Writing silent protagonists and characters

Personally, I like silent protagonists (as in protagonists who don’t speak much or can’t speak at all due to circumstances). It means that every action I make as a player has more weight than it would have if the protagonist could talk.

But…here’s my problem; games that happen to have complete silence on the player’s behalf as an option tends to make it a one-dimensional thing. Like every silent PC needs to be dark, mysterious and brooding by default. At least that’s what I’ve found up until now.

Also, the authors tend to insert small snippets of conversations that my PC wouldn’t have. Like asking a question or trying to make small talk. There’s no option to go on a full silent playthrough.

The same tends to be seen in case of silent characters as well. There are exceptions of course, but so far, I haven’t seen much of them.

So my question is; how does one write a silent protagonist or character in such a way that it doesn’t seem out of place?


In my opinion make them mute and have them use a note pad or a texting app on a phone seems the most obvious choice


I’d put silent protag as a part of the broader definition, blank-slate protag. Voicing the lines of the PC costs the studio money, and players who don’t find the PC’s voice suit them can’t get the escapism acquired from self-insert power fantasy. I don’t think this is out of place, as you put it.

Just wanted to point out that you don’t necessarily have to make the silent-protag as a brooding, mysterious character. Dead Cells, a roguelite video game, has its MC silent but extremely chatty. He can’t speak, but his gestures are expressive: big nod, shoving a big thumb, shrugging like an idiot, and even putting up a middle finger with one of the bosses in the game.


Each to their own, I guess. My wording was perhaps a tad bit misleading.

DAO is a really good example of this, I think.

But I wasn’t talking about blank-state protags. I was talking about literal silent protags, ones with fully fledged personality and such.

That was actually one of the reasons I wanted to know about this, I just finished Dead Cells and was thinking about how to write such a character.

That is an option for modern-time games.

However, the question still remains for how to approach this in a much more primitive setting.

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This might be completely at odds with the mood you’re aiming for but here’s my favourite silent character of all time:

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It isn’t! It’s funny as hell, for starters :joy: Harpo Max seems to have a natural charm that oozes around him.

There does seem to be an under-representation of silent comic characters in video games; that’s what my belief is.

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I think overall, if they are truly mute or simply silent affect the story a lot. If they don’t talk at all and are not really expressive, they would probably be seen as brooding or cold.
Truly mute characters can be awesome. I see you talking about Dead Cells, but another GREAT example I’ve actually played is Owlboy. The main character is actually mute as in, disabled, but he’s extremely expressive with his gestures, facial expressions and whistling (because well, you can whistle even if you can’t talk).
If you write an interactive novel, you could decide the MC is mute by default, or, if you’re up to the task of writing such a crazy amount of variants, you can give the players the choice at the beginning.

During the story itself, well, I guess the most important thing is not to limit the silent answer to “…”. You can describe a gesture instead of quoting a spoken reply, insisting on the fact the character gestures something or makes a specific facial expression.
I do a lot of tabletop roleplay, and I played extremely silent but non brooding characters sometimes. And well, I tend to mimic or point things out to communicate, and sometimes describe my character’s actions. I’m pretty sure that could be done in fully written form too.

If you don’t go for the fully mute character, you can add “silent” as a variable for the game to pick up on depending on the player’s choice and add corresponding non player controlled reactions for the character. That would still require some rewriting of scenes. But well, imagine you have a “talkative / silent” stat. A talkative character would talk a lot, while a silent would rather observe people. At the same time, if you have a “cold / friendly” stat, it could combine with the talkative / silent one. A talkative + friendly character would talk a lot, ask questions, voice his feelings and opinions. While a silent + friendly one would smile a lot, stay close to people, make sweet gestures and so on.


So far, I haven’t seen anyone suggest using sign languages. The earliest mention of them is by Socrates (through Plato) in the fifth century BCE, so depending on your definition of “primitive”, I’d say it’s quite likely that some kind of sign language exists in the region of any hypothetical story’s setting.

