There is a specific kind of scene that I want to write, where the protagonist has just killed his brother and he starts to cry. But I don't want to explicitly state that he's crying, either by stating it, or alluding to it, like saying: Hot tears roll down his cheeks What I specifically want are the 'sounds' of crying, but truly agonized crying.

The only thing I have at the moment is the following:

Brook turns around, stepping away from his brother's body. He's breathing heavily.


He takes another step away, and turns around.


He falls to his knees.


That's literally it. I'm not sure how to write what I want in a way that the readers will understand what's happening. I don't want to explicitly state what's happening because the whole thing with this character is that he doesn't understand what he's feeling, but his body reacts to it. If anyone has ever watched the English dub of One Piece, the scene where Luffy is

crying at Ace's death

That is the kind of crying that I want to describe.

I hope I have adequately described my dilemma.

*Edit: I am writing a novel, not a screenplay

  • Welcome to Writing.SE! Are you writing a novel or a screenplay? The structure of your writing, and your use of present tense, suggest you're writing a screenplay, but your mention of "the readers" suggests you're writing a novel (as screenplays are meant to be acted out, not read). I think the answer will differ depending on which one you're writing, so if you could edit the question to clarify, we'll be able to help you more effectively.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 13:40
  • 1
    Edited the main question to specify that it is a novel I am writing. Sorry for the lack of distinction. This is literally my first question on here :D Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 13:45
  • 2
    Would you consider descriptions (other than outright stating he's crying), or do you want it handled directly through dialogue? (For the record, without your explanations I would not have understood what's going on. I would have thought the MC is hysterically laughing, then screaming, and finally retching.)
    – Llewellyn
    Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 16:50
  • Through dialogue. You see why it's a problem then, if that's how you read it. There is something like what I want in how you described the dialogue. Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 17:34

4 Answers 4


Though it isn't in dialogue form I believe this sort of sentence meets your goals:

"A strange shuddering and filled his chest and a choked wheeze escaped his throat. He fell to his knees as the shuddering grew more violent and he began producing noises like that of a strangled animal."

The language is vague enough that you don't outright say he's crying, but it still provides a visceral picture of the event. Use words like "strange" or "unfamiliar" to show he doesn't understand the reaction. I would also recommend the use of figurative language in this situation. That could help you describe the sound, while avoiding any unclear onomatopoeias.

  • That's a great idea! It's a lot more personal and impactful. I wrote the extract above in third person, but it will be a first-person novel, with varying perspectives. Thanks for the advice! Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 22:18

Don't say it - describe it:

You want to indicate the character is crying, while THEY don't understand they're crying, and you don't want to SAY they're crying.

So don't say they are crying. But deep sorrow is a full body experience. Every part of a person and every action they take will be overwhelmed with the reaction.

Their throat will feel constricted, their breath will be short, breathing will be in labored gasps, and their nose starts running. Their heart races while feeling like it's being crushed. The feeling of nausea in their stomach twists into a tighter and tighter knot as uncontrolled contractions jerk through their diaphragm. Their legs go weak and they need to hold themselves up against the wall. The rush of blood to the head makes them dizzy, and the muscles throughout the body ache from tension. A general feeling of dread and panic will be mixed with memories of every warm moment they had with the person (maybe describing the person sobbing uncontrollably as a child while their brother tended a scraped knee). PERHAPS runny droplets of blood drip off the person's face. Incoherent noises come raggedly from them, interrupted by choking sounds, followed by a keening wail they finally realize is coming from themselves. The eyes burn as they blink uncontrollably. They try to swallow but can't.

But don't say they are crying.

  • Sorry for only replying now. Been a busy past couple of days. I hear what you're saying, and I understand the technique and its effectiveness, but its not quite in the style of my novel. I'm making emotions like this so great its almost unsayable the depth of it. But considering the other answers, I think I will need to do something like you suggested. Thank you for the advice. Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 19:37
  • @PoseidonofSea No troubles, everyone's got their own style, but we can't know it without reading it. If you like it, upvote it.
    – DWKraus
    Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 21:40

The thing you need to get across to your audience is emotion. I can tell that is what you want to convey, but you're trying to do that with dialog rather than other forms of text. Instead of using dialog to explain crying (which might come across as something else) you can try this:

Brook's vision blurrs, trying to make sense of what just happened, the reality of what just happened crushing him, opening up a void in his body that can't be filled. He turns around, trying not to look at his brothers body, still and lifeless. He raised his hands to his eyes, trying in vain to stop the flow of tears streaming from them.

This isn't the greatest example of what I'm trying to explain since I don't have a lot of backstory of to what's happening right now, but you get the idea. You feel the ache in his heart from seeing his brother dead. That's what your trying to show.

If you are having a hard time trying to get that emotion through to paper, something easy to do is to remember the last time you lost someone dear to you, whether it be a friends, family member, or cherished pet. If nothing lile that has happened to you, you can read up on how people have felt when a family memebr had died. This link is one I found helpful.

Hope that helped.

  • Thanks for the link, I think it will definitely be useful. It seems the other people answering my question agree that I can't really communicate crying without describing it, and not through dialogue. Especially since the emotions of my character fluctuate a lot. Goes from extreme hate to extreme despair. Extreme in the emotion department is a key feature of my novel. Emotion that affects you down to your very soul. Thank you for your advice. I think I'll mark this question as answered. Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 19:44
  • You're welcome! I'm glad this helped Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 21:15

How would you do it if it were a screenplay? You would not!
You would indicate actor crying and let the actor & director show it.

How should you do it in a book? You should not do that! You describe what is going on , why the player is crying , the players appearance, actions, and other visible things, but also possibly thoughts, and reactions of others that indicate the severity of the crying.

Trying to replace boohoohoo or waaah with some other wordings being said would not be as good for either form unless it was a joke of sorts with someone not really crying but saying boohoohoo sarcastically.

  • I understand how those can appear sarcastic, but it was the staple words one would use to indicate the sounds of crying. I wanted words that are more visceral Commented Sep 30, 2020 at 19:39

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