Silent/Limited Vocabulary Hero

Link from Legend of Zelda

Link from Legend of Zelda

Last week I did some poetry about various hero types that connected to Superman and still had a few more heroes that came to mind.  They didn’t fit into his history, so I’m going to discuss them over the course of this week.  Mostly in list form on how you can use them and what to be cautious of.

Today I’m talking about the silent or limited vocabulary hero.  Any character that doesn’t talk for one reason or another will be a challenge.  How do they communicate, especially in a medium where dialogue is the easiest way to show thoughts?  You can have the reader constantly reading their thoughts, but how does that translate to the other characters?  If the character has limited vocabulary then you have a little more leeway, but there is still a challenge.  This might be why you don’t seem characters like Link and Groot in word-only mediums.

So, what can you do to use this kind of hero?

  1. Body language is an important part of this character.  Facial expressions like scowling, smiling, and frowning can denote emotions.  For limited vocabulary, you can denote a tone of voice.  Physical actions shouldn’t be overlooked, so have characters cross their arms, pace, and do whatever you think a person would do under certain emotional states.  A nervous tic can help here too.
  2. Another character can be their voice like Rocket with Groot in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’.  The translator can take one of two paths.  The first is to openly translate and repeat with the silent/limited character says.  This can be annoying and repetitive as well as confusing.  A cleaner, but more difficult, method is to have the translator talk to their friend in response to a statement with occasional repetition.  For example, the silent character gives a look and the translator goes ‘I thought you were supposed to check her for weapons!’  The interactions with other characters can be a wealth of connection to the reader.
  3. Sign language can be used if you have a system or know ASL.  Writing is another communication technique, but it can’t be done in an emergency.  You can also get away with simple gestures and hand signals.
  4. DO NOT think that a character that doesn’t talk isn’t listening.  I’ve read a few stories where a mute character is portrayed as never understanding what is going on even though they’re not deaf or blind.
  5. Give a reason for the silence or limited vocabulary of a character.  Oath of silence, magical curse, injury, etc.  Some characters can get away with this in some mediums like Link in Legend of Zelda.  A hero that needs only be a surrogate for the reader/player and be talked to is acceptable to a point.  An example of a reason can be the following: I played a martial artist in a role-playing game who made an oath of silence until he rescued his fiancee.  He had psychic powers, so he would communicate occasionally with telepathy and most times it was with his best friend.  You know, I should think about reviving this guy, but I don’t remember his name.

So, can anyone think of any other tips for a silent or limited vocabulary character?  Any favorites of yours that falls into this category?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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32 Responses to Silent/Limited Vocabulary Hero

  1. I’m such a novice I can’t draw on an experience, but I think a mute character would be able to use facial and hand movements to “talk.'” Also, maybe a tablet or writing in the dirt.


    • Writing is definitely a useful method. Sign language can help too for more advanced hand movements. Maybe throwing something in an emergency? It’s definitely a challenge and I haven’t attempted it yet. Although Stiletto and Bessaria might fall into the category.


  2. elainecanham says:

    Dunno if I’ve got this right, because I’m a bit out of my depth here, but R2D2 and Chewbacca are pretty good communicators. In fact, I quite like a Wookie moan when things aren’t going my way.


  3. Another aspect of this is a person/ghost/whatever who only the viewpoint character can see and hear. So they may have information without a source that’s visible to others around them. Or others may believe they are having weird conversations with themselves. This works especially well if you want the viewpoint character to be regarded with suspicion by others, denied promotions, etc.


  4. ioniamartin says:

    Aura. Some characters change colours as such.


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