Jul 10 2009
This is our inaugural guest post. Thanks, Marissa! If you’d like to provide writing advice, please send me a sample post of up to 500 words at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com. — B. Mac
Just recently, I tripped over a very interesting fact of writing: “If your character cries, your reader doesn’t have to.”
Think about it. Which would you rather read: A character bawling her eyes out? Or a character shivering, her eyes squeezed shut and her breathing labored, trying to deal with grief without bursting into tears?
This is probably a painfully obvious statement, but usually, crying is meant to convey sadness. Grief. Loss. That’s not it’s only purpose, however. Most of the time, the author brings their character to tears to garner some sort of reader-character sympathy. The reader sees that Character A is so sad that they’re crying, and so the reader feels sad as well.
Look at movies, though. The saddest parts are never when the character is sitting there bawling, are they? I bet you can’t name one time when the memorably poignant moment is when the character is doing nothing but crying. That’s just it: Crying loses the reader’s sympathy.
Having a character cry is usually the cheap way out. There are so many thoughts, feelings, actions associated with grief that plopping your character into the sobbing stereotype would cheat both the character and the reader. If you want your reader to feel something too, I’d recommend either removing the crying altogether and focusing on other symptoms of sadness, or easing up to the crying stage and not giving it much focus.
Now think about this: How does your character respond to sadness, grief, or loss? It depends on their personality, so it’s really up to you as the author to figure it out. Do they shiver for a while, until it all builds up, then explosively punch an inanimate object? Do they try to take deep breaths, calm themself down? Etc. Just don’t go straight from zero to sobbing. (After all, you wouldn’t have an angry character suddenly punch someone in the face without showing his anger building up, right?
The Emotional Thesaurus does a great job listing symptoms of sadness to help you start small and gradually escalate.