It is something that every writer wants to achieve: Evoking our audience’s emotions when they are reading our books. Especially having actual tears run down our reader’s cheeks would be a great compliment for us, if not the greatest. Well, that is not always that simple, but here are my ultimate ways on how you can make it work.
Writing funny or just cheerful scenes is one of the key elements for a good book. Sadness and all is awesome, but who would want to read a book that only makes you feel low? Now, even though you might think it can’t be too hard to write some jokes and feel-good moments, it actually really is. If the writer laughs while writing the scene, it doesn’t automatically mean the reader will, too, but here are my most important tips:
- Keep in mind what the reader knows. Yes, running gags are awesome in a book and make your characters seem way more realistic. We all have our inside jokes with our friends, and so should the mates in your book. Now, you have to be careful: You know more about them than the reader does. If you write down an allusion to something your character has done in the past and you find it hilarious, then you have to make sure you mentioned that ‘past-incidence’ before. Sounds obvious, but I have fallen on my face forgetting to mention things like that in my books.
- Describe the happiness. Does it feel like a warm summer night in your character’s heart because they are slowly falling in love? Or is it more like a wave of adrenalin that’s rushing through their body because they just kissed that person? Happiness has many shapes and for the reader to feel with them you need to be specific.
- Watch your own happiness. You are one of the best sources of research you can get, so if you find yourself extremely happy for whatever reason, really try to feel it. What is happiness like? What kind of a feeling really is it? That will help you to be way more accurate and relatable when writing it all down.
- Don’t fear the detail. Go into the small things that are caused by your characters feeling so good. The goosebumps on their skin, their wide grins and dancy way of moving. Let them really express that they have a big sunshine in their heart!
In my all time favorite anime (Death Parade, I recommend it) fear is named ‘the most primitive emotion’ and they really hit the mark with that. I am rather certain that fear was one of the first and most important emotions ever experienced by humans. Everyone knows it. And that is the reason why it’s so hard to be realistic, especially when writing scenes that come with such a great fear, or with such a foreign form of fear, that we can’t even really imagine it ourselves, yet we still have to write it.
- Clear up what kind of fear it is for yourself. Is it angst, panic, anxiety, agony, terror or a whole other kind? Every shape of fear is expressed and percieved differently. To write relatable scenes of characters being scared to their bones, you need to really think about how the feeling is defined in your specific scene.
- Imagine yourself in the situation. That’s important. You have to find out why the whole scene is that scary after all. As soon as you have found what is making it so terrifying, you can stretch that element to make it more intense for the reader. How?, you may ask, I’ve never been chased by a demon, like my character is! Well, what would it be like if you were? How does it make you feel when you think about having that thing run after you? If you really wanted to scare someone, what about being chased by a demon would you tell them? Figure out the juicy details.
- Imagine your character in the situation. Now that you know the real scare of the whole thing, you have to give some thoughts to why it is such a horror for affected characters personally. Every human handles fear their own way, so it is crucial that your character’s reaction fits the impression the reader has of them.
- Don’t overdo it. Be careful not to write characters that have a break out of panic everytime they see a bug. Not only will that turn a supposedly fearful scene into more of a laughter, but also is it somehow going to ask you: If a ladybug makes them scream at the top of their lungs and call the police, how would they react to the villain standing right in front of them? You see what I mean. Fear is nothing that can just happen and sit there, it much rather builds up, depending on the situation. Panic rises and angst creeps up your spine. None of those just breaks into the door and says ‘Hi.’
- Don’t forget that they are humans. Most of your characters probably are and no human will ever be able to just break out of a super frightening moment and snap into the role of the hero. It doesn’t go from a ‘HOLY LORD WHERE’S MY MOM’ to ‘TAKE A STEP BACK, GUYS, I GOT THIS.’ in a few seconds. It doesn’t go like that at all. Overcoming your fear takes up so much courage, and you really, really have to not only mention that, but also stretch it. The reader has to feel how much guts your character is showing when he is facing this big, scary whatever in front of him, and the audience has to have seen the process of all that fortitude it’s taking him. They have to think ‘Yes, buddy, I know you can do this.’ and not ‘How is he even that brave right now?’
