April 19th, 2019

Five Tips for Writing Tears that Carry Power

By Margie Lawson

I’ve read the same wording about tears in too many books. 

Tears stream and streak, glint and glisten, flee and flow, prickle and trickle. 

They slip, slide, run, roll, seemingly unstoppable.

Tears blur vision, soak hair, get wiped, get blinked.  But some tears are unshed, unspent, unspilled, or unspecified.

Sobs can choke and rack and wrench. Characters sob on shoulders and in showers, often uncontrollably.

I could go on about crying and bawling and weeping and wailing. But I won’t.

You all get it.

Let’s dive in and play in words.

Five Tips for Writing Tears that Carry Power

1. Write Fresh.

Write sentences about tears and crying that we’ve never read before.

2. Nix Some Tears.

Give your characters some different reaction.

In real life, eyes fill to the brim with tears more often than we want to see on the page. And a single tear may slide down someone’s cheek. 

But you’re in charge of your characters. You don’t have to stick with what pops on the page in your first draft. 

Nix some of the crying and tears in an early draft—and give your characters a different reaction. Could be dialogue, an action, body language, a facial expression, a dialogue cue, a visceral response, or a powerful thought. And give it some fresh elements.

You can make the reaction fit your character, and not be predictable. You’ll keep the reader immersed in your story, locked on each page.

3. Amplify.

If it’s important, give the reader more.

Amplify the emotion in a variety of ways.

Every example in this blog is amplified.

4. Play with Style and Structure.

Use a wide range of rhetorical devices, provide plenty of white space, vary sentence lengths.

If you know me, you know you’ll see examples of style and structure.

5. Check for Compelling Cadence.

Read your work out loud. With feeling.

Always. Always. Always.

DON’T MISS THIS POINT:  

I’m not saying writers shouldn’t ever use some of those common words and phrases I mentioned at the beginning of the blog. But if you use some, twist, play, and amplify. Give them a boost, and give your readers and reviewers a smile. 

As always, I’ll share some examples and what you can learn from them.

The Butterfly Bride, Vanessa Riley, 3-time Immersion Grad 

1. She should slap Hartwell or pull away from his heavy arms, but there wasn’t much fight left in her, just a sack of tears in her chest she refused to spill. 

Deep Edit Analysis:

Power Words — slap, pull away, heavy, fight, tears, refused, spill

Rhetorical Device — Structural Parallelism:

  • sack of tears in her chest 
  • she refused to spill

Compelling Cadence

Look how Vanessa Riley deepened characterization. She showed what the character thought she should do, but didn’t. Then she explained why.

Vanessa also shared that the POV character felt like crying, but wouldn’t give Hartwell the satisfaction of seeing her break down.

But smart Vanessa didn’t rely on my overused phrases. Her sack of tears was fresh.

2. No one would see her cry. None of the duke’s friends, especially the leeches.

Deep Edit Analysis:

Vanessa amplified that basic first sentence. She shared specifics and backloaded with the strongest power word, leeches.

Never Let Me Fall, Abbie Roads, 4-time Immersion Grad

1. (Crying)  She clung to him—the only safe place—as the battle for her soul and sanity raged. And then it was over, and she hiccupped against his shirt as she tried to catch her breath. 

Deep Edit Analysis:

Power Words: clung, safe, battle, soul, sanity, raged, over, breath

Compelling Cadence

Rhetorical Device — Alliteration: soul, sanity

2. Tears burned in her sinuses, then filled her eyes and spilled to race to her hairline. These weren’t sad tears. They were angry tears. Tears filled with fight. 

Abbie Roads packed power and rhetorical style in those 28 words. 

Deep Edit Analysis:

Power Words: tears, burned, filled, spilled, race, sad, tears, angry, tears, tears, filled, fight

Rhetorical Devices —

  • Alliteration: filled, fight
  • Assonance: filled, spilled, filled
  • Anadiplosis: …tears. Tears…

Backloaded with the most important power word, fight

Compelling Cadence

Bound by a One-Night Vow, Melanie Milburne, 4-time Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller

1. She had worked hard to get herself strong again.

Must not cry. Must not cry. Must not cry.

Deep Edit Analysis:

Power Words: worked, hard, strong, not cry, not cry, not cry

Compelling Cadence

2. She swallowed and blinked a few times, the tears drying up as if she regretted losing control. Her expression tightened as if all of her facial muscles were holding in her emotions and only just managing to contain them. 

Deep Edit Analysis:

Power Words: swallowed, blinked, tears, drying, regretted, losing control, tightened, holding in emotions, just managing, contain

Love how Melanie Milburne deepened characterization by amplifying with two similes. And the second simile is mega-amplified. I see that barely-in-control expression.

