How to Write Strong and Silent Characters

One of fiction’s great archetypes is that of strong and silent characters.

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 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 them. 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.

Band of Brothers (2001), HBO.

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.

1. Show, Don’t Tell

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.

2. Leverage Important Dialogue

Second, when strong and silent characters do choose to break silence, it’s always because they have 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 characters are likely to jump off our pages.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever struggled with writing strong and silent characters? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Great vlog K.M. You always have those strong silents in quite a few novels. Your example of Easy Company was spot on, but putting the actions and scenes into words can be the difficult part.

  2. I love strong and silent types. They seem to crop up in all my stories. A strong sense of the character’s interior (e.g., his backstory, motives, demons, etc.) are what always power the character. Marcus Annan, from my medieval novel Behold the Dawn is one of my favorite characters. He definitely fits the strong and silent mold, but his personality was so big that he just leapt off the page for me.

  3. Excellent advice. I recently had to scrap much of my current work in progress because I realized my strong, silent POV character was just plain dull. Tens of thousands of words down the drain… I am completely reworking him now by giving him strong internal opinions that he acts on even if he doesn’t speak about. Narrating with a Clint Eastwood type was more difficult that I thought!

  4. As I said in the comment above, I’ve had my best luck with strong and silent types who have very strong narrative voices. Those that lack that strong inner personality tend to come across as both dull and often times bossy and know-it-all. Not the right combination for a character who’s supposed to lead by example.

  5. Strong and silent has always been hard for me to write. The closest I’ve come is Judge Colt. While not exactly the silent type, he does manage not to say much most of the time.

    Thnx for another great article (article, ‘cuz I’m too limited on bandwidth to watch the vlog) 😀

  6. Strong and silent types are tricky because they’re almost all “show,” instead of “tell.” The author has to prove the character’s personality, worth, and arc through his actions, without resorting to the character’s dialogue to explain it all to the reader. Tricky? Yes. But, since showing is optimum anyway, this results in some of our most realistic and vibrant characters.

  7. Great post. The one issue I’ve found with the Strong & Silent type is revealing those traits through their actions. You need the right balance to show strength but not too much to look like they’re reckless (acting before thinking). Although there is a certain level of fun to be had between the calm collected character and the S&S type that appears to just act.

  8. That’s where internal narrative comes into play. When the strong-and-silent character is one of your POVs, you have the opportunity to show readers the thought process behind the actions, which, thankfully, makes them seem much less arbitrary.

  9. I have a strong, silent type with a twist. He’s a doctor, and he’s very good at dealing with sick people, but he can’t sit down and have a conversation without resorting to quoting Scripture. He’s a great paraphrase though.
    …maybe he’s not silent after all.

  10. He resorts to quoting Scripture because it’s difficult for him to say anything else? Sort of like he’s hiding behind the words of others? That is an interesting twist.

  11. I’m a little conflicted with this, in that I don’t see how you can reconcile a ‘strong silent’ type with internalisation. My hero has several difficult emotional decisions to make – like brutally ditching his love interest when he mistakenly believes she is his daughter. Now that kind of shock, especially in 1720 New England is going to generate some serious internalisation, but I don’t see how you can say that is not ‘babble’where as vocalising his feelings is babble. To the reader words are words and internalisation must dilute the ‘strong and silent’. Does this make sense?

  12. I get what you’re saying, but, at the end of the day, it’s a character’s actions that define him as “strong and silent.” Books have a major advantage over movies when it comes to this type of character because internal narrative allows the reader to understand the character without his having to outwardly break free of the “silent” mode.

  13. Thank you for the check list towards creating my strong and silent villain 🙂

  14. Tamara Reuveni says

    One of my stories has a protagonist who not only doesn’t talk much but displays almost no emotion in the beginning of the story. She grew up with a very stoic guardian and had almost no contact with other people. At first she gave me a lot of trouble, but then I realized my mistake was approaching her stoicism from too superficial a perspective. She wasn’t really emotionless. She just had trouble expressing her emotion. Letting people know what she thought and felt made her feel too vulnerable. I decided to try telling the story in first person so that she could let the reader know her thoughts and feelings without needing to show them, and the story finally worked.

  15. Thanks for this. I’m only starting to get into writing stories. Thanks for the tip!

  16. Major Dick Winters wasn’t exactly silent. He was in command and usually his dialogue related to his command. He conserved his words.

    Dick Winters wasn’t a two dimensional authoritative type. He led by example. He also demonstrated concern for his men.

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