Do you really want to make your reader cry?

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.make your readers cry

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.

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  1. I cried horribly at the end of the Wingfeather Saga – and I was reading it to my sister (because we wanted to face the end together) and that just made it worse… But after contemplating the end for a while, I’ve found it to be very beautiful (and still painful). There’s hope, and that’s just lovely. 🙂

  2. Ha this is an interesting topic since I recently wrote a blog post about killing characters. (I write ahead of schedule so it hasn’t been posted yet.) In it I said something similar that there has to be a point to character death. It can’t be there just to provide cheap emotions to the reader.
    Then I was doing a read through of my current WIP and realized I killed off some minor characters in a way that might seem pointless during the climax of the story… XD
    Honestly though, it was to upset my MC more so than the reader. He needs an extra motivational oomf at that point though soooo I’m probably going to leave that in.

  3. Great post!
    I’m not the crying type so… I’ve never cried over a book, but I have felt that heart-wrenching effect some books have…
    And yes, I am a writer, which means I sit around all day daydreaming about how I will not only torture my characters, but also how I will break my reader’s hearts.
    Mahahaha. And people say Writers are good people, hah.
    I love stories (and at the same time hate them) that are super sad and sorrowful but with a glimmer of hope – ahh so great.

    By the way Hope! I just wanted to let you know, I read some of your fairy tale retellings and they were great – I was disappointed to find that they weren’t available in paper back, I’d love to have them on my bookshelf!

    • Ha, yeah. sad things are still fun.

      And yeah, the cost of all them them as single paperbacks was too much. I do have Burning Rose, however, and that’s a collection of the first three, plus the prequel, in one paperback. 😉

  4. The ending of the Wingfeather Saga was simply beautiful. 🙂

  5. Ah, yes, the feels…I know the feeling of being proud and excited when someone reads my writing and they’re laughing and/or crying. (mwahaha). But yes, I think the difference with most Christian fiction is that there’s hope in the darkness. Thanks for this post, Hope! <3

  6. Thanks for nudging us back to The Point! I love making people tear up over stuff I write. I think it’s mostly because I like bittersweet endings that make me want to cry, but I think the thrill of emotional manipulation plays an itty-bitty part too. 🙂 I really want to finish the Wingfeather Saga now.

    • Yeah. The emotional manipulation part can be fun. 😉 Though the point should be to get the readers to think more than anything else.

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