Compelling Cadence.

Dear Wife (Advanced Reader Copy), Kimberly Belle, 5-time Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller, International Bestseller

Dear Wife will be released June 26.

Four Paragraphs:

To my absolute horror, my eyes grow hot, the tears welling so quickly it’s impossible to blink them away. I choke on a small but audible sob. “I can’t even tell you how much.”

The Reverend takes me in with a kind expression. “Are you all right, child?”

I wipe my cheeks with my fingers, but new tears tumble down before I can mop the old ones away. “Thank you, but I’m fine. Or I will be. I don’t even know why I’m crying.” I force up a throaty laugh. “I promise it won’t be a regular oc­currence.”

I hate to cry. For the past seven years, my tears have been slapped, backhanded, punched, yanked, kicked, squeezed and one time, burned out of me. Tears are a sign of weakness, fol­lowed always by punishment. Only losers cry. 

Deep Editing Analysis:

Power Words: horror, eyes hot, tears, welling, quickly, impossible, blink, choke, sob, Reverend, kind, fine, tears, crying, force, laugh, promise, hate, cry, seven years, tears, slapped, backhanded, punched, yanked, kicked, squeezed, burned out of me, tears, weakness, punishment, losers, cry

Deepened characterization. Used crying to slip in powerful backstory.

Asyndeton:  No and in the first sentence.

Compelling Cadence

One Paragraph:

These past four months, I’ve shed a shitload of tears. More than I’d like to think about. But I stand here, in the middle of the church aisle and bawl, and for the first time I don’t feel ashamed of my tears or wipe them away with a sleeve. I let them fall because these are the good kind of tears. The—well, if not the happy kind, at least the everything’s-going-to-be-okay kind. 

Deep Editing Analysis:

Power Words: four months, tears, more, church, bawl, don’t feel ashamed, tears, fall, good, tears, not, happy, okay

Amplification: Tears. All 73 words are about her tears.

Alliteration: shed, shitload

Fresh Hyphenated-Run-On

Compelling Cadence

Since You’ve Been Gone, Christa Allan, Multi-Margie Grad

1. I pounded my fist on the desk, my pens jumping up in the air, my coffee leaping out of the mug. This rage was a hand grenade whose pin had been pulled, and there was nowhere for it to go. I had no tears left. Just a raw, aching wound. 

Deep Edit Analysis:

An example of NO TEARS. Christa Allan showed her character’s rage.

Power Words: pounded, rage, hand grenade, pin, pulled, no tears, raw, aching, wound

Rhetorical DeviceMetaphor, Mega-Amplified.

Compelling Cadence.

2. I’d moved past tears, past sobbing, to a convulsing, ragged-breath squall.

Deep Edit Analysis:

That sentence seems simple. But it’s brilliant and powerful.

Power Words: tears, sobbing, convulsing, ragged-breath, squall

Compelling Cadence

3. If only I could be like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News and schedule my cathartic crying. My eyes dripped, my underarms dripped, and my emotional reserves dripped. All in a medical building lobby as I waited for Mia to come up with a plan, and I wiped my face with a crumpled Starbucks napkin. I counted on her to save me from myself. Now wasn’t the time for her to forgo the life vest when I was drowning in the sea of my own irresponsibility.

Deep Edit Analysis:

Love the humor hits, and the juxtaposition of those humor hits with her reality. If you’ve read this book, you know her reality is emotionally challenging.

Power Words: cathartic crying, eye dripped, underarms dripped, emotional reserves dripped, medical, plan, counted on her, save me, forgo life vest, drowning, irresponsibility

Backloaded: irresponsibility

Rhetorical Devices —

  • Alliteration: Holly Hunter, cathartic crying
  • Allusion: Holly Hunter
  • Metaphor: life vest, drowning
  • Asyndeton and Symploce and Zeugma:  My eyes dripped, my underarms dripped, and my emotional reserves dripped.

Compelling Cadence

If you’ve taken my Deep Editing course online (or lecture packet), or Fab 30: Advanced Deep Editing, or an Immersion Master Class, you know the terms I used, or you figured out the structure they referenced.

If you haven’t taken my Deep Editing course, I’ve been talking Greek to you. I shared a quick explanation of all the rhetorical devices but epistrophe and zeugma.

Symploce:  The word or words at the beginning and end of three or more phrases, sentences, or clauses, are the same (my, dripped).

Zeugma: In a series of two or more, the last one is an idiomatic mismatch. It’s not like the other. Eyes and underarms are part of your body. Emotional reserves are not. 

Want to learn more about my deep editing techniques? 