I feel like you’ve been waiting for that one and yes, sadness really is the queen of emotions and supreme discipline for us writers, and that is because our goal is to evoke an extremely emotional and highly personal movement in our reader’s bodies: We want them to cry. Apart from critiques like ‘The most beautiful book I have read in a long time’, the best compliment we can get is ‘Wow, this really made me cry.’ Okay, don’t get me wrong: Crying does not only show sadness, I am well aware. Often it testifies to the reader being deeply moved in positive ways, too. Don’t worry, I also have my tricks on that, of course, just hear me out. Right now, here are my tips on sadness:
- Describe the hell out of the scene. Really stretch those scenes, those dialogues, ah yes… Put a big amount of effort into deeply describing how that tear is rolling down her cheek and how he slowly loses his smile, how she opens her mouth to scream out her broken heart. Okay, sorry. But you see my point? Tears take time to come up your reader’s eyes, so make the scene as long as possible to really evoke a wave of emotion and write as beautifully as you can. Sad scenes are one of the best in my opinion, so really take your time for them.
- Cry. Many wise people have said that if the writer cries, the reader will, too. So write all the sad and tragic details it takes to make you sob in a corner. In one of my stories, a king got killed during an attack against the royal family and, basically, all his kids were watching him die right in front of them. Yeah, that was the first time I cried while writing. I took it all slow, from the arrow hitting his chest, to his youngest daughter realising that her dad had not just ‘fallen asleep’. Mhm, that hit me hard, but it was a good sign and I was very content while afterwards removing my mascara from all over my face.
- Flashing memories. Happy memories make a sad moment even more sad. That is an unsolved mystery that I have not yet gotten behind. But I love using it when I really want to play some heart’s strings. When a person is dying, or on the verge of dying, let flashes of memories with that person come back into the minds of the characters and the readers. It will remind them of how much is being lost in this scene and that will definitely squeeze out some tears.
- Listen to music. You have to be in a nice and sad mood to write tragic scenes. That is why I love writing while listening to the most blue music I can find. I have a great one here for you, try it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=to2mBD1P8I8
- Imagine yourself in the scene. Again, this will make you understand the actual sadness behind everything. Really close your eyes and dive into the situation, let your mind flow around and you will notice even more details that make you super sad. (Sorry for that, take a cookie.)
4. Just touching moments
Okay, I promised I would also mention these. Sometimes, a scene doesn’t have to be directly sad, or happy, or suspense to evoke a HUGE mountain of emotion. Just imagine how moving you can describe a king stepping out to his people, and after a moment of silence they all fall on their knees, hundrets of people, silent and devoting every single of their heartbeats to this one person. Goosebumps, right? You could also say something like ‘He stepped to his people, they didn’t say anything and bent down. Then they waited like that for a while.’ Yeah you probably shouldn’t say it like that. Here are my tips on how to hit the nail on the head with those epic scenes:
- Detail is back. Just like I suggested for sad scenes, you should not save any details for those epic moments. They are somewhat a certain climax in the story, aren’t they? And for the reader to really feel and enjoy that, you have to make seconds seem like minutes on the paper. (This does not mean that you have the permission to be boring, don’t take time for describing the dirt on the floor, take time describing what actually matters.)
- Add in a little cheese. Okay, now is the time where you are allowed to. Use metaphors that relate to gold, eyes, souls, hearts, crowns, kings, roses, and all those things that usually make us roll our eyes. Not this time though, you have reached an all-you-can-write buffet! Especially fantasy novels build epic scenes with some cheese, it’s just something we have to admit. And we also have to admit that we kind of enjoy it, we know it. So think of the most beautiful words you can find and use them for the perfect epic touch!
- Music, please. Once again, what can I say? Music gets you in the mood. Before the reader can feel anything, you have to feel. Check this one out, it’s perfect! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgcAowKAxEg
- Imagine the scene as a movie. You probably aready are, but it’s simply the best way of getting all the epic potential out of the scene. Get a vision of it into your head and then write it all down! As if it was in slowmotion…
So, this was it! Those were my tips on writing emotional scenes. I hope you enjoyed and maybe found it helpful. Have a great day!
Yours, Z. Grace
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