Make your Reader Cry by Christine Duncan It’s been an emotional weekend for me. And it got me to thinking—about just how emotion is transferred to paper. How do we get our readers to feel the emotions we want them to feel? How do we get them fired up angry when the heroine is lied to yet again by that sleezy jerk she’s living with. How do we get them to mutter, “Leave that bozo!” when they figure out he’s been cheating on her—again?

Writing about emotion is hard. And we writers all know why. When we read something, we are experiencing the writer’s emotions vicariously. We writers have to be willing to experience the emotion first, then we can put it down on paper. So when the heroine hears Mr. Slick tell her yet again that he worked until midnight we have to really be in her head then, feel her willingness to believe him, feel awful for complaining that he didn’t come home to her, think what a good man he is, working for their future and feel just that tiny prickle of doubt and dismiss it.

Being able to do that and not make the heroine look like an idiot is hard. We have to be able to show the innocence –the naivety, and not make judgments. We have to be able to believe with the heroine. That is what will make the inevitable let down of discovery so hard—and will enable the reader to feel her hurt too. So Mr. Slick can’t be all that slick. We have to be able to see his good side too and show it.

Because you know, emotions are complicated and tend to be paired. It is the belief, the innocence and the betrayal that inspires the anger, the letdown and the hurt.

This is the part of writing where you need to write what you know. Any parent who has ever, even briefly, lost sight of their child in a shopping mall or a crowded Easter Egg hunt can tell you about that feeling of wanting to shake your child and hug them at the same time. But if you have never done that, you will think it sounds crazy.

When you go to a funeral and someone gets up to talk about the person who died, they may tell you a funny story about something that happened with the dead loved one. And you laugh. But then they go on to talk about what they will miss about him. And you cry. Emotions are tangled and when you aim for just one reaction as a writer, you will inevitably miss the mark because it is the mix, the tangle that rings true.

At least that’s how it seems to me today. Feel free to chime in.


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