My blogs share a few deep edit points out of hundreds. And that’s not hyperbole.

Drop by my website and check out my online courses and lecture packets. Your writing career will be glad you did. 

A big THANK YOU to Vanessa Riley, Abbie Roads, Melanie Milburne, Kimberly Belle, and Christa Allan. 

If these examples impressed you, check out their books. I bet you’ll love them!

BLOG GUESTS:  Thank you so much for dropping by the blog today.

Please post a comment or share a ‘Hi Margie!” and you’ll have two chances to be a winner.

You could win a Lecture Packet from me, or an online class from Lawson Writer’s Academy valued up to $100.

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Margie Lawson—editor and international presenter—loves to have fun. And teaching writers how to use her deep editing techniques to create page-turners is her kind of fun.

She’s presented over 120 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France, as well as taught multi-day intensives on cruises in the Caribbean. 

To learn about Margie’s 5-day Immersion Master Classes (in 2019, in Palm Springs, Denver, Dallas, Cleveland, Columbus, Atlanta, and in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide, Australia), Cruising Writers cruises, full day and weekend workshops, keynote speeches, online courses, lecture packets, and newsletter, please visit: www.margielawson.com

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87 responses to “Five Tips for Writing Tears that Carry Power”

  1. Hi Margie. That's a great intensive lesson on crying. Just so happens that I'm in the middle of reading Since You've Been Gone (actually, listening to it thanks to Audibles). There's a lot of crying going on in that novel, for good reason, so it's a great book to use as an example of different ways to cry.

  2. Lisa Carlisle says:

    Ooh, this is good stuff. Thanks. Need to go in my WIP and search for tears.

    • Hello Lisa --

      Thank you! I bet you'll do a search on crying, cried, and sob too. Just in case.

      If you haven't taken my online courses, or done my lecture packets, please check them out.

      I don't want you to miss out on all those deep editing tips. Tips that could take your writing from good to stellar.

  3. Hi, Margie! You came to my rescue again. I'm editing and editing and today I'm editing crying. I'm going to dig deep and make those tears fresh. Thanks to all your examples I have a better handle on how to do that now.

    • Hugs to Immersion Grad Lynette Burrows!

      I know you can deep edit and make your writing fresh.

      Remember -- you may decide to nix some of those teary times and give your character another reaction.

      Thanks for chiming in!

  4. lrtrovi says:

    Hi Margie! I especially like the fresh descriptions of holding back the tears.

  5. Oh wow. This. Is. So. Good. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  6. caroline says:

    Hi Margie! Loved this post. I hadn't thought how cliched crying expressions were. Thank you 🙂

  7. So many great examples here. I LOVE the coffee leaping out of the mug. Thanks for including me, Margie. I'm honored!

    • Hugs to 5-time Immersion Grad Kimberly Belle --

      I'm always proud to use your examples. There's strong writing on every page in every one of your books.

      Thanks for deep editing well!

  8. jayjhicks says:

    Hi Margie.
    Rhetorical devices are little treasures to add colour to our pages. They’re like easter eggs for writers.

  9. Cathy Velasco-cappozzo says:

    Hi Margie! Thanks for the great examples. Off to edit mu tears!

    • Hello Cathy V-C --

      Have fun deep editing tears and crying and sobbing.

      Keep in mind that it may be stronger to nix some lines with tears (crying, sobbing) and give your character a different reaction.

      Have you taken any of my online courses, or read a lecture packet? My lectures are loaded with deep editing tips and gems!

  10. Fae Rowen says:

    Your visits are always such a learning party, Margie! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

  11. Rebecca Hodge says:

    Wonderful, Margie! I always struggle to find ways to power-up tears--these are great examples.

  12. spurvis500 says:

    A fabulous blog post on one of my pet peeves, too many tears trickling. 🙂 As always, love all the powerful examples.

  13. Jamie Baker says:

    Hi Margie!
    Thanks for such an in-depth evaluation of writing tears and what causes them. Reading your “deep edit analysis” of each example gives a better understanding of what draws readers in and keeps them there. I learned a lot from this post.
    Thanks, again.

    • Hello Jamie Baker --

      Have we met? If not, we need to meet.

      I just Fb stalked you, and you're big-time interesting.

      Glad you learned a lot from this blog. Hope to see you again.

  14. Linda says:

    Hi, Margie. With your wit and wisdom, you teach—never preach! Thanks. Linda.

  15. L.D. Rose says:

    Great post, Margie! Always fantastic. Loved these examples!

  16. Hi Margie,

    Another informative post, with fabulous examples. As always, thank you for taking the time to help us all be better writers.

