Crying Characters Won't Drown Your Storythis article from Twitterific (months, months ago), which lead me to stumbling back onto this very blog (thanks to the Writer's Knowledge Base producing results that Google didn't. Small world).
Specifically, I remembered this piece of advice:
Crying is one of those things that can get me to hate on a character that I otherwise loved. Too much crying, I should say. It seems to be either written well or written poorly -- no in between. And it's no surprise that the writers who often do crying wrong are still relatively new to storytelling and fiction writing in general. Debut authors are the worst offenders. (sorry, guys, but you are) Or, worse, the author may be seasoned but somehow doesn't notice or care that they've fallen into this rut.
Basically, Lydia Sharp's advice is to use crying as a last resort. This is something that didn't occur to me until she brought it up in what is one of her more popular posts. And let's say it stuck onto my reader's mind-set for a few months until it went the way of the "said bookisms", sending red lights off in my head every time I saw a character crying more than once.
However, when I re-read Five Flavors of Dumb, a recent favorite, and I saw characters crying left and right in the second half for various reasons, I stumbled onto an exception--and possibly a good point.
Characters have various ways of displaying sadness. On one hand, you have people who try to bottle their sadness up until the absolute last moment. On another hand, you have sensitive people who can weaponize their tears in social situations. Of course, the latter is less sympathetic, but it doesn't mean that leaning toward that extreme is necessarily bad.
You see, teenagers can be emotional. Not all teenagers, but one thing that I certainly know about teens is that plenty of them lean more toward their emotional side than other. You know, lacking development in their logical side and all--or at least that's what you adults say. Some people joke about wanting the driving and drinking age swapped, after all.
Here's another paragraph from this blog:
Think about how often you cry in real life. Think about what the extenuating circumstances are. Without getting terribly personal, in my own experiences I rarely allow myself to cry unless it's (a) something that has been building up over time and finally explodes, (b) something so monumentally devastating that I can't control my reaction, (c) a time when I'm hormonal, (d) any extremely bad or extremely happy thing that involves my son.
(To answer the bolded question, at least three times in the last year. At least two were writing-related, a third Florence-related.)
However, one recurring part of young adult fiction is teens getting involved in situations most adults would have a difficult time dealing with. The result? Lots of extenuating circumstances.
But to address those points:
- Many writer bloggers advise piling up the stakes, which usually come tumbling down at once.
- These kinds of moments are usually the one that sent a character into his/her "darkest hour".
- Teenagers = "hormonal". I myself am guilty in another aspect.
- This is a hard one, but for the latter...if you have a book where the protagonist's son is killed as a part of the premise, there's going to be plenty of tears.
Even with the extreme of hiding one's sadness, sometimes a teenager gets tangled into stressful enough of a situation that makes them want to hide themselves into an empty room and drink their tears for just a few minutes.
Of course, some readers will get bugged if a protagonist cries multiple times. For example, some people thought Tris became too angsty in Divergent. For the most part though, if handled correctly, tears won't send your story landsliding into the ocean.
To refer to the post I mentioned above:
A few tears really do go a long way. Tears can be cliché. But don't neglect them either, or your reader will wonder why your character isn't reacting realistically.
Guest Blogger Bio:
Chihuahua Zero is a teenage writer blogger. Despite being unpublished, he has an eye for spotting writing advice--and a hand for challenging it every once in a while.
He can be seen mostly at The YA's Dogtown, along with regular contributions over at YA Indie.
Would like to be a guest blogger? Email your post idea to Lydia at lydiasharp4sff (at) yahoo (dot) com. Please put "guest blog post" somewhere in the subject line.