Are there any techniques which writers can use to really touch the character, and make them feel really emotional because of your writing?

I'm trying to improve a dystopian piece of writing.

I stood there, in front of it. I could feel my emotions toppling outside of my mind as I began unleashing my hatred upon the ones that did this. I could not hold back my sorrow, and I shed a tear. The creature stretched its great neck forward and my tear fell onto its long cheek. It ran down the beast's face and dropped onto the floor.

During this paragraph I focused on a tear, is this a good idea?

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    If it helps, my high school English teacher forbade us from using the trope of "a single tear falling" because he had gotten tired of seeing it for 30 years. Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 20:00
  • Is there any other ways I can express sadness physically (not feelings or things inside the character's head) while still keeping an extremely dystopian atmosphere? Throughout the entire piece of writing I have built a gray, sad atmosphere to build up to this paragraph where the character 'reveals' their feelings. Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 20:03
  • The character can weep, sob, wail, cry, or blubber — I'm just commenting on "I shed a tear," that particular phrasing. Commented Dec 15, 2015 at 20:47
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    Write a book that is really bad and then charge a lot of money for it. Then when the reader realizes they were ripped off, they will feel very sad and sorrowful. :-)
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 21:46

3 Answers 3


In order to find ways to invoke sadness in others, it's best to try to understand what makes you sad.

Everyone has been sad at some point in their lives, so it's easy to know what sadness looks like and feels like. However a lot of people don't really think about why those things make them sad. This can be said about a lot of emotions, but sadness is one in particular that people don't care to dwell on (for obvious reasons).

This is why it is probably it is one of the most difficult things to portray in pieces of writing. A lot of the times people attempting to create sadness create sad people to try to get others to be sad through empathy. But unless you already massively empathize with the character, it is difficult to pull off.

It is similar in your excerpt. From that short bit of writing I understand that the creature is sad, but that doesn't make me sad. When I then read some of the comments you had written about the backstory of the character and reread the question, it affected me more, as it was now in more of a context. I understood the creature better and could empathize a little with where its heartache stemmed from.

My suggestion is to watch/ read/ experience things that make you sad, and try to think about and analyze why they make you sad. You need to dig deeper and find out the emotions and reasons for how this sadness has developed.

Many things can evoke sadness: fear, loss, longing, pain (physical or emotional), regret, anger, disappointment, frustration. Even some positive emotions can incite sadness in the correct context. Off the top of my head I can think of 4 things that never fail to set me off into floods of tears, and they couldn't be any more different from each other.

It is all about making the reader become invested in something first, and then changing the thing in which they have become invested in a way that can cause sadness. Ultimately, sadness is the destination, the journey to get there will be accessing other emotions within the reader.


To make the reader sad I would focus more on what event is making the narrator sad rather than on describing their sadness. Not that there is anything wrong with describing emotion, and your excerpt seems pretty well written to me, but reading about how someone else feels sad is not what makes me sad. Describing their tears is certainly part of the story, but what is more likely to bring tears to my eyes is reading a vivid description of a good character dying, or suffering pain or bereavement, or being betrayed, or losing their chance of happiness.

Am I right in thinking that the "great creature" (I imagined it as a good dragon) mentioned in your quote has been wounded or harmed by the bad guys? That made me sad.

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    No, it is a massive gray creature with 6 spindly arms and too many black eyes to count. Its skin is pale and anaemic and its form is hunched. It was once human, it has been consumed by something I only described as 'ichor' earlier in the story. Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 6:57
  • That sounds a truly pitiable fate, which is more or less my point - the way to evoke sadness in your audience in this case would primarily be to describe the suffering of the once-human creature, perhaps contrasting its wretched state now with the vigorous human it once was. Describing the sadness of the narrator at seeing this has its place too, but is secondary. Commented Dec 16, 2015 at 7:32

I think the key to making the reader feel sad is to get them emotionally invested in the characters.

For example, I'm reminded of a book I read years ago where a character was introduced, and in the space of just a page or two the writer described some tragedy in her life and then described her crying and screaming. And I thought: That was way too fast. I haven't had time to get invested in this character.

That is, suppose that the person that you love the most in the world, your wife or your mother or the buddy that you went through hell in the war with or whatever, came to you with tears rolling down their face and said, "Oh, I just don't know what to do, please help me." It is likely that you would be instantly sympathetic and want to know what's wrong.

Now suppose you were walking down the street and some total stranger came up and did exactly the same thing. Your reaction would likely be to flippantly say, "Hey, I'm sorry, but I can't help you."

Likewise, if you want the reader to feel sorry for a character, you have to build up a connection between the character and the reader. You have to get the reader to like the character, to get him interested in what he or she is doing and what is happening to them. THEN we may care when they have problems.

Skillful wording of the description of their unhappiness is certainly a plus. But frankly I think it's the lesser element. I've read plenty of stories wherer the writer gets me involved with a character, and then throws in a totally stark description of a tragedy. Like, "And then George turned around and Sally was gone." If I care about George and Sally, and I understand that they are some place where being separated is a serious problem, this is enough to make me understand George's panic and fear. It doesn't need a lot of flowery words.

On the converse, though, if a story began, "George and Sally were travelling far from home. They were walking through the streets of a strange city when suddenly George realized that Sally was gone. He was filled with panic and fear. He could feel himself shaking. What, he wailed to himself, will I do?" The writer could go on and on and I probably still won't care, because I don't care about the character yet.

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