  17. Winona says:

    Once again, Margie Lawson and Writers in the Storm have given me the shoulders back ability to sit down and write armed with the wisdom from just one Immersion and multiple online classes.

    I have written many tears and found myself searching for more than the same old, same old.

    Now, I'm off to Amazon to order some Margiefied books. But, I have read all of Abbie Roads' books.

  18. Abbie Roads says:

    Margie!
    I'm honored you included two examples from Never Let Me Fall. It was such a hard book to write, that I worried it wasn't quite up to Margie standards. Makes me feel better about it that you found good stuff in there!

    • Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad Abbie Roads --

      You always put NYT!-level writing in your books!

    • Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad and Cruise Grad Laura Drake --

      I remember that powerful passage that Darcy Crowder read in your first Immersion class too.

      That was May, 2012. Seven years ago. And we both remember the beauty of that passage. It carried so much emotion, without tears.

      I just did a search, but didn't find it. I emailed Darcy. As soon as she shares it, I'll put it on my website.

  19. Laura Drake says:

    Margie, I'll never forget at immersion, when Darcy Crowder pulled out a passage of a woman standing looking at her son's grave, and she described the agony SO well, and nary a tear in sight.

    The fact that I still remember that shows the power.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    • Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad and Cruise Grad Laura Drake --

      I remember that powerful passage that Darcy Crowder read in your first Immersion class too.

      That was May, 2012. Seven years ago. And we both remember the beauty of that passage. It carried so much emotion, without tears.

      I just did a search, but didn't find it. I emailed Darcy. As soon as she shares it, I'll put it on my website.

  20. Hi Margie! I was just telling my fellow Cambridge Writers about your classes and how they can make you a better writer. This is a fantastic article and I've shared it with the group.

  21. Barb Heintz says:

    Hi Margie, I always get a lot out of these posts and try to use your techniques. But, I have to be reminded from time to time to dig deeper and to write fresh. It doesn't come easy for me yet. I'm reposting this in our Chapter's facebook page. Thanks for these tips.

    • Hugs to Immersion Grad Barb --

      Lots of writers need to be reminded to dig deeper and write fresh.

      Thank you soooo much for reposting on your Chapter's Fb page. I'm appreciative. Big time!

      Hope I get to work with you in June, in your second Immersion in Cleveland!

  22. Steena says:

    A perfect 'kick in the pants' kind of post I need! Thank you!

    • Hugs to Multi-Immersion Grad, NYT Bestseller, Steena Holmes!

      Every writer needs to use their deep editing shovels to write fresh and make their writing carry more power.

      Miss you!

  23. I loved this Margie! Brilliant as always.Thank you! Came at a perfect time--was working on a scene where I'm trying to avoid the proverbial tears.

  24. Becky Rawnsley says:

    Fantastic and inspiring examples - thanks for a brilliant post, Margie!! I'll share this in class 🙂

    • Big Hugs to Multi-Immersioner Becky Rawnsley --

      Thanks for sharing in your class!

      You do know that I'm incredibly impressed with how you teach my Big Three courses. You make me sooooo proud. Your students rave about you. Thank you for sharing your expertise and your heart.

  25. Carla Cloutier says:

    Hi Margie. Great post!

  26. Michelle says:

    Hi Margie. Excellent tips for fresh writing. I've taken three of your courses over the past six months. The difference in my writing is clear. I hope to take one of your Immersion classes within the next year. Thank you for helping me improve my craft.

  27. Mary Chase says:

    Interesting to think about ways not to cry. And I love the Broadcast News allusion. I always think about Holly Hunter scheduling her crying and wish I could do that!

  28. Glory Wade says:

    This is a great blog with a variety of excellent examples.Thank you.

    • Hello Glory --

      I believe this is the first time you've posted on one of my blogs. Welcome to my deep editing world.

      Glad you enjoyed my blog. I always include examples from Margie-Grads, writers who have learned my deep editing techniques from taking my online courses and intensive in-person classes.

      I hope you take a few minutes and check out Lawson Writer's Academy on my website.

      Thanks for posting!

  29. Hi Margie and the WITS gang! I LOVE everything Margie. I've completed two lecture packets already - since I first discovered her through this blog about two years ago. I am writing more carefully, paying closer attention to cadence, nixing cliches, and aiming for those NYT bestseller sentences. ( ; I've never read a Margie tip that didn't help to improve my writing. Since using the Deep Editing techniques she teaches, my writing has been much stronger - I've even got an NY agent interest!! One day, hopefully sooner than later, I plan to attend a Margie weekend in CO! ( :

    • Hello Bitesizewriter --

      Who are you? Puh-leeeeese email or Fb message me and let me know who you are!

