This week’s uses the real-life hero Major Dick Winters, featured in Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, to explain how we can use his example to make sure the “silent” half of our strong and silent types is a benefit and not a drawback.
Video Transcript: One of fiction’s great character archetypes is that of the strong and silent hero. You know the type: broad shoulders, tortured past, Clint Eastwood squint. He doesn’t say much, but, hey, since he oozes charisma out of every pore, he really doesn’t have to. But just how do you convince readers of your character’s supposed strength, when his silent half is always holding you back? In short, how do you write a broad-shouldered, tortured, squinting, charisma-oozing hero, if you have to limit his dialogue to the occasional manly grunt?
Characters who don’t want to talk can be difficult to write. Sometimes their silence can be an obstacle even in allowing the writer to get to know him. So let’s consider an example. The first strong-and-silent hero to pop to my mind right now actually isn’t a fictional character at all, but the hero of Easy Company, Major Dick Winters, from Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers. In some ways this example is better than anything we might find in fiction, since it focuses on the inherent charisma of a real personality, rather than that of technique. So let’s talk about a few of the reasons Winters is an enduringly compelling historical figure—and how we can apply those reasons to our fictional heroes.
To begin with, Winters puts the emphasis in “strong and silent” on strong. Strong and silent types exhibit the power of their personalities through their actions more than their words. Unlike say, Bill Guarnere, a fellow Easy Company member, Winters wasn’t the sort always ready with a smart remark. He made his opinions and beliefs clear through his actions. Second, when a strong and silent character does choose to break that silence, it’s always because he has something of importance to say. Strong and silent types say what they mean and they mean what they say—and they’re not likely to speak twice before acting upon their words. If we can take advantage of just these two lessons, our strong and silent types are likely to jump off our pages.
Tell me your opinion: Have you ever struggled writing a character who didn't want to talk?
Related Posts: 3 Traits Your Hero and Villain Should Share
The Perils of a Passive Protagonist
Give Your Character Someone to Talk to
Story by K.M. Weiland