"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, May 10, 2009


What moves you to tears?

I've been thinking about this a ton. In my list of goals as a writer (come on, we all have one, and if we don't, we should), someday I want my writing to move someone to tears. I want to make a reader cry. And cry from the words touching their emotions, not any of the other many sarcastic remarks which could be interjected at this point.

So now I have new sensors up when I read.
  • What is it that makes me cry?
  • Which specific words or sentences brings the tears to my eyes?
  • Can I pinpoint these occurrences and learn from them?
  • Is it necessary to care about the characters? (I have my own opinion on this, but I'm curious what others think)

I cry at lots of silly things. More so since I have kids. Commercials get me. Movies big time. Seriously, I needed a box of tissues next to me for the entire LORD OF THE RINGS viewing (Especially at the end when Aragorn bowed to the Hobbits). And yes, I KNOW I will be wiping tears during STAR TREK probably from the first scene on (but on this one it's the nostalgia of it all).
And I did cry when Tasha Yar died.

Books I've read this year which have resulted in tears in my eyes:

Wow, in listing them it seems like there should be more. And though these aren't in this year, two books I have to mention are:

So help me out here. What brings you to tears? What books have done it for you? Give me all your deep down thoughts on tears. MG vs. YA? Fantasy vs. Reality. Etc. Etc. Don't hold back!


Rena said...

Usually the loss of an pet, especially if it belonged to a child.

PJ Hoover said...

Totally, Rena! Pets really get to us, don't they. And small children. Combine the two and tears are almost guaranteed.

Danyelle said...

Cruelty to children. Chinese Cinderella had me in tears. Death. I cried over Just One Wish. Janette Rallison also moves me to tears in her other books, but those are tears from laughing so hard, so probably not what you're looking for. ;-)

Anita said...

I cried so much with A SINGLE SHARD, I had a headache for a day...same when the Weasley twin died (that still hurts my heart to type). Of course, WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS got to me...the kids just watched the movie tonight and two of the came into my room in tears. Tomi DePaola's BABY SISTER always gets to me, even though I've read it a million times.
Hmm...for some reason, this is harder...maybe because I read a lot of mysteries, which are not real tear jerkers. I recently read THE GLASS CASTLE and that made me cry. I can't think of any others!

PJ Hoover said...

Yes, Danyelle! Children really have a way of pulling on our heartstrings, don't they. I guess because they, like pets, are innocent.

OMG, Anita. Where the Red Fern Grows is a tear jerker totally! And me, too, on the Weasley twin. in that case i think it was because I cared about the character.


T. Anne said...

I teared up pretty good reading A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I just finished reading the Gregor the Overland series by Suzanne Collins and she made me tear up in several, if not all, of the books. I felt as exhausted as the characters and usually when you think they are safe and they'll be okay, someone dies. I cried for characters I didn't think mattered. I was amazed at how deftly she made me care enough to cry without feeling manipulated.

PJ Hoover said...

I've heard that about that book, T. Anne. I'm not sure I'm emotionally up to the challenge :)

I certainly teared up in The hunger Games, Sherrie. She must have learned the secret!


beth said...

What matters the most to me is

1) How I feel about that character/situation


2) How the other characters feel about that character/situation

Although I cry easily at commercials, movies, etc., I don't cry easily at books--I think because I subconsciously know that if I cry, I won't be able to read any more, and I don't want to cry that hard.

The last time I WEPT at a book--and I mean WEPT, had to go out of the room and wash my face WEPT--was when Sirius died in the Harry Potter books. And it was 100% because 1) I loved that character and 2) Harry's grief was so real to me. Later, when Dumbledore died, I didn't cry--in part because I (like Harry) was in shock, but also because his death didn't yet have any emotional impact. At the funeral, when they say goodbye--that's when I cried. I think the difference, though subtle, is significant. I cry when the characters greive--I empathize with the main character in particular.

Keri Mikulski said...

When something hits home and reminds me of something in my own life.

Usually, I shy away from books that I think will make me cry, but ones I've recently read for my column have brought me to tears - mostly about death. For the first time, I wrote something in a ms recently that brought me to tears.

When I teach I use this quote:
"No tears in the writer. No tears in the reader." - Robert Frost

Love it. :)

Christina Farley said...

The pet thing for me too. And anyone hurting kids. That totally pulls every string in me.

Robyn said...

Black Beauty and Where the Red Fern Grows, two of my fav books.

I'm trying to write a book that will make a reader want to cry, hope I succeed, because those books are the best! :)

Lady Glamis said...

Movies make me cry the most. I think it's the music that does it. If books came with a soundtrack to listen to as you read, I might cry more, LOL!

Things that make me cry in books:

~The death of a beloved of the main character. That's huge. If the character doesn't cry, but you know they want to, the reader most likely will cry for them.

~lyrical scenes that are emotionally charged. You can tell if the writer was moved. If they were, that will usually transfer to the reader. I hope...

Lauren said...

It's not just when a character (especially when that character is a child or a pet) dies, but how the other characters react that make me tear up.

