*This article was on Fresh Fiction April 2019!
Usually, the books I love make me laugh. But…the books I love most make me cry. Anyone else out there love a good cry?
I still tear up just thinking about the on-page death of Snape and how Harry names a child after him in the Harry Potter series. Or when they have to put the dog down in Marley and Me(especially since my dog was exactly that crazy). Actually, now that I think on it, it’s true of movies as well. I can’t stand cheating stories, but the scene in The English Patient where he carries her body out of the cave still makes me sob. Or (SPOILER ALERT) Hodor holding the door in Game of Thrones.
I can tell you right now that writing a scene with that kind of emotional gut punch is difficult. I have one in my new release, The Rookie that took a lot out of me to do. My editor said, “I don’t want to see tears on page. Make the reader cry all the tears.”
What I did with that advice was reach into moments I usually prefer not to visit. I’ve been to my fair share of funerals over the years. More by my 20s than most people see until much older, thanks to a pretty rough accident. I’ve also witnessed things, sometimes in person, sometimes not, that hurt my heart. I took small snippets of those things and I put them in this scene. For example…
- Petting my dog and watching the life ebb from his eyes when we had to put him down.
- Hearing my grandmother say that she didn’t know how she could go on without my grandfather at his funeral.
- Listening to a recording of a friend saying he would see us again in heaven. He’d said those words at his brother’s funeral. The recording was played at his own funeral a year later.
- Hearing my parents’ 20- year-old cat crying and searching for her sister who they’d had to put down.
- Watching a man walk around a plane crash, looking for his brother because he didn’t believe us that his brother was in the burned wreckage.
- Watching my other grandmother sit quietly beside my grandfather in the hospital, holding his hand following the heart attack that eventually took his life.
- Staying with a friend who’d just lost her husband so the house wouldn’t be so damn quiet.
- Watching Bush 41’s dog lying at his casket.
What I realized when I started thinking through these moments, is that what ripped me apart was never the emotions I was dealing with at the time. What breaks my heart is witnessing someone else in that much pain and knowing there’s nothing I can do to stop it or make it better.
Think about your own moments like that. What sticks out? Is it you? Or is it someone else? I’ll bet, beyond the raw emotions, your memories focus on others.
Those are the moments in life—real and true and full of heart—are what I attempt to capture and put on the page in every book I write. Like in The Rookie…
One by one, the dragons surround them lay down, wings rustling as they folded them back, glowing gazes fixed on their dying friend. All except Finn, who seemed to stand guard over all of them.
It struck her then, that each man must be talking to him silently, delivering their own messages through that telepathic link. Private messages.
He’s still so alone.