One of my favorite things that movies can do that books cannot is silence. When a movie opens, you can see a tumbleweed rolling by. You can have a still or semi-still shot of a table corner. You can show a filthy teddy bear in the corner of a crumbling house. And this is without the act of any narration at all.

Writing isn’t like that, because writing is like an open mic. As soon as you’re on, you’re on, and by the nature of writing, even when you’re describing something, you’re actually describing it – whether your narrator is first person or simply omniscient. Because of this aspect of the writing process, writers have a tendency to over-write and over-explain things that should be left unsaid, and for good reason. One of the chief points of language is to be clear, and you want to accomplish that, but you don’t want to tell them more than they need to know.

This is why I want you to use silence.

The last episode of Breaking Bad is a perfect example [SPOILERS AHEAD, IF YOU KEEP READING, IT IS YOUR OWN FAULT.]

The last episode of Breaking Bad features Walt breaking into a Neo-Nazi compound to rescue Jesse from Walt’s own ill-devised plan that got Jesse there in the first place, endangered a child, got Jesse’s (second) girlfriend of the show killed, and got Jesse tortured like an animal by the sociopath Todd who (to his credit…?) brings Jesse ice cream once, even though he murdered everything he ever loved.

Walt is responsible for this, and we all know it. The audience knows it, Jesse knows it, and Walt knows it, which is why he comes up with this badass contraption to defeat the Nazis, a robotic gun in the trunk of his car that sprays bullets every which a way, just from pressing the lock button on his fob.

Walt uses the death machine, but not before he tackles Jesse and puts his body on top of him to keep him from getting shot, and in the process gets shot himself. They have short, heated exchange in the house and that’s it.

The only thing that happens as Jesse gets in the car and leaves is that they look at each other, Walt nods, and Jesse gets in the car.

Here’s the important part: Vince Gilligan could’ve shoved a lengthy exchange in there. He could have had them bicker about all the wrongs done by either party, or the depravity of man, or whatever the larger point of Breaking Bad is, but he didn’t. There was no Antony dying for, like, a half hour while simultaneously retaining the ability to flawlessly deliver a Shakespearian monologue.

What he did instead was carefully construct a finale to the show, and by the time that all was said and done, all was said and done. By the time that Jesse and Walt are standing face to face, they don’t have anything left to say to each other. There’s nothing more to expound upon in that relationship. It’s just over.

Use this technique of silence in your writing. Don’t feel like a finale always has to have slick one-liners or insane revelations, because, sometimes, doing your job right means that not just the characters, but the story, the setting, the theme, and the characters, have collided into a beautifully blended cocktail of detailed success that we call a story. This means that you don’t have to be afraid of silence, because silence is best used if, at the end of the day, there’s really nothing left to say.

Photo Credit

Photographer: Thibault