A friend recently asked me if I cried while writing sad scenes, and she brought up a quote by Robert Frost.
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
So her question was basically, “Is it bad that I don’t cry while writing? And can I be a good author if I don’t cry while writing?”
The short answer is—no and yes. The long answer is…well, that’s what this post is.
I feel emotions differently while reading than I feel them while writing. I’m not completely sure if that’s just me, or if it’s a normal thing, but I do. For example. I’m a pretty emotional person. I cried over the end of Ender’s Game, and I’m not sure that’s really the kind of ending you typically…cry over. It also took me like two months before I got a grip on my emotions after reading The Book Thief. (And that is why I will never watch the movie. If it’s as good as I hear it is, I’ll spend another two months crying and…well. No thank you.)
But I have never cried while writing, not as far as I can remember. I’ve gotten awfully sad over something, but I’ve never, while writing, had actual tears come out.
See, the key is that you feel the emotions. I feel the emotions. Once, I was writing, and my dad asked me if I was mad at the computer. I blinked at him, completely confused by the question, and then realized I was in the middle of writing an argument between two characters and I had been giving my monitor the death glare. And the other day, I added a chapter into my WIP, and as I was writing, I could feel the emotions of my MC so strongly that it literally left me speechless. And if you know me, “speechlessness” rarely happens unless I’m really flustered. So.
Think about the other emotions you can write, too. You don’t have to necessarily laugh yourself hoarse when you tell a joke to make your reader do it. You can definitely get away with just a small grin at the joke. (I mean, unless you’re me. I have the kind of humor that I find more humorous than everybody else, so I laugh the hardest at my own jokes. Which I sometimes feel bad about, and sometimes don’t.) And you don’t have to be giving your computer a death glare like I did just for the reader to feel the character’s anger. You could just maybe feel ever so slightly annoyed.
I have to admit to something here. Sometimes, when I’m writing, I feel whatever my protagonist feels…but sometimes, I just feel like that big ol’ evil author person. My brothers have informed me that I have a grin that seems to be reserved specifically for when I’m doing something torturous to a character. (And a quick disclaimer: I don’t enjoy putting my characters into scrapes necessarily. I enjoy watching them struggle because I enjoy watching them get out of it and watching them grow. Plus, torturing my potential future readers and my alphas/betas is definitely a bonus.)
Feeling “evil” isn’t necessarily going to get the right emotion into a scene. I can’t say there won’t be any emotion at all—I really don’t know, to be honest—but if you’re really trying to get a specific emotion, that won’t do it.
The question then becomes how to feel the emotion instead of the…well, evilness.
I’ve found I just have to make myself feel the right emotion for a reason other than whatever’s making the protagonist feel that emotion. If I want to write a sad scene, I can play sad music, remember my uncle who’s no longer of this earth, and think of that one time my c—um, never mind, let’s not finish that thought. If I want to feel afraid, I’ll remember exactly the way I felt when we were being evacuated because of the fire. And so on. It can even work with happier emotions. Make yourself feel the emotion, and then write it.
That’s what I do, anyway.
How do I know if it worked? Well, I give it to one of my betas, and ask them if they felt the emotions. That’s about the only way I’ve ever been able to tell if I could write emotions well or not. (In fact, there have been a few times where somebody’s told me that the emotions in a piece were great, and I’m just sitting here thinking, “…really? I was afraid it had sucked” because I didn’t really feel it myself while rereading it.)
So to sum all of this up. Do you have to cry while writing? No. The key is that you feel the emotions. The extent of the emotion, and in what way you express it, is up to the individual writer. And reader.
How about for the rest of you? How do you write emotions in a piece, and how do you know if you got it right?