Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

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  • Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

    Is this getting too old? Do you think such characters still work or are they far too predictable?

    I've recently encountered several instances of such characters. Here are two of them:

    -Don Jon: Jon's sister, who spends all of the film quietly typing on her smartphone and finally speaks during the family argument that ensues after Jon communicates he's broken with the Scarlett Johanson character; when Jon's parents freak out and Jon seems to be in denial about the nature of his relationship, his sister is the only one that can see through the bullsh*t and realizes Jon's ex was manipulative, didn't really love him, and he's better off without her.

    -Orange Is the New Black: there's an inmate that works in the kitchen, who doesn't speak during the whole season and even uses writing to communicate at some point; in the season finale (I think), she starts singing during the Christmas celebrations and she actually has an amazing voice, which doubles the surprise.

    There's plenty of characters like these in popular movies and books. Silent Bob in Chasing Amy. The shy nun that sings masterfully in Sister Act.

    Do you guys think such characters still work, if executed well? Or have they become too much of a cliche? My experience when watching Don Jon was that it was so obvious that his sister was going to give some enlightening speech or comment in the 3rd act that it wasn't very surprising or effective when it happened. The same goes for Orange Is the New Black. I've seen so many scenes like those before.

    Thoughts?
    Last edited by Dr. Vergerus; 02-02-2014, 08:32 AM.

  • #2
    Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

    Toss it. Felt the same way about Don Jon. I'm sure there are still original, effective ways to use this, but unless you've stumbled upon the needle in the haystack, I think it's going to be about as amusing as it was in Don Jon. Which is to say, "wow, didn't see THAT coming a mile away."

    I DO, however, think that a highly underutilized tool in movies nowadays is the "single use of profanity" trope. Most effective, I think, in Blade Runner. As the IMDb page says, there are a few mild uses of "a--hole" and "goddamn," and then in one of the more dramatic turns of phrase in cinema, "I want more life, f--ker." It's powerful. In a Tarantino movie, it probably would have just slipped by.

    This has been overused and become almost predictable in PG-13 movies (Avatar and its "He's doing the f--kin' chicken dance!", anyone?), but in the more serious fare, not allowing a single character to swear (or any, if that's your choice) until a moment where it's dramatically or comically expedient, can still be effective.

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    • #3
      Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

      I think the use of swear words you mention works better when it's out of character or, at least, out of characterization. But it's been done a lot and, unless it's done really well, it feels a bit stale.

      Most cliches work when done well.

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      • #4
        Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

        "Hmmm, Juicy Fruit." I still remember being blown away by that moment.

        But I think you're right that it's become a cliché. Perhaps you could do it whereby a disinterested character - say a child who's always in the background - pipes up at the right moment. I guess as ever if it's done well enough it'll work.
        My stuff

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        • #5
          Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

          Originally posted by Eric Boellner View Post
          Toss it. Felt the same way about Don Jon. I'm sure there are still original, effective ways to use this, but unless you've stumbled upon the needle in the haystack, I think it's going to be about as amusing as it was in Don Jon. Which is to say, "wow, didn't see THAT coming a mile away."

          I DO, however, think that a highly underutilized tool in movies nowadays is the "single use of profanity" trope. Most effective, I think, in Blade Runner. As the IMDb page says, there are a few mild uses of "a--hole" and "goddamn," and then in one of the more dramatic turns of phrase in cinema, "I want more life, f--ker." It's powerful. In a Tarantino movie, it probably would have just slipped by.

          This has been overused and become almost predictable in PG-13 movies (Avatar and its "He's doing the f--kin' chicken dance!", anyone?), but in the more serious fare, not allowing a single character to swear (or any, if that's your choice) until a moment where it's dramatically or comically expedient, can still be effective.
          The one that still pisses me off is "F--- me, they made it." by Christian Slater in "Robin Hood". Takes me out of the movie every time...you know, moreso than Costner's accent.

          As to the silent character, it's all about the set up to me. At a certain point, when they keep showing the silence, you keep waiting to see what the silent Aristotle/Freud is going to say.
          SL35
          Potent dreamer. Newb disclaimer.

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          • #6
            Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

            It's becoming a trope, yes. Unless you feel like you can surprise us anew with a fresh way of hiding the resolution, I'd avoid.

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            • #7
              Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

              What seems hard to me is to set it up properly and build to that surprise without giving it away.

              I think the similar trope of having a brute reveal a soft or refined side of him works a bit better, probably because of the irony implied, and gives more room to originality.

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              • #8
                Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

                what about how it was done in 'Waiting' They simply didn't allow whats-his-face to speak until he explodes in the final scene.= one of the greatest comedic scenes ever. imo

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                • #9
                  Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

                  It's an obnoxious trope when the silent character's entire purpose is to be quiet for 85 minutes, and then go all Tiny-Tim and throw away the crutches for a 5 minute climactic verbal explosion.

                  Essentially, the only reason that person exists in the story is to tell the hero what to do in the third act.

                  But when they're woven into the fabric of the story, and are fully-realized characters who overcome their soft spokenness, trope or no trope, it can be very satisfying.

                  The quiet nun in Sister Act worked well, partly because her "coming out" occurred early in the second act, but also because it wasn't the hand-of-the-writer making her quiet, she was just shy. Chasing Amy at least lampshaded the moment. I also didn't mind Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine. That character's motivation for silence, and the subsequent breaking of it, were well defined.

                  So, yes, it can still work. Audiences like seeing characters overcome their flaws. Public speaking being a common fear.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

                    Originally posted by Bunker View Post
                    I also didn't mind Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine. That character's motivation for silence, and the subsequent breaking of it, were well defined.
                    That's a good point, but at the same time, I knew how it was going to end from the moment they introduced the idea of him not speaking. Still worked, because it's a well-written film, but obvious is always obvious.

                    As for the one profanity thing, I was in no way suggesting a poorly-timed F-bomb, which is usually just there to avoid the dreaded "kid-friendly" PG rating for an action movie. I just feel that profanity is more powerful if heard less often in a film, or from a specific character within that film.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Silent characters who speak at a critical point in the story

                      Every cliche is just waiting for someone to come along and twist it into something fresh.

                      Bill
                      Free Script Tips:
                      http://www.scriptsecrets.net

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