How To Evoke Sadness As An Emotion In Your Writing


To successfully write a novel with weight or substance, you have to understand the difference between sentimentality and truth.

Sentimentality is manipulative and unsurprising.  It’s the easy words that have always been used to signify certain emotions without actually moving someone into feeling them. Oscar Wilde said, “A sentimentalist is simply one who desires to have the luxury of emotion without paying for it.”

In a similar vein, James Joyce said, “Sentimentality is unearned emotion.”  The sadness can’t be forced or formulaic, but it’s important to always look for a way to move people, to add meaning, with more than laughter.

You provoke tears or deep emotion when you open a genuine window into who you are or who someone else is. Sadness has to be authentic, so you need to maintain that authenticity in your framing of the emotional moment. Resist the impulse to overplay it.

It’s important to remember that emotion is inside of you—you just need to access it and put it on the page.  In fiction writing, you might achieve this by doing some writing exercises or prompts that help you tap into your own emotions and then translating those feelings to your characters’ emotional states. Or, you might find yourself getting deep into your characters’ heads and using their backstories to connect to your characters’ emotions.

It’s not a soap opera; if your subject is experiencing real pain, they’re doing all of the work for you.

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