You’ll want to go read J. Grace Pennington’s People Who Cry first, otherwise this may not make any sense. With Grace’s permission I’m writing a sort of follow-up post to it.
The composer Schubert once said, “My music is the product of my talent and my misery. And that which I have written in my greatest distress is what the world seems to like best.”
What was true for Schubert and his music is true for an author and his/her books. When we read, isn’t it the books that move us that we like the most, that we read over and over?
Why do we do this?
I think that the biggest reason is that they are well-crafted. If the emotion is written well enough to move us, then it has been written well. Likely, the rest of the book is of similar quality. And characters that can bring out the emotion in us seem so real.
But I think also that something within us draws us back to emotion. Perhaps a feeling of understanding the characters. Perhaps a feeling that, though the characters aren’t real, we aren’t the only people that feel the way we do. And of course, for stories that bring out our emotion in the middle, yet end well, we hope that lives will be the same.
As writers, we need to ask ourselves how we can write this way.
How can we make our readers cry? How can we make our books ones that people return to because of the emotion? By crying ourselves. When we write a book that pulls our own heartstrings, that is an extension of our soul, the emotion we write will be real. If we are passionate about what we write about, this will show. It’s sort of like the old adage, “write what you know.” Write the emotions you know. Has your heart been broken over the death of someone dear to you? Have you stayed up late at night crying because a friend couldn’t see the consequences that would come from their bad decisions? Have you felt the regret of your own bad decisions? Has your heart ached for someone else’s pain? Then projecting that onto a character will make that character’s emotion seem so much more real to your readers.
It’s not just for the acclaim.
There is power in the written word. Our goal shouldn’t just be to move people, to make them like your book. It should be to make them think of the message behind it. Perhaps you write a book with an underlying current of the sorrow of those left behind after a loved one commits suicide, and you do it well, because you have felt that sorrow. A good reader will go away from reading not just with the satisfaction of having been moved. They will go away with the understanding of that pain.
When your readers cry over your story, do they come away with a greater understanding? Do they come away edified, maybe changed, or just thinking that it was “a good story?”