I have the awesome Karen A. Chase here as part of our Emotional Thesaurus Workshop. Karen talks about crying in books – something I love to do and write 😉
This scene from Something’s Gotta Give exemplifies crying while writing about crying. I’m sure the screenwriter, Nancy Meyers, was laughing while she wrote the scene, because ultimately it’s funny to the point where even her character laughs. And then they cried.
I’m a writer but also a designer and two months ago I was creating a book trailer for A Girl Unmoored by Jennifer Gooch Hummer. I was reading her book at a busy café and came to a sad moment in the story. Much to the worry of the man next to me, tears streamed down my face. Jennifer had made me cry. How did she do it? In part, like actors do.
You’ve seen them interviewed about it. They talk about how they crawl into the deep, dark recesses of their own loss and pull out the suppressed feelings that make their noses get all snotty when they weep. Jennifer had written a great scene because she had suffered a wrenching loss. Beyond personal experience, there are other methods writers use to create scenes that compel readers to cry.
First, it’s important to recognize when and how people cry. For instance, I find it to be true of death that people are saddest not at the actual moment of death. Depending upon how it happens, it’s either sadness for the impending loss or in the moments afterwards with the realization that someone is gone. When people do cry, for some it comes with tears, some are silent, and for some it’s that snotty weeping. It has to fit the character.
Second, if I’m able to cry when my character feels sadness, it’s a good day (for me anyway). I recently killed a character in a novel I’m writing, and even though her love interest was outwardly calm and quiet in the moments before she died, he was grief stricken internally. So I needed to go to there. If I’m sad when he’s sad, it’s working. If I’m unaffected when he’s sad, it’s not. Thankfully, there I was sniffling away in my own wet way.
Third, I find it really helpful to watch people I know read my scenes. As my partner, Ted, reviewed a section of my first book, Bonjour 40, about a romantic part of our trip to Paris, I watched him tear up. (Crying can come with happiness, too.) Watching his expression soften, his head tilt, and his shoulders sag at the right moments helped me see I’d written it correctly. Watching how he reacted was also a character study of how emotions manifest in people in different ways.
Try any or all of the above. Write a wrenching scene. Feel the emotion of the character. Get someone you know to read it in front of you–out loud or silently. If you’ve done it right, you’ll grab a box of tissues and simply be vaclempt. I’m sure writers have their own methods for eliciting emotion, so go ahead… Talk amongst yourselves.
Karen A. Chase is the author of Bonjour 40: A Paris Travel Log, and owner of 224 Design. She is writing historical fiction, and also creates author trailers, book covers and more. Visit her author website and blog at KarenAChase.com