Cry if I Want To

Every once in a while I’ll be in the mood to read a good tear jerker. Sometimes I’ll get sucked into a book not realizing it’s going to leave me in tears. And other times, something so unexpected will happen in a scene that it brings me to tears.

I remember reading the first Gregor the Overlander book and crying when a cockroach died. Sounds ridiculous, I know. And my kids were like, “Mommy, why are you crying?” But the scene involved sacrifice. This cockroach was willing to sacrifice its life for a baby girl. With my baby girl on my lap as I read the book, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of that selfless act. If a cockroach had run by me at that point, I probably would have scooped it up and fed it ice cream. Seriously.

Several writer friends have told me that they want to write a book that makes people cry. But how do you do that? How do you build scenes that bring out emotion in your readers? More importantly, how do you do it without the reader feeling manipulated?

Death usually brings tears. Especially if one life is sacrificed for another. But I guarantee that if the same cockroach had died at the start of the book, or even in the middle, I wouldn’t have cried. My tears were justified (at least in my mind!) because of the relationship that had been built over 180 pages between the cockroach and the baby girl. They were friends, they loved each other. And when that cockroach turned and fought instead of running away, I knew he was only doing that because he loved the girl. And I knew how devastated she would be when she found out.

The groundwork for a teary scene has to be laid early in the book. We have to care about the characters and what’s at stake for them.

What books have made you cry? And what are you doing in your writing to make your readers cry?

27 thoughts on “Cry if I Want To

  1. Great topic, Sherrie. My current novel focuses on the grief process, so I had to read tons of other takes on the theme to get an idea of what worked and what was melodrama or manipulation.

    I remember in one of my writing books the author saying, “the more your characters cry, the less your readers will.”

    What yanks at the heartstrings is often the focus on “what is not there” to communicate loss, such as happy memories of the dead person, or places where they used to be. You might enjoy this post I did about this idea:

  2. I'm an easy crier. One of the saddest books I've ever read is SUZANNE'S DIARY FOR NICHOLAS by James Patterson. Oh, it just ripped my heart out and squashed it like a bug. Now I recommend it to everyone I know, of course. We women are weird that way! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Excellent book and relationship to writing! I'm not sure I want to make my readers cry, but if I did, I think it would be because they care about the characters so much that when the bad stuff happens, the reader is affected.

  4. You make such a good point about not manipulating readers into crying. I don't watch those Hallmark TV movies for that reason. THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN is a great example of really heartfelt emotion coming from characters. I was crying on the second page. Yikes.

  5. The cockroach that made me cry. That's funny (but sounds like a touching moment, I can totally relate to protecting your children at all costs!)
    The last Harry Potter made me cry big time. I just started reading The Hunger Games (I had never read a synopsis about it, just heard all the hype so decided to read it), and I almost cried at the last sentence of the first chapter!

  6. I cried when the cockroach died too, and a few other times while reading the Gregor and friends.

    As for writing for tears: I don't. Nobody likes their emotions manipulated. I hate movies that somehow make me cry even though I am not that moved. The same with movies that make me laugh in a forced-tickle kind of way: hate that. I just hope that if I try to be as authentic as I can in my creating of characters and their stories, and hopefully that will touch my readers.

  7. Crying over a cockroach…oh my! Seriously, I hear what you're saying. You can't feel something for someone you don't know. btw…thanks for nominating The Brotherhood of the Traveling Underpants for the Cybill. Greg

  8. I think tears and laughter are two of the hardest things to accomplish in writing. Because if a sad scene feels forced or contrived at all – it doesn't work. And usually when the character is crying, I'm not. I think you are totally right that a tearjerker is built step by step, page by page.

    One book, actually two, I sobbed at is Where the Red Fern Grows and Bridge to Teribethia. They really should come with warnings – Do not read the ending in a public place.

  9. I'm not a big crier, but I do love books that can make me cry and laugh at different times throughout. Usually if I cry over a book it's when I can relate to the character's injury. The last book to make me do that was Shannon Hale's The Actor and Housewife. Which I didn't expect it to do to me.