Sign languages are natural languages just as much as spoken languages, so if there exists a community of people who cannot hear and/or speak, a sign language will evolve over time through which they express themselves. As such, a mute protagonist could certainly sign instead of speaking. The story setting could accommodate this by having all or most of the other characters be profficient in the language too, and any signed dialogue would then appear in italics. Alternatively, the MC could have a translator on hand (also somehow justified by the story), which would additionally offer the opportunity for the translator to act as a subjective filter — or, instead of a translator, there could simply be fewer NPCs that can sign, so they translate for those who can’t, though the same filtering opportunity then exists.

The others who have replied here all mention that truly silent protagonists are often visually expressive, and I’ve seen this too! For a different example, Neopolitan from RWBY is mute, but the viewer never wonders what her thoughts and emotions are, since they’re always unmistakeably broadcasted through her expressions and actions. Her style is also matched by none, and in fact, she’s one of the most popular characters of the anime.

Here’s the shortest yet still mostly effective video I could find that explains it a bit more:

Another example of a silent character (though this depends greatly on the media in which he appears) is Pokémon’s Red. In the games, he barely ever speaks — his lines mostly consist of “…”, “…?”, and “…!”) — but this is because he has significant social issues. Most people wouldn’t disappear off the face of the world to go meditate in a mountain for several years without any regard for those they leave behind.

So, yeah, there are many ways you could depict a silent character. If you choose not to have them speak in any way, then “show vs tell” will be more applicable than ever.


Huh, I’ve got to try that.

That’s one way to do it, but I think it ultimately comes down to whether I’m mentally prepared for such a task or not :sweat_smile:

Visual expressions matter, got it.

Huh, that’s a neat idea. Got to tinker with that one. Thanks :smiley:

So mix up the personality stats to create combinations that may bamboozle the reader? Got it.

Thank you for your advice, @Konoi! :smiley:

Yeah, I’m currently testing my writing out on this, thanks anyways for the idea :smiley:

A VN does this quite beautifully actually, named Katawa Shoujo.

However, from what I understand, there is a slight possibility of misinterpretation, isn’t there?

And I thought I only watched RWBY :grin:

Actions have more weight, got it.

Thank you for your advice, @AstralHunter! :smiley:


I think it depends upon how invested the author is in setting up silent interactions.

I mean, if you’re writing a massive game with dozens of dozens of paths, you have little time to focus on the silent path. However, when the game itself is about silent protagonists, the scene dramatically changes.

I will agree with you on this; we really can’t measure the quality of interactions universally when one of the option is being passive. It, at that moment, becomes subjective to the reader.


This is very common advice, but there’s some debate in the Deaf writing community about whether or not using italics to indicate dialogue is being signed is appropriate/preferred or not. This post touches on the italicizing issue, and the author’s blog also has a lot of other resources for writing deaf/signing characters (the author is also a deaf signer himself, which is important- it’s always preferable to get advice about writing x group from x group). From what I’ve seen, the general advice is to just establish which character signs/that a character is signing through dialogue tags (e.g.: “I want to go home,” Elliot signed).

For fear of totally derailing this post into a thesis on sign language, I’ll just say this: writing deaf/mute characters who use sign language requires a lot of extra research and preferably a good sensitivity read or two, since there’s a lot of well-meaning misconceptions about deaf people and sign language floating around out there.


Can I use brackets to do the same? As in how Katawa Shoujo did it?

Or should I follow normal conventions?

Yeah, it is a sensitive issue, and as someone coming from a family of doctors and medical activists, it’s a topic that occasionally comes up during discussions. I guess that’s why I wanted to approach it.

Thank you for you advice :smiley:

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Which brackets? Corner brackets? 「 」
It’s basically Japanese quot mark, for context. Plus, she writes in haikus, which I think is appropriate.

