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I am writing a scene in which I want to show how my MC is still weak and vulnerable. My character is emotionally strong, but I am not able to describe a scene where she is crying in a room alone, so she doesn't seem as strong as she thinks she is. How do you write about vulnerability without explicitly stating that?

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! Currently, your question is at risk of being closed, as it's unclear what exactly you're having difficulty with. What sort of advice are you looking for regarding this?
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 13, 2021 at 20:46
  • Hi Valerie. Can you be more specific about your problem. Why can't you write a scene showing your character crying in a room alone? Apr 18, 2021 at 15:56

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Crying? Who, Me? (sniff):

I think you want something like this:

MC is reflecting on the person (tough characters are usually too busy saving the world to cry in the moment that something bad happens, it's a crisis-management thing), thinking about the great features of the dead person, how they'll miss them, endearing personal details, etc. They find tears welling up, and deny it (Damn allergies). Then they do the go-to tough thing, and get angry at themselves for showing feeling, and angry at the dead person (they aren't That great! {sob}).

Finally they insist they aren't going to cry, at which point they begin sobbing so uncontrollably they can't breathe and the air comes in through ragged gasps. They need to sit down and roll up in a ball because they can't move and start shaking uncontrollably. Drool or snot is a little over the top, but makes for good color.

The crying at this point is about lots of other things than the dead person: their parents, lost relationships, their childhood dog, and so on, but they never mourned any of those things, and they all keep slamming into the MC until they have nothing left.

If they have a companion (you said no, but stories change), they snuggle into them like a child until the crying passes, possibly until they fall asleep, or otherwise until they calm enough (still crying) to again get angry at themselves over their display (potentially setting off another round of bawling).

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A word of advice, always avoid the word "I" when writing a question. They tend to close it.

As for your question:

People tend to act very differently after they have witnessed the loss of a loved one. If you are writing a book, then I would suggest that you build your character strong by showing off their traits at different moments. A simple search on google could be enough to know what are the traits of an emotionally strong person.

People tend to act very differently after they have witnessed the loss of a loved one

More importantly, you should show why are they being strong: is it because they are having trouble moving on? Or they are being strong for someone else like a younger sibling, another parent, or anything else. And by "show", I mean as in "Show; don't tell."

Now going to the first part again:

Your character is human and has emotions like a normal human being, so when the MC doesn't deal with their grief, they tend to go out of their character. They are mostly angry, they flip out on anyone, at any time for trivial reasons; they talk less and avoid interaction, and... don't make the right decisions. And this, until now, what we have discussed is all build-up to the breakdown scene.

The breakdown

As build-up can be for various reason, a breakdown can be caused by numerous reasons too. When they are confronted point-blank about "it", they will flip out and try to hurt the confronting person (with words ofc) too. And if you keep this long enough, the MC will definitely break. Or when they are alone, a special thing or some situation (like falling off an album or playing of a recorded message) can bring back some memories. Or the classic, breaking down when no one is around. Of course, these all are examples; you can be creative all you want.

What about short stories?

In short stories, you began the story after the build-up phase -- assuming your story is not tragic, or your plot is based on the MC's breakdown -- this also helps the story start on action. To explain the build-up, you can put a small paragraph or a dialogue explaining the backstory briefly.

Example

I recently completed a story on this same topic. The MC in the story is still dealing with her father's death. Due to this, in the first part of the story, she appears timid and a loner. And when a boy tries to help her, she flips out on him, stating that he will leave her too. Thus, exploring her insecurities. But once she starts to deal with these emotions, her character becomes more assertive as the story progress.

“I want your diary,” he repeated calmly.

“No way!” I glowered.

“You have mine, don’t you?”

“You gave it to me, on your own WILLINGNESS. You can have the damn thing back,” I said, punching the diary on his chest.

“I don’t want it back, Zea…”

“Then what do you want, Davis? Why did you ask me? What is it? You wanna hang out with me, or––or want to have some kind of relation… or you just waltz in here, being charming and smiling, then leave me — alone and broken,” tears heaped up in my eyes, as I took rapid breaths.

“Zea, none of it is true, and people just don’t come and go in life.”

“DON’T THEY? One morning you wake up, and they are gone, just gone, leaving you all alone. And they are so arrogant, they think they don’t own an explanation to you, or even have the courtesy to say goodbye. They all go, Davis. They all go.”

Before this scene, the story showed how nervous and uncertain she is, and as we look into her thoughts, we know that she has no interest in the present moment. Since it was a short story, you can see how close the build-up and the breakdown is: first, she flips out for a simple reason, and then as her anger gushes out, she breaks down. Three paragraphs later, you know why she broke down.

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  • When people die, their loved ones cry. That's natural. So your question: how to make her cry? Is improper. It's like asking why peter parker cried over the death of his uncle? Your main question should be how do make her seem vulnerable? Based on how your character is, the way they deal with this is different. But everyone cries!
    – Momobear
    Apr 14, 2021 at 2:02
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Make it less obvious that she cried. Say something like, she was so sad that her cheeks turned salty and dry or that her face and/or clothes turned wet. Write it in a way that, at first, she ignored the whole act of crying and tried to supress it, and later realised that it's ok.

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