  10. I think I managed to place a sad, teary moment in each of my fiction books so far. One of the strongest involved a scene between a daughter and father who were enstranged.

    Hmmm… trying to think of a book that makes me cry. I know lots of movies that'll do it!

  11. My book made my daughter cry. I count that as a big success!

    Some authors that have choked me up are Sharon Creech and Karen Hesse. Almost every time I read one of their books!

  12. I opened my book with a death scene, and my betas told me they weren't connected enough to the characters to feel anything. I've corrected that problem. I agree that you have to give the readers a reason to care. They have to develop an emotional attachment to the characters before they can cry for them.

  13. Laurel: Good point! If the characters are crying, readers won't. Good to remember.

    Shannon: Having kids made me an easy crier. Sad but true.

    Elana: I'm not writing for tears either, but I'm always fascinated by reader emotions to books.

    MG: If I feel manipulated into anything the only emotion I'm left with is irritation. What is with Hallmark and tears?!

    Kelly: I never expected to cry for Snape, but I did too! LOVE the Hunger Games. You'll have to tell me what you think of it!

    Yat-Yee: I haven't written any teary books either. And I think if you write from an authentic place, you're going to pull readers in no matter what you're writing.

    Greg: You should read the Gregor books. Drew really liked the Brotherhood, he liked the whole series ๐Ÿ™‚

    Shelli: I'm reading that right now!

    Laura: I'm actually hoping more for laughs in my writing than for tears. And I agree with the warning label! Terabithia had me in tears too.

    Jackee: I think when it's unexpected it makes the tears fall even harder!

    Diane: When I was pregnant I even cried at an Adam Sandler movie. Pitiful, huh?

    Becky: I haven't read those yet, but I keep the tear warning in mind!

    LiLa: Sometimes you do just need a good cry, huh?

    Rebecca: When our kids react to our books the way we want them to, that's always a good thing ๐Ÿ™‚

    TerryLynn: I haven't read either of those, but I do like a good memoir!

    Susan: Gotta love those beta readers!

  14. ALL THE NUMBERS made me cry…a lot! It's a woman's fiction. I don't read many grown up books, but I met the author at a charity event. It was powerful, I had lost a friend a few months before I read the book…It helped me…crying is good.

  15. A cockroach??? Really?? That person must be SOME writer!!!

    I cried in Hattie Big Sky. And The Watsons go to Birmingham. Blubbered would be a more accurate word.


  16. I was surprised that I cried near the end of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I knew it was scary, I didn't know there would be so many good people dying.
    I wrote a sad scene into my latest WIP. Whether it makes anybody cry I won't know for awhile, but it made me sad to write it. Of course, I felt compelled to listen to Jeff Buckley singing “I Know It's Over” and other songs made for melancholy while I wrote.

  17. Wonderful post, Sherrie. I recently cried my way through the back half of Jo Knowles' Jumping Off Swings (thank you for that recommendation). I cried when I read Savvy. I cry all the time . . . and yes, I hope I can someday write characters that readers will love enough to cry over. Great reminder about not trying to manipulate readers into that.

  18. The cockroach made me cry too, Sherrie. It really comes down to the relationships and then the overwhelming sense of loss. Something that can never be again.
    I'm working on it in current WIP. I figure if on this read through I come close to tears, i'm on the right track.

  19. If you put your hand an inch away from your eyes, that's the point I normally write from – generally first person and very, very close. I want the reader to feel what I'm feeling. This is not easy as there are things not included that go into that feeling – my life's backstory.

    So I try to find the right words, and include just enough detail to create that emotion no matter what life experience the reader brings to the table. A good critique group is essential here.

  20. I've only would be about to cry in joy. There's only one book that's sad. It's a book called
    one-nine-three-six. there's a girl named Fallin. Her mom told the kids Grandma died. have a sBut i question for you. How do you know if you're book will make someone cry?

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