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I would personally suggest following normal conventions, like it says in the link. Write the signed dialogue like you would write spoken dialogue, while obviously being aware that there’s no actual sound, so you can’t use dialogue tags like ‘shouted’ or ‘muttered’.

As I’m rereading the rest of this post, I’m also wondering exactly what your parameters for a ‘silent’ protagonist is, because if by silent you mean someone who doesn’t use language, then a signing character isn’t technically going to fit the bill. Physically, someone who uses sign language is silent, but they’re still talking- just with their hands instead of their voice.

Usually when I hear the term ‘silent protagonist’, I think of visual mediums like DAO/most Fallouts/most of Obsidian’s games where your character does speak, it just isn’t physically voiced. If you want a completely dialogue-free character, you’d have to really crack down on describing body language to get certain things across, noting that most of the examples of successful silent characters put forth so far have been from visual mediums. Edit: I also toyed with the idea of having an option to play as a mute character in my current WIP, but abandoned it after I realized it would make writing difficult. I think if you want to have a totally mute protag, you’re probably better off not making it optional so you can design the story around that rather than having to code/write for both a non-mute character and a mute character, both of which require very specific things writing-wise.


Normal ones?

Ok, got it :+1:

Oh, I think I’ve been using that term without any context. My bad :sweat_smile:

When I say “silent protagonist” or “silent character”, I mean someone who doesn’t/can’t voice their thoughts and opinion.

Yeah, I may pass out if I had to do that :sweat_smile:

The animated suit of armour Clankers from my game TDUP is a totally silent character! You eventually learn to communicate with it using sign language, which is formatted distinctly from dialogue in the game.


Huh, haven’t tried that route yet. I was too busy with the spider-demon lady and the witch.

Thanks for your advice :smiley:

Got it.

Bring Power up above 50 or 60 or so and do the Magic —> Arcane downtime activity.

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So. I have a character. Well, 2, but the one will only be doing this in the first book, due to in-story reasons, who only communicate in sign language. When I do their dialog. Do you think I should just indicate they are signing, then say something like :
X says, ETC.
But, since I indicated they are signing at the beginning, you should know there just signing now? Or, have it say :
X signs ETC.
With the fact that the chracter is signing all through the dialog?

I suggest you look in this Tumblr. It has most of your questions.

Here’s an excerpt.

Remember that sign language is a language, equal to the spoken word
Therefore, treat it as such. Use quotation speech marks and dialogue tags. You only need to explicitly state that this character uses signed language once, and then let your modifiers and description do the rest. It isn’t a form of “sub-speech" or “making hand actions”- sign language is a language all on its own: it has its own grammar rules, syntactical structures, punctuation, patterns, idioms and colloquialisms. For example, “what is your name?” becomes “Your name what?” with the facial expression forming punctuation in the same way that spoken English uses alterations of prosodic tone (inflections). There is even pidgin sign; a language phenomenon usually associated with spoken language. In the same way that you would describe a spoken-English character’s tone of voice, you would describe a signed-English speaker’s facial expressions and the way that they sign- keeping in mind that these things are our language’s equivalent of verbal inflection.

So please, none of that use of “special speech marks” or italicised speech for sign. If your viewpoint character doesn’t understand signed speech, then you take the same approach that would be used for any other language they don’t understand, like French or Thai. E.g “He said something in rapid sign language, face wrinkling in obvious disgust.” is a good way of conveying this. The proof that you’ve done this well is in whether or not you can switch “sign language” for French or something else, and it would read the same.

Don’t be afraid to describe how things are said, either. Sign language is such a beautiful and expressive way of talking, and to see a writer do it justice would be truly fabulous. Putting this into practise:

“Oh, I love maths!” She said, fingers sharp and wide with sarcasm. She raised her eyebrows.

“I’m sorry.” He replied and made his face small, but could not keep the grin forming. She was starting to laugh, too.

For the sake of readibility, I’m putting the rest of the information in part two.

The part two is on their tumblr.