Writing Sad Scenes – Why And How

Sadness is, in my opinion, one of the hardest emotions to evoke from readers. People are reluctant to feel sad. You, the writer, must coax readers to feel something they normally wouldn’t want to feel. If you’re clever, it’s easy to make people laugh, because laughing is enjoyable and desirable. But can you make them cry?

Why do I want to make my readers sad?

Am I a cruel monster, causing people to spill tears over stories that never happened? Maybe…but it’s so much more than that. There is beauty to be found in sorrow.

Emotions are a beautiful part of what makes us human, both the good and the bad. Sadness is no different. It’s part of who we are. The sad days in our life make the happy ones all the brighter, and we’ve all had days when it just feels right to be sad. It’s hard to explain, but there’s beauty in sorrow.

Just look at the arts: music, visual art, literature, cinema, theatre…why do they all reflect sadness at one point or another if there’s nothing in it to appreciate?

How can I make my readers sad?

Evoking sadness from your reader largely depends on the reader herself. You can’t control what story elements connect with her the most on an emotional level, and sadness is something that can’t be forced. There are, however, a few strategies I like to put to practice to set the tone…

Write what makes you sad

Readers won’t experience an emotion while reading that you didn’t experience while writing. The more you’re convinced your scene is sad, the more it will be. Don’t be afraid to draw from personal experience.

Example: in Little One, much of the emotion stems from the separation of Daniel from his three-year-old sister, Litty. I wrote the original short story when my own little sister was about that age, and drew from the emotions I felt when I said goodbye to her before leaving for college. Also, I’m ridiculously pessimistic and can exaggerate quite well. 

Avoid melodrama

You can’t throttle your readers with fancy words, long speeches, and other cliches and hope they’ll be moved to tears.

Manipulate and use your own emotions

  • Write when you’re tired. A tired mind experiences negative emotions more intensely, and you can translate that onto the page.
  • Build up with other emotional activities. As cheesy as it sounds, go on Youtube and watch videos that draw on your own emotions, or listen to sad music.

Jumpstarter: the score for Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro) composed by Javier Navarrete is one of the most beautifully depressing soundtracks I’ve ever heard, and it fueled many of the scenes in Little One. 

Set the tone through vocabulary

The words you use should underline the emotion you’re hoping to evoke. All words have connotations, and it’s up to you to figure out what word works best in each situation.

Draw emotion through characters readers care about

Allow readers to spend time with the characters in question before expecting them to feel much emotion when they go through a sad moment. The more your reader knows the character(s), the more personality, history, and relationships you have to work with.

Be yourself

Use the same voice you’ve been using throughout the whole story. Be consistent. Your characters should act, think, and talk the same way they usually do (within the parameters and context of the scene, of course). Take what readers are familiar with in other contexts and use it to your advantage.

Those are just a few strategies that I follow when I need to write a particularly sad scene. What are some of yours? What do you do to tug at readers’ emotions? Tell me in the comments!

Also, a couple years ago I wrote a guest article for Writerology.net called How To Connect Emotionally With Your Readers. Check it out for a broader look at emotions and how to draw them out through plot and character.

Thanks for reading, and if you found this post helpful, don’t forget to share and subscribe! Keep calm and write on, friend.

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