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Writing a crying scene makes me accidentally do repetitions like "the tears which were on her face broke down into a slithering stream..." and then putting the word tears again and again.

What should I do to make sure I avoid that?

How can I write an effective crying scene, without repeating the same detail over and over?

  • What point of view are your writing from? – Henry Taylor Dec 13 '18 at 15:15
  • Edited the question to make it clearer and fixed the spelling error. – Reinstate Monica. Dec 13 '18 at 16:06
8

My answer is twofold:

Ensure that the set-up to the crying is well-established:

You want your reader to be able to understand why your character is crying, if you want the scene to be effective. There is an emotional setup to be done, otherwise there will be just a character crying for no clear reason. While it makes sense in some settings (e.g., a character bursting into tears for a hidden conflict that the readers or the POV characters aren't aware of) if you want to maximize the emotional impact of the scene you have to give it some context.

So, ask yourself:

  • Have I foreshadowed this scene?
  • Have I explained this character's anxieties in some previous scenes? If no, why is that?
  • What does the reader know of this character? Is the this outburst coherent with her personality?

If you want your reader to empathize with a character, it must be happen before the crying scene. As it goes with character deaths, the readers won't care if a character dies in chapter 1; they will care if a well-established character dies in chapter 20, since they will have "bonded" with him.

Once you've done this, you can:

Explore other ways of showing emotions

Crying is a quite rich emotional experience and carries a lot of physical and verbal cues; tears, sobbing, having red eyes, trembling, averting one's gaze, shrugging, sitting down in a curling position, covering one's face in shame ... there is a LOT you can do depending on the characters involved, the setting, and the main cause of the whole scene.

You may want to look into some emotion thesaurus if you want to have a nice resource to take reference from. Another way of doing that is looking at crying scenes in media, especially the most "effective" ones, and examining what the actors are doing. Yet another way is trying to remember what your sensations where the last time you cried and trying to write from your personal experience.

Again, tears are just one of multiple signals; crying rivers is surely a way to manifest sadness, but if you look around you'll fine multiple others.


To sum it up, I once had a stern, warrior like character dropping to his knees and shedding one single tear as he faced a unescapable, emotional defeat at page 80. But I had other 79 pages to build up for that single tear, establishing what was important for that guy and what the conflict was, so the scene worked without streams on streams on streams of salty tears. Of course, I'm not saying you need 79 pages too, but think about it.

3

This looks like another job for our friend Stanislavski. Stanislavski had this idea that an actor should observe themselves through reflection at the end of the day to see what they were doing with their body while they experienced different emotions. That way they could portray those emotions more convincingly.

Let's apply that to a crying scene. What others have told you about building up to it is important so I am going to only focus on the scene itself.

When did you last cry?

Think back to when you last cried.

  • Were there tears or was your chest heaving with heavy sobs.

  • Could you see clearly or was your vision blurred by tears?

  • What were your hands doing? I bet they were wiping tears or reaching for a tissue.

  • Did you look at someone or stare at the floor?

  • What else do you recall about your body language?

  • Were you just weeping or did the events that led to that play out in your head over and over again?

Think about right after you last cried

  • How did you feel? Were you drained or energised?

  • What did your throat feel like?

  • How did your stomach feel?

  • Did you feel foolish or calm following an emotional release?

  • How did you dry your eyes?

When did you last comfort someone crying? (or watched someone doing so)

Think back to the last time you had a crying friend to deal with. Or even witnessed someone else comforting a crying person.

What was the other person doing?

  • Were there hugs?

  • Did they pat on the shoulder?

  • What other physical contact did you see?

  • How comfortable (or uncomfortable) do they seem? Same question for anyone looking on.

What did the crying person look like?

  • Were their eyes red or puffy?

  • Did their shoulders shake as they wept?

  • Did they seem to shrink or curl up?

  • What happened to their voice? (Did it get quieter or louder?)

  • If they had makeup on, what did the tears do to it?

  • Is their nose in need of a wipe (quite common that one)

  • Are they doing anything to self-comfort? If you have seen it, you know what I mean.

Think about if the crying person is able to curl up or offered a hug

  • You might have seen them press their face against their arm or on to someone's shoulder. The saying you should be thinking of exists for a reason.

  • How did their body language and overall demeanour change?

  • Were they then able to calm down?

