Buying Stock in Kleenex   6 comments

Have you ever made yourself cry (over what you did to a character) while writing a book?

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Oh, yes!

Easy answer. Of course, there is so much more to it than that.

Let’s start with the knowledge that I am not a particularly sentimental female. I didn’t cry at the end of Beaches, for example, though two of the men who came to that movie with their wives did get a little shiny-eyed. I was with them while the other two ladies were wetting tissues like crazy and the third guy announced a sudden need to warm up the car even though it wasn’t particularly cold outside.

I did cry during Schindler’s List – that scene where they destroyed the ghetto and the little girl in the red coat haunted my dreams for sometime after and I still choke up if I see it now. The inhumanity toward our fellow human beings can make me cry.

I’m pretty sure the last book (by another author) that made me cry was when Paula broke up with Jordan in Whatever Words You Want to Hear. It wasn’t that she broke up with him so much (he so absolutely deserved that!) as the knowledge that she knew his enablers were pulling back and he was going to flounder and probably end up shipwrecked. I felt what Paula felt at that moment and it touched me as deeply as it did her. So 25-30 years ago I didn’t cry at a sad movie (though I did feel the ethos), I cried over the inhumanity of humans, and I did cry over a girl-coming-of-age-while-loving-a-guy-who-wasn’t-going-to-come-of-age book. Just not a crier unless something hits me at an extremely deep level. In some ways, that’s good because I know when I’m writing a scene that if it makes me mist up, it’s going to make many women cry and some men feel it in their adam’s apple.

Generally, when I kill a character it is because he or she stops talking to me. I often characterize writing as characters show up in my head and want to tell me their story. If they stop, then what do I do with them? If I can send them on a long journey from which they never return, I do, but sometimes the answer is to kill them. And kind of like a friend who has decided they no longer want you as a friend, I sometimes mourn the loss of the relationship. It’s hard to let go of a great character. They’re a little like people in real life. Nobody wants a beloved friend to move away or die. They do, though. So in life, same in fiction. But that’s not a crying event for me because they broke off the relationship. I regret the end of my relationship with them, but if they don’t want to be my friend, I won’t waste tears on that. And in fiction, often that means the character’s death and that’s just a consequence of them not talking to me any longer.

Transformation Project is an apocalyptic series. It wouldn’t be realistic for my characters to not die during the apocalypse, but even living is painful. Being inside Shane’s head can be depressing. The guy has PTSD and he started the series with a gun in his mouth. That was literally the first scene I ever wrote for him and I kind of thought he might be one of those characters who died before he even got started. I didn’t cry during that because I remember being pissed off that this great character was not going to be around to share his story. He’s found a reason to stay alive in that his family and their town need his skills, but things aren’t getting easier. He’s had to kill people in sleepy Emmaus, his hometown that was too boring for him to stay in after high school, where he came in hopes of healing to emotional scars of war. He’s not getting to do that and the reality of what he and his fellow townspeople are living through touches his soul and it touches my soul. If I mist up while writing it and still feel like crying when I reread it, I know I’ve hit a sweet spot. The thing is, Shane rarely cries from his pain. He thinks he deserves it. And since all characters are really me, I often don’t cry while I am writing his viewpoint. It’s later, when I reread it that I go “Why am I so mean? I stink as a deity. I truly truly suck!” Or sometimes when I’m writing his family’s reaction to his actions, I feel what Jill or Cai feels for him and then I cry. If that sounds a little disassociative identity disorder, you don’t know many writers. All our characters are really us and so we can cry for what one character feels about another character who would never elicit tears from us.

I’ve brought this book up before because I truly plan to publish it someday … and that day is getting closer – What If Wasn’t – is a new adult novel about Peter, a young man who will have to deal with the consequences of his drunken actions killing someone he loves. That story is tough to write and I do cry. I hate that I’m putting a nice person with a drinking problem through all this pain. I want him to get well without hitting rock bottom and bouncing a few times. Peter hates it too. I can hear him saying “I will go to rehab. Just don’t make me do this.” Sadly, he has to because that’s the story he told me initially and so his fate is sealed. And, though the character does seem to want healing, I’m not necessarily going to give him a happy ending. Because, you know, that’s not how real life works

I let my son read a section a while ago. Keirnan is a sweet kid (well, 20) who isn’t afraid of feeling emotions and when he finished, his voice was all hoarse and he said “Wow, Mom! Readers are going to cry over this.”

There you go. I figure if I can make me – a not-sentimental person – cry while I’m writing it, readers ought to need to stock up on tissues. And the whole point of good literature is that it makes us feel at a deep visceral level.

Job done!

Posted May 6, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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6 responses to “Buying Stock in Kleenex

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  1. It sounds like a very intense book.


  2. Like you I’m not particularly emotional and don’t tend to cry at reading or watching fiction. The only film that’s ever made me well up is Out of Africa, which is based on a true story. Real life tends to bring out the tissues…


    • That had the same affect on me as Beaches and Legends of the Fall. Maybe I could have cried if people hadn’t been around, but they were, so I didn’t. I come close to crying more often when I read books because I can get into the head of the character and feel their pain. But it has to be a really visceral feeling. I’ve never, for example, cried over a romance novel.


  3. Getting your son to admit to his emotions from reading your book sounds like a huge compliment!


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