Any tips on how to write a likable character that doesn’t talk much?
He eventually starts talking more, but that’s later in the story...
How can I make the character's development more natural?
(He is the male lead)
What does he do?
Does he get up to refill the pitcher when he realizes they are out of water? Does he cook dinner without being asked -- or only after being nagged? Does he clean up the table despite the order of the papers on it being important? Does he give the main character penetrating looks after actions?
If he neither talks nor acts, he's a non-entity, and you have to do something about that.
I highly recomend you watch the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush" which centers around the cast having to deal with a group of demons who steal the entire town's ability to speak, facilitating about 22 minutes (half the episode) to use non-verbal communication. The larger ideas of the dialog can be infered as to what the characters would say (especially if you've been watching the show) if they could speak, with the expository bit given by an overhead projector presentation. The characters can communicate still, just not with spoken words... they pantomomime, rely on small whiteboards, and even have to work through miscommunications.
Keep an eye on how this character reacts, moves, and behaves non-verbally. Make sure you provide a lot of detail to his responses and visual reactions. Non-verbal characters are highly expressive. As one reviewer I watched explained, Pluto is his favorite Disney character because all of his humor is from how expressive Pluto is. When he's feeling a strong emotion, Pluto visibly shows exactly what he's thinking. He never speaks, but reacts to verbal cues from the other characters and works to overcome his inabilty to speak.
So one of my favorite characters who is extremely soft-spoken is Benedict of Amber. Benedict is not the main character of any of the books he appears in, so it is not perhaps the best example for you, but hey. He is a god of battle, who moves across the multiverse to fight wars, for the fun or glory or excellence of such a pursuit: it is not clear.
That he is terse is occasionally specified outright in the text:
Benedict stood in the midst of activity, peering at his thumbnail through a rifle barrel. He looked up immediately and our eyes met. Perhaps a dozen men moved about him, carrying weapons, cleaning weapons, stacking weapons.
“I thought you were in Kashfa,” I said.
“Was,” he replied.
I gave him a chance to continue, but nothing was forthcoming. Benedict has never been noted for loquacity.
“Looks like you’re getting ready for something close to home,” I remarked, knowing that gunpowder was useless here and that the special ammo we had only worked in the area of Amber and certain adjacent kingdoms.
“Always best to be safe,” he said.
“Would you care to elaborate on that?” I asked.
“Not now,” he answered, a reply twice as long as I’d anticipated and holding out hope of future enlightenment.
“Should we all be digging in?” I asked. “Fortifying the town? Arming ourselves? Raising—”
“It won’t come to that,” he said. “Just go on about your business.”
He turned away. I’d a feeling the conversation was over. I was sure of it when he ignored my next several questions. I shrugged and turned back to Bill.
(I think I laughed out-loud the first time I read that “twice as long as I’d anticipated” bit.) Note that terseness always requires a foil to communicate with, someone more talkative who is not getting some of the social engagement that they wanted out of the interaction. Nevertheless the terseness here does not drive. Benedict is terse because he is focused on other things, and he can only spare a short stay to reassure the narrator. Note also that the first impression might be that Benedict is lying or hiding, which you might also imagine: but on re-reads it occurs to me that he might really be telling the truth. A less-terse blunt person might bark, “Someone dangerous is not where we thought he was and that means he could be leading armies much closer to home and if he is then we will shoot him. Always best to be prepared. But I’m not gonna tell you it’s a sure thing because how the hell would I know? I am just making sure that all of our bases are covered.”
Benedict is not duplicitous, but rather efficient. He tells you exactly what you need to know in the minimum number of words. When he spares the extra word in “not now” it is actually something of a badge of respect to the listener, “you are not my plan A or my plan B or my plan C... but you are something like my plan K and if we ever get to plans F or G then I will certainly brief you on the situation. But right now I seem to have it handled.”