      Wowzee! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

      Your enthusiasm is shimmering on the screen.

      If you really want to come to an Immersion Master Class sooner-sooner, I have an opening in my May 20 - 24 Immersion! Plus -- openings in an Immersion class in July too.

      I don't know you, but I know I'll love working with you in Immersion!

  30. I had to laugh when I saw your title, because my freelance editor says I cry way too much in my ms. Trouble is, I'm writing a memoir, and generally in life, I'm a "leaky faucet," as my son tells me. When times were bad, over the many years in which my story takes place, I cried and sobbed and wailed and sniffed and tears rolled and glinted and...etc. But I see now how I can apply your suggestions to show the reader my emotion in other ways. This was such great advice, it brings me to tears.

    • Hello Karen --

      Thanks for sharing about your leaky faucet. Now you know you can nix some tears and sobs and wails, and write the ones you keep in fresh ways.

      I have to mention, my online courses and lecture packets are loaded with hundreds of deep editing tips and gems. And that's not hyperbole.

      Love the humor hit in your last sentence!

  31. Awesome article as always! You're still my "go to" for strong, fresh writing. 😊

    • Big Lovey Hugs to Lori Freeland!

      Can't wait to hang out with you at West Texas Writer's Academy in June!

      BLOG GUESTS --

      Want to spend five days with me learning deep editing? Check out West Texas Writer's Academy on my website!

  32. Kathy says:

    Howdy Margie! Great reminder to keep writing FRESH! In my memoir Sara cries a lot, because she has a lot to cry about. I struggle with how to make those tears fresh without creating some of my own and your post has helped immensely. I printed it out and it's hanging on my bulletin board on the wall in front of my desk - thank you!

    • Hello Kathy --

      So glad you dropped by the blog, read it, printed it, and now you'll use what you learned in it!

      I bet you'll nix some of your crying-related sentences, and write the ones you keep in fresh and compelling ways.

      Do you know about my online courses and lecture packets? They're full of deep editing tips and gems that would help you make writing everything strong.

      I hope you take a minute and click over to my website and check them out.

      Thanks so much for posting!

  33. Jeanne Kern says:

    Thanks, Always-Timely-and-Helpful Margie. I was just vacuuming my WIP, knowing my heroine cries too many times. Whoo Hooo! Substitute another reaction. Write fresh. Engage literary devices. Back to the drawing board.

  34. Yes, very timely. I'm editing and coming across places where tears are withheld. Study time, then more editing time. Thanks, Margie.

  35. Jose says:

    Another amazing article from Margie Lawson. I have 5 lecture packets from her and I have read them again and again, always learning something new. Thank you Margie!!

  36. Deb Atwood says:

    Love your examples and analysis! Inspiring as usual!

  37. sourris25 says:

    Hi Margie, I love your reminders and examples and enthusiasm about not just using, but empowering our writing with fresh descriptions. Cheers!
    Susanne

    • Hello Susanne --

      I'm cheering for you!

      I bet you'll deep edit to add just the right amount of fresh writing and power that works best for the scene.

      Thank you for dropping by the blog!

  38. Greg Henry says:

    I'm going to save this away for any teary scenes... Thanks!

  39. Jessica Pomerantz says:

    Hi Margie-

    Guilty as charged! I think I welled some tears in my draft just the other day? I'll do better with these pro tips...thanks!

    Jessica

    • Hello Jessica

      You cliched some tears? Aack!

      Now you know you can nix some tears and write some in fresh ways. I know you'll write them well.

      Thank you for stopping by the blog!

  40. HELLO EVERYONE!

    A big THANK YOU to all of you for being here!

    Loved reading all your posts.

    Random.org selected our TWO WINNERS:

    The winner of the online course from Lawson Writer's Academy is..........ROBYN CAMPBELL!

    The winner of the lecture packet is ..........CARLA CLOUTIER!

    Congratulations Robyn and Carla!

    EVERYONE: If you have questions about online courses, lecture packets, or my Immersion Master Classes, please ask. You can contact me through my website, or Facebook message me.

    Thank you again to the brilliant WITS gals. Love you all!

  41. Crystal Johnston says:

    Loved seeing all the fresh examples of crying and tears. That's a hard one. Thanks Margie!

  42. dholcomb1 says:

    loved the examples and breakdown.

  43. Hi Margie! Reading your deep dives blog takes me back to our wonderful Yosemite Immersion Master Class last May...about this time. The best! ! I appreciate your fresh takes on tears and all sob-related description. It's too easy to default to the done-done-done before. Thanks to you, these days I'm anxious to experiment. Hugs to you. Smiles from the a-bit-too-green, Cathy

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