PJ Hoover said...

I got pretty sad about Sirius Black, too, Beth. But I kept thinking maybe he'd come back. Sigh.

Very nice quote, Keri! I love it! Thank you for posting it!

Pets and kids, Christina. They're both so innocent and helpless, aren't they.

I hope you succeed too, Robyn, and then I can read it!

The music always gets me too, Michelle. I am in awe of soundtracks when they have the power to do that. It's so cool!

Seeing the other characters react is huge, Lauren. I agree! This is what can really do it for me.

Thanks for all the input!

C.R. Evers said...

well . . . I try to avoid books that make me cry, so it has been a while since a book has brought me to tears. I think the closest that I've come was when I read "Skin Deep" toward the end. Death will usually bring the tears out for me.

adrienne said...

Death, obviously...but also leaving part of childhood behind and any permanent separation really get to me. A few books that come to mind are The Little Prince, House at Pooh Corner and Flowers for Algernon.

PJ Hoover said...

I've shunned them a bit in the past, Christy, but I think I'm going to start reading a few more.

Great point, Adrienne. Leaving behind innocence and childhood. Very good!

Anonymous said...

Such a good post! This is so important for me to be thinking about as I get started on my new YA. It's a historical, and I've found that--when I'm doing research I can read about things that would be very hard for me to face, except they're part of history & that time factor seems to add some distance. This is great for the research, but I'm realizing I absolutely CAN'T let this distance creep into my YA as I write--because I don't want to ease the impact of what I'll be writing about. Tough task, but good to have it to focus on.

What makes me cry? Cancer. Finality of loss. Dead-end situations that reek of frustration and head-banging-against-walls.

PJ Hoover said...

So many parts of history are so sad, Becky, and to be able to capture that on the page really makes a powerful historical novel. My husband has made me promise to read Uncle Tom's Cabin. He says it is one of the most powerful books he's read.
So now you and I can do our crying research together :)

Cindy said...

Interesting topic. I told my husband once that I wanted to make people cry when they read my books. Sounds kind of odd, but it means that I've inspired an intense emotion and I would love to do that with my books.

With books, mostly what makes me cry is a happy ending. I love when things turn out they way they're supposed to. When relationships come together or someone is forgiven. When characters are healed or go through tremendous growth and arrive more whole and happier on the other side of their trials. Yay happy endings!

PJ Hoover said...

It really does mean you've touched emotion, doesn't it, Cindy. Happy endings are wonderful. I think of Lord of the Rings here. It was touching and happy and I cried.
Thanks for visiting!

Sarah Rettger said...

The Actor & The Housewife, Shannon Hale's latest adult fic, left me with tears dripping off my face by the end - and yet the first two-thirds of the book are incredibly funny and there's no hint that something bad will happen. (The last third is funny too, but with the addition of "something bad.")

The other two memorable ones are Fact of Life #31 and A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life.

(Word verification: offers. Yes, I'd like one - or several - but I have to finish the WIP first!)

PJ Hoover said...

Wow, Shannon Hale's book sounds fantastic, Sarah. I will have to check it out!

Justus M. Bowman said...

Excellent question and a reasonable goal. I'll keep this post in mind.

I won't list everything I've cried about (not that's there been a lot - no, really), but I'll give you this:

When an innocent man was murdered (or so I thought) in The Village, I stopped watching and, uh, bawled. He was like a child in the sense that he didn't understand violence, and it hurt too that he probably felt at least a little betrayed. Prolonged scene. Awful.

Scott said...

Little House on the Prarie. I can't make it through an episode without crying.

Sometimes, the emotion behind the emotion - a man is ranting at his mother in anger because he is hurt by the lie she told.

Books that made me cry:

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery (p.s. the movie makes me cry as well)

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. OMG, the book is so full of joy and sorrow.

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos. Pull out the box of Kleenex.

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

There are so many more, but I can't think of them at the moment.

I'm with you on Lord of the Rings. The movies make me cry every time. You'd think I'd be over it after watching them a dozen times, but . . . noooooo!

I also think that making people cry is an innate talent. It shouldn't be planned or forced. "It" should just happen. Forget the sensors and just write. Let the words flow naturally and, so I believe, the tears will come.

Example: LOTR, when Merry and Pippin are saying good-bye because Pippin looked into the Palantir . . . OMG, the movie captured that scene and made me feel their pain and loss. Yes, I cried. I did not in the book. Somehow, the imagery of the movie brought tears to my eyes.

I've also noticed, with my own writing, that more often than not, on a re-read of what I've written, I might cry (no, not because the writing is really bad) because the emotions behind the scene suddenly become evident. The hurt behind the anger seems to swell forth, or perhaps the love behind the distance between two characters, and so many other things.


Angela said...

MANY STONES by Carolyn Coman
ANIMAL DREAMS by Barbara Kingsolver
THE SUBTLE KNIFE by Philip Pulman

I agree... the loss of a pet or sibling or best friend of a child.