In the following words Bill talks with the narrator about the exchange and the definiteness of the ‘it’ that Benedict has handled is highlighted, too. The narrator has had the experience of being a Benedict-whisperer, it seems: “When I talked about defending Amber, and Benedict said, ‘It won’t come to that,’ I got the impression he was talking about something close at hand. Something he feels he can control.” If Benedict had wanted to say “Circumstances probably will not get that dire” then that would be different.
I should say that on other occasions the author takes great pain to indicate that this war-god is not stupid in this efficiency of communication:
He moved to the table then and poured three cups of wine. He passed one to me, another to Ganelon, raised the third himself.
“To your health, brother,” he said.
“To yours.” We drank.
Then, “Be seated,” he said, gesturing toward the nearest bench and seating himself at the table, “and welcome to Avalon.”
“Thank you—Protector.” He grimaced. [His men have taken to calling him Avalon’s ‘protector.’]
“The sobriquet is not unearned,” he said flatly, continuing to study my face. “I wonder whether their earlier protector could say the same?”
“It was not really this place,” I said, “and I believe that he could.” He shrugged.
“Of course,” he said. “Enough of that! Where have you been? What have you been doing? Why have you come here? Tell me of yourself. It has been too long.”
Proof that Benedict will, on occasion, say 28 words at a moment and will call things by their proper names even if those proper names are as fancy as “sobriquet.” You’ll see another example in the following section.
The point is, being taciturn is often confused with stupidity or uncomprehension. Benedict on the other hand is really smart, and it’s the author’s responsibility to communicate this. A great manager asks great questions and Benedict here is shown always sparing a word to ask a question for something that raises his curiosity. He wants to know. He is elsewhere described as ”wide of mind,” he just chooses to have a very flat conversational style.
The narrator does not immediately answer this question from the last section, and we instead get two paragraphs of digression (to the audience) about how the narrator feels honor-bound to answer these questions but cagey because he is not sure how Benedict is going to react. Benedict simultaneously breaks the in-narrative silence and the to-the-audience soliloquy (so also breaking the fourth-wall a bit) to extend his 28 words,
“There must be a beginning,” he said then. “I care not what face you put upon it.”
The narrator is trying to spin his narrative. Benedict doesn’t want to wait for him to spin it only for himself to have to unspin it, and would rather he just talk plain and from the heart. Only, when the narrator starts to pile words on top of words and head in digressions about pointless (to a god of war) topics, he gets interrupted, again, this time much more forcefully.
“There are many beginnings,” I said. “It is difficult... I suppose I should go all the way back and take it from there.” I took another sip of the wine.
“Yes,” I decided. “That seems simplest—though it was only comparatively recently that I recalled much of what had occurred.
“It was several years after the defeat of the Moonriders out of Ghenesh and your departure that Eric and I had a major falling out,” I began. “Yes, it was a quarrel over the succession. Dad had been making abdication noises again, and he still refused to name a successor. Naturally, the old arguments were resumed as to who was more legitimate. Of course, you and Eric are both my elders, but while Faiella, mother to Eric and myself, was his wife after the death of Clymnea, they—”
“Enough!” cried Benedict, slapping the table so hard that it cracked.
The lamp danced and sputtered, but by some small miracle was not upset. The tent’s entrance flap was immediately pushed aside and a concerned guard peered in. Benedict glanced at him and he withdrew.
“I do not wish to sit in on our respective bastardy proceeding,” Benedict said softly. “That obscene pastime was one of the reasons I initially absented myself from felicity. Please continue your story without the benefit of footnotes.”
“Well—yes,” I said, coughing lightly. “As I was saying, we had some rather bitter arguments concerning the whole matter. Then one evening it went beyond mere words. We fought.”
I like this dialogue a lot, not just because he uses some rather fancy words to express himself: he actively takes someone who is getting too talkative and imposes his own values on the other person rather abruptly and angrily. (And if you pay attention there is a very strong reason for the aggression; the narrator Corwin is about to insinuate that Eric was born out of wedlock and not heir to the throne, which means that their father was cheating on Benedict's mother with Eric and Corwin’s mom before he had properly divorced her. So Benedict is sitting here really like “I don’t want to talk about Dad or Mom or your Mom or which one of my damned brothers is legitimately my brother and which is not, I don’t want to talk politics and intrigues, I know these footnotes to discussion and they do not tell me the answer to my question about why you are here, so very far from home—they just remind me of all the reasons I left in the first place.”)
