My new novel, Fateful Voyage, is out this week! Yay! In honor of its release, I decided to do a blog post highlighting tips that will help you craft the perfect tragic story. How does this relate to my book launch you may wonder? Well, without giving away any spoilers, Fateful Voyage is a historical fiction/romance novel that will definitely require the tissue box. So, if you're a fan of heartbreaking tales, you may want to try your hand at writing your own sad stories. It can be hard to write sad stories as it's easy to come off as melodramatic. You do not want to use sad events just for the sake of sounding tragic.
Before we get started on the tips, can I ask you a question? Since I can’t really hear you, I’m going to, anyway: Why do you write? To inspire? To critique, teach, or motivate? To remember (or forget)? For self-expression? Because you have a fire burning in your bones, and you simply must? Out of all the perfectly legitimate reasons that you could write, I imagine you don’t do it to merely entertain. No, you want to touch your readers, move them in some way. Even cause them to cry. Enter sad stories.
Sadness is, in my opinion, one of the hardest emotions to evoke from readers. People are reluctant to feel sad. You, the writer, must coax readers to feel something they normally wouldn’t want to feel. If you’re clever, it’s easy to make people laugh, because laughing is enjoyable and desirable. Why do I want to make my readers sad? Am I a cruel monster, causing people to spill tears over stories that never happened? Maybe…but it’s so much more than that. There is beauty to be found in sorrow. Emotions are a beautiful part of what makes us human, both the good and the bad. Sadness is no different. It’s part of who we are. With that said, let’s look at some tips to crafting the perfect sad story.
Melodrama is a common pitfall in sad stories. You do not want your readers to feel like you're trying to force sympathy for your characters. Avoid overwriting tragic descriptions or emotional dialogue. This is often where melodrama creeps in.
The best way to become a better writer is to read more. If you want to know how to write sad stories, you'll have to read a lot of stories with unhappy themes and plots. Ask your friends and teachers for recommendations for sad stories. As you read, do so actively. Pay attention to how writers build their stories and characters. How do the stories start? How do they end? Why do you have an emotional response to these stories? Ask yourself these questions as you read.
Focus on Writing a Quality Story First.
People are often resentful of work that's tragic for the sake of tragedy. People appreciate good storytelling, character development, humor, and dialogue. Remember, your story and your characters come first. The tragedies they experience come second.
Really get inside your characters' heads. Establish backstories for your characters that are unrelated to the tragic events they face. Give characters believable personality traits, likes, dislikes, and other quirks. A character should not be defined solely by bad events.
Make tragedy feel organic to the story. Do not have the protagonist's mother suddenly drop dead, despite having shown no previous signs of illness. This will feel like a cheap ploy to garner sympathy. If you plan on killing off a character, offer some hints first. Maybe that character is nervous after a doctor's appointment, for example.
Add Some Humor.
A story that's too heavily invested in tragedy can rub readers the wrong way. Many incredibly sad stories offer a great deal of levity along the way. For example, John Green's bestseller The Fault In Our Stars includes a lot of humor while telling a very sad story. The film Steel Magnolias is famous for its fusion of laughter and tears. Look at these works for inspiration on how to use humor.
Remind The Reader of The Good Times During Sad Moments.
As you revise, you'll want to increase the sadness in the story. Comb through your work and look for ways you can increase the emotional intensity. One way to make sad moments sadder is to remind readers of better times. What makes sad moments upsetting is how much they contrast to happier times. This sharp contrast is often jarring. It can strike an emotional chord with readers.
Create Close Relationships Within Your Story.
Readers are more inclined to be emotionally moved by strong relationships. This makes sense. Everyone has people in life they are close to. When a story deals heavily with relationships between characters, a reader may experience a stronger emotional reaction. When writing, show how your characters are close. They can finish each other's sentences, help each other without question, and comfort each other during bad times.
Build Up to The Main Sad Event.
As you progress through your story, engage with rising action. Build up to the sad event. People are unlikely to be moved by sadness without buildup. If you're not emotionally invested in a character or a situation, you're unlikely to feel sad when reading a story. Each scene in a story should move it forward in some way. Refer to your outline when in doubt. What is your climax? How can you get your characters to this climax? Do not just focus on the actions. Pay attention to the emotional story at play. As you write these scenes, think about the heart of your story. What is the main point or realization for your characters? Each scene should build up to this point.
Draw Connections Between Tragedies.
A good way to help enhance sadness in a story is to link your tragedies. Make connections between different sad and traumatic moments. This adds extra emotional impact.
Get a Feel Going.
Play a very sad or depressing song. Often, music will unlock a feeling inside of you that cannot be brought out in any other way. You could also construct a playlist of depressing, sad songs so that you have a continuous loop of them playing.
Try to Get The Feel of What You're Writing About.
If your main character is a patient with terminal cancer (not that I’m giving any HINTS about my book), then go visit someone who has terminal cancer. If you can't find one, go online and look up some journals. Research and then research some more!
All these tips will help you write a sad story. The trick to writing a good sad story? Practice. There’s no shortcut besides this: keep writing. With practice and planning, you can write a story that will chill and/or depress even your most light-hearted readers. With that being said, if you’re looking for a sad read check out my new novel Fateful Voyage! It’s available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most major online retailers. Hopefully, it will give you a good cathartic cry.