Make your readers do the weeping.

by Todd Foley

Grief and pain are universal human emotions from which none of us are immune. You’re familiar with it. So am I. We all are. How then do you authentically show the pain of your fictional characters?

For that, I’ll hand the classroom over to Orson Scott Card.

The following is an excerpt from Characters & Viewpoint – aka the Bible of character development.

“When pain or grief become unbearable in real life, human beings often develop fiction to cope with it – we call it insanity. When pain or grief become unbearable in fiction, readers simply disengage from the story and either abandon the tale or laugh at it.

Does this mean that pain is a sharply limited character device? No – it is almost unlimited in its potential. But you must remember that you increase the power of suffering not by describing the injury or loss in greater detail, but by showing more of its causes and effect. Blood and gore eventually make the audience gag; sobbing and moaning eventually earn the audience’s laughter or contempt. On the other hand, if you make us understand how intensely the character loved before losing the loved one or trusted before being betrayed, then his grief will have far greater power, even if you show it with far greater economy. If you show a character coping with her pain or grief, refusing to succomb to it, then readers will wince or weep for her. Another rule of thumb: If your characters cry, your readers won’t have to; if your characters have good reason to cry, and don’t, your readers will do the weeping.”