How to Write a Story that Will Make Someone Cry

Deanne Adams, Story Coach and Mentor. Write the best book you can.
Written by Deanne Adams


How to write a story that will make someone cry

Many writers wish they knew how to write a story that will make someone cry. They want to know how to make their readers feel such strong emotion that they sob while reading about fictional characters. Many such writers get part of the answer on their own: they understand that to make people cry they need to have characters in their stories who feel strong emotions themselves. However, they are often still missing a key part of the characterisation process. That key part is character resilience. 

How Do I Make a Character Resilient?

There’s a process involved in making a character resilient. Some writers go through this characterisation process almost subconsciously. To some extent, it is an implicit process that comes with experience, but that doesn’t mean that a new writer has to fumble around for years until they stumble upon it. It is equally possible to learn how to write a story character that makes a reader cry through strong emotion. Here it is, as I see it…

Firstly, create a character we (that is, your readers) care about. Generally, this means making them admirable. We need to be on the character’s side. So give your character traits we admire. Please note: I don’t say likeable. They might be likeable, but not necessarily so. A story person pretty much needs to be admirable, though, in some way, for us to care about what happens to them and to cry when they are having a rough time.

Once you’ve created this character we admire, give them something to struggle with. Give them an event that’s really hard for them to cope with, because it challenges the thing they care most about. If they care most about their young family, threaten that family. If they care most about getting a promotion that they’ve worked for since forever, introduce a character who’s even better qualified.

For example, in The Hunger Games (spoiler alert!) Katniss Everdeen cares about her sister more than anything else. She wouldn’t have volunteered to take the place of any other girl in the Games. Her self-sacrifice wouldn’t have made sense. A general opinion that ‘the Games are bad’ wouldn’t have been a strong enough motivation to make Katniss take action, either. It needed to be an intensely personal motivation – a primal urge to protect her beloved sister. Nothing else would override her primal urge to ensure her own survival.

This unlocks for you already one of the key ways you can write a story that makes your readers cry: brave self-sacrifice.

OK. You’ve challenged your character and they’ve answered the challenge. What next? Your character now needs to encounter hardship and difficulties on their journey to solving the problem. Things have to be hard. You have to give them something that’s difficult to achieve. You also have to make the obstacles in their way tougher and tougher to overcome. Their emotions need to be stretched tighter and tighter as they start to crack under the pressure.
They might feel a great temptation to give up and let the bad guy get what he wants. They must sink into a pit of despair. And there must be a terrible loss. To make someone cry when they read your story, you must put your character through an event that is too much for anyone to realistically bear. But even that is not enough.

You must go a step beyond this. What will make your reader cry is not so much the fact that something awful has happened. What brings your reader to tears is your character’s reaction to this event. There will be the immediate despair, of course. But then he or she must show their true mettle. They must pick themselves up, look their defeat in the face, and face it anyway. They must be defiant and resilient even though it is surely impossible that they will overcome.

Again, The Hunger Games offers us a great example of defiance and resilience. Katniss loses a friend and ally. She initially despairs but then shows her true courage and is defiant in the face of the enemy.

It is the resilience of the human spirit that makes a reader cry, not the sight of a character crumbling.

Will your character finally overcome the obstacles to their happiness and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

Maybe. That’s up to you. You’re the writer. In a sad story with a tragic ending, certainly your character won’t. But they’ll go down fighting. The key to making your readers cry when they read your story is always your character’s resilience

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I care passionately about words and stories. As a Story Coach and Mentor, I help writers to tell irresistible stories. I offer courses, memberships and programmes to suit beginners, developing writers and those ready to become the writer they've been trying to be for years.

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