Put that onto the page

Take some of those remembered details and put them onto the page. You've mentioned, as you say, the tears enough that the reader must surely be shouting, "we get it, they are crying." So, you don't need to dwell there but show us in other ways what goes with the crying.

By expanding the realism of the tears beyond the face to body language, their tone of voice, behaviour, and so forth, you make it much easier to empathise through the power of imagination. You do not need to be heavy handed. Just flavour the text with little details here and there.

A quick dab at the eyes, later on, might be all you need to remind the reader that the character has been crying.

Tears are a fraction of the crying experience. To put us in the moment, bring the rest of it to life. Give us enough detail to physically remember crying or watching someone cry and you will put us in the moment so vividly that some readers may feel themselves welling up.

In short, show us what crying feels like; remind us enough that we feel it.

3

Do consider why you're choosing to write a crying scene. What it means; how it develops; what you're hoping to get out of it.

Because I think a fair bet is: the point isn't to observe, in minute detail, this one character crying. It's not about how much or how long or how hard they cry.

Instead, it's probably about something else:

  • Why the character is in such distress
  • How another character is working to help and make things better
  • How fragile and emotional the character is (or, how dramatic and manipulative...)
  • ...

So, there's a sharp limit to how much you even want the physical act of crying to be the focus of the scene. Instead, you probably want to identify the deeper significance, and spotlight that -- through the crying, but not only through that.

Look for what else the character needs to do; what else the scene needs to carry. If you've got a character who's only crying, then obviously that's going to be repetetive -- try and find more for that character to do in the scene! They can demonstrate despair in words; they can develop their relationship with the protagonist in this moment of truth; they can reveal poignant backstory that makes the reader sob along with the character. And if none of these is already present in your scene -- consider coming up with something, and writing it in :) Because a character with nothing to do but weep, will certainly be repetitive.

All the best!

2

Avoid filter words where we "observe the observer".

Filter words are a list of common verbs. The problem is they describe a character as if the reader is viewing them from the outside. Rather than feeling the emotions ourselves, and projecting our own empathy onto the character, we watch the character show visible signs of their emotions, or reactions, as if they are actors on a stage.

The words are a "filter" (bad) that prevent the reader from feeling the pure emotions for themselves (good).

The effect of jumping "outside" the person who is crying, is that we question what she is really feeling. Is it an act? Is she manipulating us with crocodile tears?

The irony is when we are sure of our emotions, we will project them onto the character. The character can attempt to "hide" their feelings but we "see" through them. Filter words calls that empathy question. We are being given "facts" like a courtroom, she had tears on her face but was she really sad? This might be the effect you are going for.

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Well, once you establish someone has burst into tears, it's not required to really add to that beyond the establishment. Maybe if another character joins through empathy you mention them following suit, but essentially, once the detail is established, it's fine to go unmentioned. From that point onwards, instead show how it affects their actions, their miserable speech.

Are they hiccoughing so much that they can't properly articulate their words? Are they giving crocodile tears? The surrounding actions beyond the streaming tears hold the key to the emotional impact of the scene, not the action of crying itself.

0

I think Standback has a great perspective here.

Answer: Symptoms of crying are one thing. But you can do other things with this emotion, and you should.

You can go into the character's thought process.

If the character is crying because of a death, that grief will dredge up every other death the character has gone through. She will miss the person who just died, but suddenly also miss her abuela, and her zio, and so on. The people who might have comforted her if they were around, but their deaths had been so hard as well, because (specific reasons).

She might be in the throes of crying and it might feel like she has no control over it. It's like her body has taken over. She might wonder in the back of her mind how much snot a person can actually make? Because she had no idea she had that much inside her. She might think that at least she'll feel better when she's done.

Things might appear smeary. Her pillow might be getting damp which sucks because it won't dry out by bedtime.

She might worry that someone will overhear her, and know that she can't really stop crying because it hurts so bad. It's that unfair, this death piled on top of (specific things).

She might wonder if she will always be so prone to emotion. She might think of all the people who've told her to stop being so sensitive. She might consider that a stronger person wouldn't cry, a stronger person would find a way to soldier through. But she wasn't strong--she never had been, that wasn't who she was.

In other words, get past the symptoms, especially if we are able to be in her point of view, and use this great emotion as an opportunity to flesh out her past and character.

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