- the lead -- doesn't speak in the first 40 minutes of the show. Yet his is unquestionably the driving force in almost every scene.

In a lot of ways this silence is like white space on a page and the absence of his words becomes a huge part of the show. His very silence is a weapon that he uses against the people he interacts with. By the time we are at the 40 minute mark, we're as anxious to get him to talk as the people who have him.

A great part of the success of this comes from Kiefer Sutherland's ability to embody Jack Bauer. In many ways the character of Jack Bauer is much like a black hole, a huge gravitational pull that sucks everything into his orbit and keeps them there. It would be very easy to make Jack into a caricature rather than a character. While I know that there are a lot of points to be made that the show itself may be less than fleshed out, the character of Jack Bauer is not often seen as the problem. That success of character (especially in a show such as 24) is a credit to Kiefer and how much he brings to the character.

More than that, though, I think it shows the value that can come from having a character be silent and how much can be done without speaking. It's a rare thing in television to have a silent character. For one thing, actors pay a great deal of attention to the number of lines they have because, usually, the more lines someone has the more important their character is. As viewers, we tend to get very upset when characters don't want to "talk it out".

In writing, there's no one counting dialog lines, but most writers do like to hear their characters. In fact, in today's writing world where description is often seen as clunky and unnecessary, pages of dialog are often seen as a good thing. There are all sorts of writing prompts and challenges where you are to write a scene purely of dialog and yet have reader be able tell who is talking.

It's a difficult thing to do and worthy of a challenge or writing exercise. However, I think a more difficult challenge would be to write a scene where the main character doesn't talk at all. This first 40 minutes in 24:LAD must have looked very interesting on the shooting page, but imagine how strange it would look on a novel's page.

I'm not sure if it could be done, really. It would be interesting to try. Could I write a scene where the main character is the primary focus of the scene and yet never speaks. In 24:LAD, Jack is not the POV character. In many scenes the other characters are having a conversation or doing something not related to Jack, but yet Jack is in the back ground, on monitors and the like.

So there would have to be a scene where the main character isn't the POV. Mostly because internal dialog is still dialog and would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Yet the main character would have to be the driving force in each scene. (I actually wrote a scene where the main character was POV but couldn't speak for a great part of it. I will have to go back and look at it.)

I like dialog. It helps propel a scene forward. When used correctly it says something about the speaker beyond the meaning of the words they say. It allows you to attach a verbal or action tag that helps identify the character. For example, in the Harry Potter books, Drako often "drawls". The ability to tag Drako with that term makes him easily identifiable just by how he speaks.

We're also a society of words. Not only speaking words, but online -- facebook, twitter -- it's all about what we say. I wonder if you remove the words, do you remove the importance and impact of the character. In many ways our society is beginning to place more importance on what you say than what you do.

So would a character who never speaks be allowed to be a main character? Would they be seen as admirable, would we believe that we know who they are if they don't tell us who they are?

I'm not sure we appreciate the sound of silence as we once did.

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