Thursday, July 8, 2010

What's With The Tears?

Okay, I hereby admit that some of the things that I'm about to say might sound just a little bit sexist. I try not to be, but the potential definitely exists with this post.

I am currently reading a book in which the MC (who, yes, does happen to be male) breaks down and cries on a regular interval. And by regular, I mean there was a point a while back when this occurred just about every single chapter.

Now, I can abide some crying on the part of a character. After all, humans experience a great deal of emotions, and sometimes it's hard to take it all without breaking down. However, after a few crying jags, it reached the point that if I saw anything resembling the words "and tears spilled down my face," I took a short break from reading to mentally curse out the MC. It got so bad I found myself wishing at least once a day that I could be transported into the book to Gibbs slap that guy once or twice. It seemed called for.

Here's my beef with the tears: Crying is not acting. As far as I'm concerned, to cry might be a verb, but it certainly isn't a goal oriented one. Every time the MC burst into tears at the realization that the love of his life was engaged to another man, he wasn't out winning her heart and solving the problem.

It looked to me like he was too chicken to do anything about his situation. Thus, whenever he wept when she smiled at someone else or fell worshipfully at her knees (I kid you not) when she smiled on him, I wanted to yell at him, as Shakespeare put it, "be of good heart and counterfeit to be a man." Yeah, I pretty much just wanted to go into the book and tell him to man up. (For the record, if the MC had been female, I'd have said the same thing, probably in the same terminology.)

Once, I read a article in which the writer said, "Put tears in the eyes of your character, and the audience will cry for them. If the tears fall from the eyes of the character, the reader will feel nothing." I don't know if I feel nothing when characters in books cry, but I know I feel a lot more for them when they brace up under their suffering and push through in an attempt to resolve the issue. That's when I cry for them. When they're crying, my tears would feel excessive.

But maybe that's just me. How do you feel about crying MCs? Or any crying character for that matter? Is there a tipping point for you between 'I get it' and 'I can't take it anymore'?


  1. When the MC is at the point of no return, has done everything they could to attain their goal and still it comes to naught, that's when I cry. If the MC does, sure I might feel a little for her/him but I would rather feel the sense of loss, longing, whatever instead of the character.

    And truthfully, I just had this same issue in my own WIP, I made my male MC sob like a 5 yr.old. It was a very emotional reunion scene between two people who hadn't seen each other in 10 years. I thought he should cry when he finds out the bad news. People who read it said it made them uncomfortable so I had to make him have a single tear fall gently down his cheek.

    I guess it really depends on the writer/reader relationship. some people think men who cry are sensitive, some don't.

    Of course crying on every page is a little much.

  2. Ugh I would hate this book you're reading. As for tears, I think writers need to find the tears and get rid of them, like they do excessive adverbs and crutch words. Yes, occasionally it fits the story to have the tears but use restraint people!

  3. If a male MC is crying it better be like once in the whole series and it better be a damn good reason. I agree with you the men should man up at all times--especially in our novels.

  4. I'm on your side (and Karens)also. I prefer my males MC's tear-free, and if there are tears, there better be a damn good reason for them. But multiple times....forget it. I'd have to drop-kick that book.

  5. There are a couple situations in which I find crying works:
    -it's a flaw of a secondary or minor character and is used for humor
    -it only happens once to the main character and only in scenes of great happiness (OMG I thought you were dead, but you're not!) or great loss (returning home and seeing your parents'/siblings' corpses)

    I do not, however, want a long and detailed explanation of the tears. One sentence will do, and maybe a wiping of the face afterward. In fact, I prefer the character not even realizing he/she'd been crying. It shows me that they're focused on what's happened, not on themselves.

    As far as men vs women crying, it really doesn't matter to me so long as it only happens once.

    OF COURSE, this is purely from a fantasy/paranormal/sci-fi standpoint. If it's a teen novel centered around depression or illness, then tears and crying are often a realistic and understandable response. So medium/genre does come into play as well.

  6. Hello! I think I wouldn't like that book, either. I like to be shown the MC has emotion rather than told it, there are so many other ways to let the reader know what's going on. As for crying in every chapter - oh no. Book will fly out the window!

  7. Piedmont -- Sometimes I think the crying and tolerance for crying in a character might be a cultural perspective. I've read that prior to the Industrial Revolution crying was much more acceptable and that crying to express emotion is on the rise in Japan. Still, I feel in our culture, many characters, especially males, don't get away with it.

    Karen -- I think I agree with you here about the restraint. There comes a point when the tears become excessive, and the writer must be aware of that point, because the reader certainly will be.

    KAH -- I think you've stated the general consensus of most readers very concisely. I tried to be understanding about the tears, but after a point, even I wanted to hit him.

    DL -- Yes, this certainly seems to be the consensus view of teary-eyed MCs.

    Vicki -- I think you made some very interesting points about the issues of crying in writing. I think genre, to a certain extent, does matter. After all, I'll certainly allow for more crying in a gothic romance than, say, an action-adventure piece.

    Jayne -- Hi, thanks for weighing in. I agree, there are more ways of expressing sadness than tears. Mental anguish manifesting as physical pain, for example, always a winner.

  8. I've had a problem with crying MCs in my own novels before. I've slowly learned that it works better to have them cry off stage or cry only once in a great while when it seems like if they didn't cry, they are unfeeling. It can be a difficult balance, and every beta reader I send my work to feels differently on this issue.