A guard peers in and does not even get a word of “It’s okay,” rather just a knowing glance. The action of cracking the table carries all the emotion you need, the words are almost an afterthought, and are very considered. This is one of those things that is not the study-of-battle that he left his noble-and-refined life to get far the hell away from, all this business about parents and inheritances and ancestry and legitimacy and the throne. And he says it in a very measured carefully weighed couple of words. And it actively causes someone else to boil down the words to “We fought.”
The author is responsible for creating this inertia and creating these “sore spots.” Even if we don’t have dialogue we want to answer, what does get this character riled up? And we want to see that when they are riled up, others kind of conform to their way of seeing the world and join in the same flow to ease the tension. Every interaction with Benedict is tense because he is so taciturn. He cannot give you what you need to feel comfortable with the conversation, because what you want is these little filler words of “okay, oh wow, what happened then?, that must have really hurt, gee do you think Eric is right though, why should the wedlock matter when our Dad had so many wild flings and divorces and all that?”
More to your point, emotions are really hard to express for this sort of character. Let me show you one last episode where Benedict is grieving:
“Come no farther, Benedict,” I said. “I do not wish to fight with you.”
He moved his blade into an attack position and said one word:
Okay, let’s stop right there. Benedict’s enraged with this grief of those dead, and he thinks he has the culprit responsible. One word is all he needs. It is a judgment, an accusation! The narrator continues,
His hand twitched then and my blade was almost simultaneously beaten aside. I parried the ensuing thrust and he brushed my riposte aside and was at me again.
This time I did not even bother to riposte. I simply parried, retreated, and stepped behind a tree.
“I don’t understand,” I said, beating down his blade as it slid by the trunk and nearly skewered me. “I have not murdered anyone recently. Certainly not in Avalon.”
Another thukk! and the tree was falling toward me. I got out of its way and retreated, parrying.
“Murderer,” he said again.
“I don't know what you are talking about, Benedict.”
I stood my ground then and held it. Damn it! It was senseless to die for the wrong reason! I riposted as fast as I could, seeking openings everywhere. There were none.
“At least tell me!” I shouted. “Please!”
But he seemed to be finished with talking. He pressed forward and I had to fall back once more. It was like trying to fence with a glacier.
This is the god of war full of pain and anguish, unable to stop from seeking out his revenge. Those single words carry a lot because of how they recast the situation. The accusation of “Liar” would be the distillation of a whole long speech by any other character, “After what you did, I could not possibly trust your silver-tongued lying heart! You shall die for what you did, and there is no way to talk your weasely little face out of it.” But it’s just one word, it’s another accusation, his words being as sharp and biting as his sword.
This is what really strong emotions look like to the terse.
So if you imagine some other character, perhaps a hulking terse giant holding his wife, now dead from poison: What does he say to express all his grief? What would I write? Probably her name. Probably he just screams her name. Or just screams. Or maybe there are no words. So how do others find out that he has not recovered? Because they ask him questions and he just stares at them. Maybe he grabs a weapon and plunges off into battle with the full hope that the oncoming army would run him through, so that he doesn't have to deal with living without the love of his life. Something like that. Five years down the line, he finally meets someone who has lost their beloved, and he says his first words in five years, clapping his hand on his friend’s back and saying just, “I know.” End scene! That is all that I as an author need from that interaction! All of my readers who have suffered with this character will feel how powerful those two words are.
So, that’s Benedict, an example of a taciturn man who made readers love him anyway.
