Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wild Card Weekend - You Made Me Cry!

Please welcome Susan Gable to the PHS as she tells us why it's a good thing to reach for the tissues!

Sometimes I get letters from indignant readers. They say, "You made me cry!" - like it's a bad thing. My response is usually something along the lines, "Good. I cried when I wrote it. It's only fair that you cry when you read it." LOL.

I laugh when I write, too.

If the story doesn't move me, how in the world will it move my readers?

I love to roll around in emotionally messy stories. Messy characters. Because hey, aren't we all sort of like that? Don't we find ourselves in certain times of our lives, looking around and shaking our heads? Doesn't it seem like one thing leads to another thing, and another...and your life is sort of circling the drain?

I like being able to offer hope. And a happy ending. But good grief, I like making my characters work for it.

You can emotionally move your readers when you're emotionally honest on the page. Don't be afraid to engage your own feelings. Writing is a form of catharsis for me. I tend to be an emotional "stuffer" in my real life. I don't like to cry for myself. Detest it with a passion.

Crying over characters is different. I've been known to cry over commercials. One of my favorite things as an elementary teacher was reading aloud to my students. And the very best moments? When something intense is happening to one of our now-beloved characters (for example, Robin Hood, as he lays dying in Little John's arms, and shoots the arrow out the window to indicate where he should be buried), and my throat starts to swell. And I'm having trouble reading, forcing the words past the big lump in my throat. And my eyes are misting up.

And I look out at my students, and a bunch of them are crying, too. And I think...GOTCHA. I've shown these kids the power of a really good story.

When we take characters into dark places, it can be hard. But it's in facing things that hurt us the most, in doing the hard writing, that we bring the greatest depth, the greatest richness, to our writing.

There's no crime in crying in front of your computer as you write something intense for your characters. I daresay that passion is going to translate onto the page, and impact your readers.

And isn't that what we want? To move our readers? Whether we make them so angry they hate us, or make them so happy they love us...what we don't want is to be forgotten ten minutes after the book is closed. We want to be designated "a keeper." And to get that status, you have to move them.

Think about your favorite, or most memorable, books from childhood. What stands out to you? For me, one of them is Charlotte's Web. Did you read that book, or have it read to you as a kid? What do you remember most about it?

It made me cry. Here was this fabulous rich character that I was totally invested in. And know what happens to Charlotte. There's a book called Stone Fox. I'd never read it before starting to read it aloud to a class. It's the story of a boy and his sled dog, entering a race to save the family home.

Something totally unexpected happens in the book. It was well-done, and powerful...and I could barely get through reading it to the kids. And then we all sat, staring at the book, going, "Are you KIDDING me?" LOL. But it worked.

Now, as romance writers, we're obviously not going to kill off people in our books. Can't kill the hero or heroine, or you by definition no longer have a romance novel. (You have a love story, which...will probably make you a hell of a lot more money and a lot more famous. LOL. So write it if that's what you want to write. ) But you can put your characters into emotionally-fraught situations. Plot situations that lend themselves to emotion.

Emotion doesn't have to mean crying, either. Laughing is a great emotional response. And if you're going to wallop your readers with some heavy stuff, you need to give them some light, too. It not only gives them a rest from the dark, but it also gives the dark a stronger impact.

My new release features a mom whose child is seriously ill. But...that's not really what my story is about. It's about the emotional things that come about as a result of that situation. It's about the relationships in their lives that are impacted by it. My characters laugh, and cry. Sometimes they do both in the space of seconds. Just like real people do in real life.

For more details on how to infuse your writing with strong emotion, I have a handout from a workshop I've given at RWA National posted at my website.

So tell me...what recent book has stuck in your mind? Why? How about your childhood book memories? What book do you remember? Why do you suppose that book has stuck with you?

Susan Gable has sold seven books to Harlequin's Superromance line. Her books have been Rita and Golden Heart Finalists, she's been a Waldenbooks Bestseller, been three times nominated for Romantic Time's Best Superromance of the Year, and she's won numerous other awards, including the National Readers' Choice Award. Her new book, The Family Plan, got 4.5 Stars from RT. It hits shelves on July 13th, and is a savior sibling story - the story of a mom who will do just about anything to save her child's life. In the process she learns that depending on others makes you stronger, not weaker. Visit Susan's website:


  1. I will never forget reading The Pregnancy Test and crying. My husband looked over at me and asked "You are reading a romance novel, right?"
    Gosh, it's hard to think of a recent book that has stuck in my mind. I've been in kind of a daze lately. I did really like The Masque of the Black Tulip by Lauren Willig. Not b/c it was deeply emotional, but b/c it was a friends to lovers story done well. I was about half way through it when a light bulb went over my head. "This is Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter done Regency style."
    And you know, I never got quite enough Ron and Hermione for my taste. All that business about fighting dark magic and evil :-)
    I remember crying in Little House in the Big Woods when Laura thinks she's the ugly sister (probably first grade for me). Or in A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry when the main character Margaret (also the "ugly sister") deals with her beautiful sister's death. Or in Anne of the Island when Anne's childhood nemesis, Ruby Gillis dies just at the peak of her youth.
    Now I don't have a beautiful sister. I don't have a siblings at all. But I think there's something about that sense of jealousy and being the "outsider", replaced with something better. At the end, the character feels greater understanding and love and that gives me catharsis. It's how we'd all hope to be.
    I also cried at the end of a Wrinkle in Time when Meg, the protagonist, realizes the only thing she has that the villain doesn't have is the capacity to love. And that's the only way she's stronger and the only way she can beat him.
    Is it any wonder I love romance novels?

  2. Oh, Jill, I adored A Wrinkle in Time. And the Little House series was probably another of my all-time favorites. I think my favorite Little House was The Long Winter. Haven't read that particular Lois Lowry book, but The Giver by Lois Lowry certainly moved me to tears. What an amazing, amazing book.

    And I'm so glad to hear you cried in The Pregnancy Test. Those characters had me blowing my nose several times during the writing.

    Thanks for stopping in!

    I'll be this morning until about 11:00 am eastern, and then I have to go do a shift at the casino. (I've recently started working as a blackjack dealer.) I'll be back around 9:00 pm tonight. I just don't want anyone to think I'm ignoring them!!

  3. Watership Down sticks in my mind. I was in my early teens when I read it. I remember bits and pieces of it, but don't want to read it again for fear it won't have the same impact it did then. I also remember the Little House books and thinking that stuff happened on the TV show didn't happen in the books. Which is why if books go to movies, I'll do one but not the other.

  4. Marcie, you know, I've never read Watership Down. I need to put that on my reading list.

  5. I'm back if anyone wants to comment. Just got home from the casino job. :-)