As writers, do we really want to make our readers cry?
Well yes. Of course. Why else do you write except to harvest those precious tears?
Or maybe not.
I’ll admit that reactions from my readers, especially to something heartbreaking, is… fun. I have convoluted ideas of fun, I know. Bear with me.
See, I have a theory (I do form those on my own, sometimes). The theory is this: making readers cry and breaking their hearts is not the point of writing. Crazy, I know. Let me explain.
No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
Very few books have made me cry. Movies, yes. Books… not so much. But there are two main ones that have. The end of Mockingjay and the end of the Wingfeather Saga. Yet the tears were for completely different reasons.
I cried near the end of Mockingjay because of the sheer sorrow of the main character. There was so much death. So much sorrow. There was no hope. No God. It was all a great, muddle mess and there seemed no way out. She’d gone through so much and there was… nothing.
The Wingfeather Saga was a completely different story (literally and figuratively). Possible spoilers ahead, so be careful. I’ll try to be vague. The end of that series did make me cry, but it wasn’t because of despair. There was heartbreaking sorrow, yes, but there was sacrifice. It was the culmination of learning to give one’s self for another. There was hope and light, even in the pain.
Which brings me back to making readers cry.
Now tears (generally) mean readers have connected with your characters. They feel for them. They love them. And when a reader has connected emotionally to a character, then it means we’ve done our job well.
But pain needs to have a point. Suffering and death builds up characters, drives the plot forward, and plays out in theme and arcs. Frankly, almost anything can be done when one has theme as an excuse. But when planning pain, always keep the focus in mind. (I mean… assuming people actually sit down and figure out a heart-wrenching scene first, then figure out how it fits into a story. Not like I’ve ever done that. Ever.)
You’re showing the trials a character must go through to get what is right. You are showing how good can stand up through evil. You are showing hope and light in the darkness of time. Giving readers feels is great. But don’t just randomly add death and torture for no reason except feels.
Focus on the point of your story. Use pain to bring across your point, if needed (I mean, who really wants to read about a hero who has no trouble reaching his goal), but don’t focus solely on what you can do to upset a reader. There is hope in life. Keep hope in your writing, no matter how dark it might get.
In the end, you only need to remember a simple guideline:
Don’t be afraid to break your reader’s heart. Just make sure there is a point. And put their heart back together again by the end of the book.