Make ‘Em Laugh, Make ‘Em Cry

I once read a literary agent’s comment, “The writing should make me laugh and make me cry on the first page.”
Writing Tip for Today: Why should a writer care about that statement, and how can it be implemented?

  • Smart Writers Go for the Low Brain. A writer who keeps readers fixed on logic, abstract concepts or even long-winded descriptions about inanimate objects may find the reader doesn’t care about the work. In any kind of writing, the writer’s goal must be to connect humanity to the writing. Most of the time, our “humanness” resides in the lower ancient seat of emotions, not in the cerebral higher functions.
  • But Aren’t Emotions Capricious? Yes, and that’s why writers strive to capture one of those fleeting emotions early on in a story. Writers who wait to garner sympathy (by appealing to our sad/happy emotions) do so at their peril. That’s why those opening lines and pages are so important–the reader makes a decision, based on emotion not logic, to care about what happens to the character.
  • Why Laugh AND Cry? If you overwhelm the reader with horrible stuff (cry) but never offer some sort of relief (laugh), you may lose the reader. We want to identify with the character, not simply become a voyeur of a bad situation. In real life, there are ways to make even the most gruesome event sound comical. In fiction, a small dose of either comic relief or gravitas enriches the work, makes it more human.  

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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