Hey guys! This post is long overdue, so it’s about time we got to it, yes? I wasn’t really sure what to do for this one, but I eventually landed on, as you can tell by the title, making your readers feel all the things. By “all the things”, I mean sad things. Obviously, if there’s a happy part in your book, you want readers to be happy, too. If there’s a part that you want to make the readers feel angry, then you do what you can to make that happen. One emotion that I feel is hard to write is sadness, and that’s because it can easily become overdramatic/melodramatic, and end up just making the reader feel more annoyed than anything else. If you want to hit your readers in the feels, you definitely want to avoid annoying them! I’ve got some tips for making sad scenes punch your readers in the gut, and I hope you find them helpful. Take a look!
It’s All In The Details
There’s something about paying attention to the details that make all the difference. This could be inside jokes between the characters, or certain sayings they had. I’m going to use Manifest as an example even though it’s not a book, because I feel like it uses detail in an excellent way to make the scenes more emotional, and the same details could be used in writing. In the season 2 finale, before one of the characters (Zeke) is supposed to die, he plays Monopoly with his nephew. Flash forward to the season 4 midseason finale, the nephew was dying from cancer, and on the day he was dying he asks Zeke (who ended up surviving in season 2) if they could play Monopoly. Things like this, no matter how small they might be, can really bring on the emotions, because it may recall the reader to a happier time, or to another emotional time. Whatever the case may be, it works!
Flashbacks should be used with caution, because there is always the chance that they are unnecessary. For example, I wanted to use a flashback in my novel to make the relationship between three of my characters more emotional, since one of them had been killed. However, I quickly realized that this flashback was completely unnecessary since it did nothing to move the story forward. Whenever you want to make your reader emotional, it should still be done in a way that pushes the plot forward. So if you want to use flashbacks, be sure you really need one! And if you do, show the readers a time where the characters were happy, or maybe you want the emotional scene to be the flashback itself. Although you should be cautious with these, you can really pack a lot in them! For example, try reading the flashback scenes from Every Other Weekend by Abigail Johnson.
Show, Don’t Tell
This is an obvious one. Sometimes it is enough to say “so-and-so was sad,” but often times you need more than that. Especially if you want your reader to feel sad, too. Show their pain. Put the readers in the characters’ shoes. If you want the readers to be angry, give them something to be angry about. If you want them to be afraid, give them something to fear. Give the readers the characters’ memories. Let them see the internal struggles of the character. Not only will it make the readers root for them, but it’ll make them go through all the emotions with them, too.
Avoid Cliches- Or Make Them Better
I did a post about cliches a while ago, and I discussed disregarding the “rule” about avoiding cliches like the plague. While I don’t agree with this, I do think that you should be careful with cliches when it comes to emotional scenes. One wrong move and your sad scenes could become melodramatic, and you certainly don’t want that (unless you do, I guess!). Look at common themes in novels. Find the cliches, and if you really want to use them, find a way to make them better. You can read here to find some tips on turning cliches into something creative!
Get The Readers Attached
Emotions won’t mean a thing if your readers aren’t attached to your characters. You could kill off anyone, and if the reader doesn’t care about them, the death won’t make them sad. So you have to be sure and put effort into creating your characters! Make them human; give them faults, likes, dislikes, defining traits. Know everything about them, even if you won’t use all that information in the book. Most importantly, make them come alive when you write. Give them relationships with the other characters. Give them inside jokes, secrets- anything you can to make them feel real. Don’t overdo it, but be sure your giving your readers a character they’ll love; someone they’ll cry with. If you aren’t sure whether a character is likable or not, let trusted friends or family read your work to get feedback.
Pro Tips –
Practice Makes Perfect
Obviously a good way to get better at writing emotional scenes is to practice them. Play around with your characters to find what breaks them. Have other (trusted) people read your work and give you feedback. This is a must for any type of writing, but it will definitely help you figure out if you’re doing the right things when it comes to writing pain. As writers, sometimes we can’t put ourselves in the readers’ shoes, so it’s good to have outside opinions.
Do Your Research
Another way to get better at writing emotional scenes is to see how other writers do it! Some excellent suggestions would be Lovely War by Julie Berry, Every Other Weekend by Abigail Johnson, and Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson. Maybe you’ll even find inspiration for your writing!