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So You Want to Make the Audience Cry?

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I might need to explain that a bit first. A more apt (although less attention grabbing title) would be, ‘so you want to make your audience emotionally invested in the characters?’ I’ve been told that I have managed to write a few stories that achieve this, whether they meant through pathos or due to my incredibly poor grammar is still up for debate. I’ll go with the former, as the latter doesn’t really inspire much confidence in the readers and would likely make a really bad ‘how-to’ guide.

Take note that if you are writing a story with an emotional component for this site, it still needs to be a creepypasta. (Meaning that there needs to be elements of horror in it.) Like many genres, there is always room to mix-and-match and like how horror and comedy go well together, horror and tragedy can also be used effectively in conjunction.

What you need:

Relatable characters

This is key. The audience needs to relate (or at least sympathize) with the characters. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have to be a stand-up character or morally righteous. Take one of my favorite novellas, Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” for example. Alex is a sociopathic monster, but the story is told from his perspective and Anthony Burgess does an excellent job of giving you a peek into Alex’s world and his Nadsat idioms. This allows the audience to draw a connection to him and understand his motivations, which is a terrifying prospect in and of itself.
Alex DeLarge

That’s the face of someone you can relate to.

Humor/Buffer

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but you need to break up the tragedy with something. Throwing emotional scene after emotional scene at the audience isn’t going to have the effect you want. Instead of injecting pathos into your story like you originally wanted, you’re going to make it seem melodramatic. I find comedy to be excellent at softening up the characters and adding a sense of believability to them, but you can use other elements and genres to help space out the tragedy.

21757 1240506329312151 4310197703843326716 n

Man, this cute image will really soften the blow after I tell you about the horrible lab explosion that claimed the life of your father.

Build up to the events

Much like anything literary/cinematic, you want to lead up to a climax. Don’t overdo it. You want to avoid sounding like a generic Country music song that hammers scenes on its audience. (Wife left, lost their job, dog died.) The key here is pacing your story and growing your characters. Have your characters evolve/learn something about themselves; it doesn’t always have to be good, but it should be revelatory. One film that always gets me is “Schindler’s List”. The protagonist evolves and shifts away from monetary motives at the beginning of the film to something far nobler. Spoilers for a movie over two decades old.

What to avoid:

OMG Tragedy!

Let these events happen naturally, don’t force it. As with all horror stories, you don’t want to introduce the horror/emotional scene too early. You want the audience time to become invested in the story and the characters. Playing the tragedy card too soon can really hinder a story. For example, any Greek tragedy, but Sophocles especially, introduces their catastrophe at around the climax. Lead into the event; avoid hammering the audience with multiple events, as that tends to weaken the effectiveness/impact you’re going for.

Oedipus-t-rex

An artist’s rendition of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex”

Oh God, Bullies! Bullies Everywhere!

While Stephen King may get away with one-dimensional bullies taunting characters, this is not a good idea. Do not create waspish characters that only exist to advance the plot. This is one of my biggest qualms with “Jeff the Killer”. The kids are completely unrealistic. What thirteen-year-old kid would have access to firearms or bring them to a party to try and shoot another person they just met? What is their intention for trying to murder someone they just met? It seems like an overblown reaction to getting beat up in a fight.

Shoot for this instead.

Try to create a character with their own goals, grudges, and emotions. They can even be a foil to the protagonist, but with one difference that drives them in a completely different direction. That’s always been one of my issues with RPGs, the villain is typically a caricature of evil. I never understood that, they always seem to want to destroy the world. It seems counter-intuitive as they are a part of the world themselves. How much more effective would it be if the antagonist in the story thought that they were doing the right thing? There’s a lot more terror to be had in someone doing horrible things that they think are righteous as opposed to someone just being evil for no reason.

NecronFFIX

“Everyone should die! Even me! …Wait, shit…” ~ Necron ("Final Fantasy IX")

The Amazing Robot!

The characters need to react in a realistic and visceral fashion. Don’t use generic descriptions. Of course a sibling is going to weep at the loss of their brother/sister. Build off of that. Describe the physical effects. Is the protagonist’s throat constricting so much that it hurts? Are they physically sick to their stomach? Make the audience picture what the protagonist is going through. Hell, show the after-effects. Show the characters trying to cope with the loss of one of their own. Avoid generic descriptions that make the characters seem robotic/overly generic.

Summation

Curb-stomping the audience’s feels is always a sign of a good author. It takes a lot of emotion and thought to create a character or scene that tugs at heartstrings. If horror and comedy are like peanut butter and chocolate, then horror and tragedy are like peanut butter and jelly. Both are most effective when the audience relates to the characters, is caught up in a well-paced plot, and the author has avoided over-extending the more emotional scenes. Let me wrap this up by saying this, a majority of the stories posted here that have since been published into novels all use drama effectively. (See Penpal, Humper-Monkey's Ghost Story, 50 Foot Ant's First Story etc.) Injecting emotion into a story is tantamount in writing.

My feels!

I'll just leave this here...

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