For an adult / YA I think that overpowering feeling of regret.

One reason why THE SUBTLE KNIFE is so powerfully painful is that they must be separated soon after they learn what love is and the idea of so many years apart in their own worlds. I seriously can't read that book aloud without crying.

Whenever I get a bit too hyper my family offers to take out the book and have me read it.

PJ Hoover said...

Oy, good reason for me not to watch The Village, Justus. But man, does that kind of thing really get to us. Thanks for visiting!

Too funny, Scott! Shows like Little House really do have that effect, don't they. And yes, on the visual imagery of things like LOTR. how about the part where Pippin lights the fire and then the next fire is lit, etc, etc. That got me.
Loved Time Traveler's Wife. I am really looking forward to her next book as she truly does have the innate ability. Thanks for visiting!

Oh, Angela, I totally forgot about The Subtle Knife, but I was right there with you. It was so so sad. Heartbreaking. That is such a perfect example because it's not like the books are sappy or anything.

Thanks for all the input!

Miriam S.Forster said...

I don't tear easily. There's a fine line for me between a book so affecting that I tear up and a book so depressing that I have to stop reading.

Mostly I cry at things that resonate with my own experiences. I did tear up reading "Alive and Well in Prauge, New York", mainly because of the character's relationship with her dad.

I'd love to write something that makes people cry. Maybe someday...

Litgirl01 said...

Susan Boyle's performance made me cry buckets! I loved her courage! :-) I cry during performances... plays, music, etc. I don't know why...I always have.

Davin Malasarn said...

I'm so glad you mentioned the Lord of the Rings bowing scene. I had never cried at a movie until that!

I love it when a reader cries after reading something I wrote. I think that's my favorite compliment, and it's rare.

Corey Schwartz said...

A Thousand Splendid Suns got me too. I cry at a lot of things, but there is a something about someone making a huge sacrifice for someone else that really gets me.

Kelly said...

I bawled in the last Harry Potter when my favorite character died (same as Anita's). I was reading it aloud to my son and broke down!
I teared up when reading The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, it just reminded me of how many sacrifices parents make for their children.
I cried while reading Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes.
Love Me Forever by Robert Munsch makes my husband cry!
I'm sure there's more! Great topic!

PJ Hoover said...

Yes, I totally don't want to be depressed, Miriam. I want to be moved. This is a gift. Someday we will both write something with this power!

Oh, me too, Litgirl!!!! This totally had me in tears from like the first second. Wow. Now that is power!

It was the best scene, David! Loved it! And when someone tells me I've moved them to tears, I know I will be hugely complimented. Someday!

Sacrifice is a big one, Corey. It really has a way of making us care.

So did your son then cry, Kelly? I've often wondered what will make my kids cry. Animals is huge.
There are definitely moving picture books. There was one by Max Lucado I just couldn't read.

Thanks for visiting, everyone!

PJ Hoover said...

And Davin, I did mean Davin, not David :)

Rebecca said...

Books that have turned on the eye-faucet for me:

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Unwind by Neal Shusterman

PJ Hoover said...

I think I'm going to add Unwind to my reading list for the year, Rebecca. It's just coming up over and over again.

Lenore said...

I have to be invested in a character to cry when something bad happens to them when reading. I cry much more easily in movies. The sad music gets me every time!

Sadako said...

Oh, man, I loved That Was Then, This is Now. Oh, S.E. Hinton, have to go back and read it.

Also agree that the loss of a pet/dog makes me cry!

Stacy Nyikos said...

Just about anything that pulls at a strong emotion, happiness, sadness, jealousy, anger. If it's strong, the tears start flowing

PJ Hoover said...

Me too, Lenore, which is why I am so amazed and awed when I cry while reading. It is so much harder to grab a reader than a viewer.

I was thinking the same thing, Sadako, that I want to go back and re-read That was Then, This is now!

I teared up in your book, Stacy, but that was last year so you didn't make the list :)

Thanks, everyone!

Kelly H-Y said...

Since I became a mother, I can't handle anything involving children being hurt, mistreated, killed, etc. .... I can't even bring myself to read stories that involve such themes. I did read "The Shack" at the end of last year ... someone convinced me to ... I'm glad I did, but - at the same time - I was miserable ... it absolutely broke my heart.

PJ Hoover said...

Oh, I am so with you, Kelly H-Y! Having kids turned me into a total sop. I cry over everything. It started at conception.

Lynnette Labelle said...

A story will make me cry if I've had a chance to get to know the character and then either they die or someone they care about does.

Lynnette Labelle

PJ Hoover said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Lynette! Dying really has power when we care.

TJ Brown said...

That was Then, This is Now. Totally. A haunting little book. Also, Gods in Alabama.

Shelli said...

it woudl be easier to tell what I DONT cry at - I am a sucker for crying at anything happy or sad.

PJ Hoover said...

I know, Teri! I think I read TWTTIN ten times when I was younger and cried every single time.

Too funny, Shelli! Sometimes that's exactly how I feel!