I just have to throw the Coen brothers' "The Man Who Wasn't There" in the ring. A review can be found here, which describes the main character as follows:
Though he hardly talks [...] otherwise, Ed speaks in that familiar noir device of narration, his internal speech a constant presence throughout the film
That's part of the movie's underlying humor: The protagonist talks very little to the outside but inside his head there is an incessant stream of words — once noticed, of almost comical proportions — that the film allows us to observe.
You obviously don't have to be that extreme. But a taciturn, introverted character may be a keen observer, and your book or story could allow the reader to be part of his or her thinking. As a story device this enables you, the author, to let the reader know about the character and his environment in a natural, organic fashion without "explaining" from an outside perspective.
All the previous answers are good answers, I will just add on a bit here.
Part of it depends on the non-speaking character. Did he once speak? Is he human? Can he speak sign language?
Since you don't have very much detail in your question (be helpful if you did though), I will answer each of them.
If he once spoke, then it will be easier for you to emphasize non-verbal cues, as he once used them when he spoke. Example: If he once spoke, he might shrug when he said "I don't know." When you take the "I don't know" out, your left with the shrug, which you can use.
If he's not human, then he might have some other system of communication from his 'alien' species. Let's say that he was born on Mars. Maybe he speaks with his feet (sounds weird but I've seen it before), he might point his feet one way for yes, one way for no, etc.
If he speaks sign language (or he learns sign language), then you have it easy. You can write it like this: Jeff, trying to make his point, furiously signed "(put words here)". Mabel, responding with sign language, said "(put more words here)".
You can make the character likable using any of the above strategies, but add in action. Could he save someone? Do a good deed? That will help you make your character likable.
Bottom line is, make your character likable even without verbal communication, through non-verbal cues, alien languages, sign language, and good deeds will make the reader understand your character more, and like him.
Making him likable; There are a lot of ways to make a character likable. You can make them a joker, somebody who can do cool flips in the combat scenes, or just a regular person. There are ton of ways to do this, you just need to pick a strategy that works well in your story.
Making the development natural; This character who doesn't speak much(I'm gonna call him Bob for a bit) probably has a reason for not speaking. Maybe he was nearly choked and it hurts to speak, or he used to talk a lot and then that caused somebody to get hurt, or maybe he just likes to think before he speaks. Once Bob gets more comfortable with the rest of the MCs(should there be any) he'll start to talk a bit more, but if it's a random guy Bob probably isn't gonna talk much to them. Probably a good all around strategy is to write him like he was home-schooled the last five or so years and needs time to come out of his shell, so to speak. (no offense to anybody who is/was home schooled)
Hope this helps, good luck!
First off, since he is the male lead, you would want the readers to remember your character.
Don't just let the character fade in the background. When the story is switched to his POV(mentioned in the comments), take this opportunity to add a lot of thought to make up for his lack of talking. Let's say that John is with his friends and they are talking. During the conversation, you can give John body language, maybe he will cough or sneeze, or maybe he might just abruptly laugh. The laughing part is interesting, because it shows that John is actually listening, even if he is not actively participating.
John might have a specific reason why he chooses not to speak. Maybe he is self-conscious about his voice, maybe he lost his voice...
When John does start speaking more often, he should get some reaction. People around him might be surprised that John is starting to speak more. And, why does John start to speak more?
You can make John more complex by making him choose to speak with certain people. Maybe he talks to his dog, his fish, his sister...this can turn out interesting because people around him might notice his abnormal behavior...
If you want to make him likable, you need to give him likable traits. He could be modest and humble, for example, helping an old lady carry her groceries without saying too much.
Hope this helps!
While writing the dialogue don't make him say too many words. For instance, if someone comes up to him and asks, "how are you?" He can reply "I'm fine." You have to show the reader that he has no interest in talking and that he avoids conversations. Use sensual descriptions to do so. There are a lot of blogs (for instance this one) out there that give these example in short paragraphs so that you can get ideas. As the story progresses, give more words to his dialogues. Use fewer dialogue tags and more action.
You don't need to read a whole book for writing just a small part.
Explore all the links thoroughly. They are all related to your question.