Silence is a beautiful thing, and it works well in film and in music. Silence in music forces suspense upon the listener even for the slightest second. A dissonant chord followed by nothing makes us ache to hear the resolution. But if it's held for that tiniest moment longer the performer has won our attention and interest, resolving finally into the relief of a child holding his breath two seconds beyond his previous record.
The problem with writing is that we can't use silence to convey silence. We can press return a few times, make the eye notice empty space, and hope the reader pauses good and long. But what about the conversation between characters, portrayed so easily in movies, in which silence enhances their discomfort through only visual emotions? Remember Raging Bull, where Jake, ready to take a beating, stares down his opponent? All the sound and music—crowd cheering, jeering; chairs scraping; announcer talking; coach yelling commands, swearing; sweat dripping—cuts out for one cruel moment of anticipation between us and the two fighters. We know what will happen, but for those couple seconds. . . .
And literature? You can write silence and people will read it and they will think it and they will move on in the time it takes to gloss over the bisyllabic word. To intercut dialogue with silence or pause you need to understand that those indicate, at most, a minor break, a moment to breathe before we continue. It's nothing more than an excuse for the characters to swallow excess salvia before they continue to the end of their dialectic. Silence is also a loud word: it starts and ends with a hiss. Imagine calling a serene house quiescent, a terribly loud and cutting word for a truly calm, peaceful scene. An alternative, if you want to employ silence as a literal break from the flow of dialogue, plot, or excitement, is to do exactly that: break from the flow of the story. Description, analysis, and a character's thoughts can all work to the same effect if situated correctly and used effectively. In the same sense as a thriller film, action in books may be cut just before the climax by a description in order to pull the reader's suspense a little further. From a literary perspective, silence should not only exist to extend suspense. A stillness from action and conflict allows the pacing to slow, the reader to breathe, and the characters to exist. Cut out everything but action and dialogue from a story, and you leave it with no more detail than exists on a speeding car. Certain genres allow stillness to bleed into the forefront of the story; we exist more in the character's heads than in the action.
Beside me sit two books, summer projects, totaling more words than I'm comfortable with, and I will read every single one of them in near-complete silence. If a wonderful phrase occurs I may reread it aloud, but otherwise these books are quiet the whole way through. They don't talk, and I ain't reading Infinite Jest aloud. We have no silence because it all is silence—at least every moment that is not dialogue. If you want to add stillness into your action or your dialogue, look to a good book and see what happens when nobody's speaking, because that moment is completely still.