Just recently, I’ve rediscovered anime. I’ve fallen out of it for years, much of it the same ol’ same ol’. But now, the latest exports from Japan have really stepped up in telling very sophisticated and absolutely miserable sob fests.
One of my favorites is Death Parade. The title of the show is absurd. The opening credits are way absurd. But the series tells these delicate stories of realizing who we are after we die.
We learn of heartbreak and unrequited love, secrets and lies kept to protect our loved ones, and even the mindlessness of tripping on a soap bar and hitting our head on the tub.
This show will have you laughing one moment and then ugly crying the next. You’ll need to watch with a new box of Kleenex every episode.
The reason you need to subject yourself to such torment is to convey and elicit empathy in your stories.
You say “Lex! I already do that!”
You can do better.
I can do better.
Stop going for the cheap tearjerker moments. Don’t make your characters cry on command with no context. If you’re not miserable, readers will know and yawn and feel nothing.
Some writers say, “Oh! I’m so weird that my books make me cry! LOL!”
That’s not weird. That’s doing it right. That’s the secret sauce.
I’ve killed off a few characters between my books. And I don’t do it to dick with my readers. I don’t want to throw your heart in a blender and press frappe for fun. I want readers to be able to come to me and say “When X died I sobbed like a BABY!” and I’ll say “I KNOW ME TOO OMG!” I want us to have that empathetic relationship.
Why else would I put myself through the pain and misery of killing off a character I so lovingly created? Because in those final moments, we learn who they really are. As my brother told me, “When your number’s up, the only person that matters is you.”
If you’re not feeling joy, sadness, anger, fear, or disgust with your characters, if you’re not emotionally invested, readers won’t be either.
If storytelling is easy as punching in and punching out of a time clock, you’re not doing it right.