Unveiling the Heart: Emotional Fiction (Part 2) by Emma-Claire Wilson

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Emma-Claire Wilson

Emma-Claire Wilson

Emotional Fiction: Crafting Authentic Tearjerker Characters

In Part One of Unveiling the Heart, I discussed the importance of Emotional Fiction and why making our readers cry can be one of the most powerful assets in an author’s toolchest.  In this article, I will explore with you the Top 5 Tips on how to get those tears on the page.

In this article, I want to dig a little into one genre specifically – Emotional fiction. It seems pretty obvious to focus on this specific genre, but with the expectations already set so high, I wanted to explore how we as authors can ensure we don’t disappoint our readers. Emotional fiction (or tearjerker novels as they are often referred to) need to achieve exactly that. They need to bring out the raw emotion in a reader.

So, how do we as authors draw out such extreme emotion; what techniques do we use to bring our readers to tears?

Emotional stories have the power to touch our souls. Behind the very best tearjerker tales lie characters that captivate our hearts, their emotional journeys connecting and sometimes even resonating with our own. Crafting authentic tearjerker characters requires a delicate balance of vulnerability, relatability, and emotional depth.

In this article, I want to highlight a few of the intricacies of cultivating genuine characters, exploring their emotional depth, relatability, and vulnerability, all of which I believe contribute to the bittersweet symphony of tearjerker fiction.

5 Steps to Full-on Tears
  1. Fleshing Out Complex Emotions

To create authentic tearjerker characters, we can’t be scared to delve into the rich tapestry and range of human emotions. As humans, we are not one dimensional. We are diamonds. I have used this phrase often and each time it seems to strike a note with authors.

Each facet of us shines a little differently depending on the angle you look at it from. Characters in novels are no different. Characters in emotional fiction need to be multifaceted, learning how each human emotion impacts on the others is the first step to developing truly believable and well-rounded emotional characters.

As humans, we experience a wide spectrum of feelings, from joy and love to pain and loss. Your characters need to do the same. Delve deep into their psyche, exploring their fears, desires, and regrets. What are their triggers? How would they respond in times of stress, and would that reaction shock them?

By tapping into universal emotions, you are placing your reader in the mind of your character and asking them to explore that emotion with them. Sometimes those emotions can be messy and contradictory, but isn’t that exactly who we are as humans? If we want our readers to connect with our characters, make them real! If your character is crying tears of joy, make sure that joyful emotion is so present on the page that your reader sheds that tear too. Don’t be afraid to display more than one emotion on the page at any one time, as humans we are never just ‘one’ thing, in emotional fiction, showing that true human side will create a bond between your reader and your character.

  1. Vulnerability and Imperfections

this child of mineThere are no perfect humans. There is no perfect way to react in any situation, but our flaws are what make us human. A character’s authenticity will live or die on the relatability of their flaws, vulnerabilities and imperfections.

The characters in emotional fiction are not mere vessels for plot progression; they are complex individuals who experience a range of emotions. Authors must meticulously delve into the characters’ pasts, hopes, fears, and desires, and paint a vivid picture of their emotional landscape.

If you want a reader to empathise with your character’s struggles, make them truly understand the flaws that led them there, so they can cheer in solidarity for their redemption. Just as in real life, characters in tearjerker novels often have hidden wounds or emotional scars that renders them vulnerable. Unveiling these vulnerabilities gradually allows readers to join them on the journey of growth and transformation, leading to moments that tug at the heartstrings.

If your character hasn’t suffered, how can you champion their success? Lean in on flaws, they are what makes us human.

  1. Relatable Backstories

The character’s backstory plays a vital role in their emotional resonance. We all know how terrible it is to ‘info dump’ backstories into novels but having no backstory at all will not help your readers engage in their journey. Readers connect with characters who have experienced relatable struggles and tragedies. By creating realistic and compelling pasts, authors can build a foundation of empathy. Once your readers empathise with your characters, they are hooked and along for the ride. Dripping in essential moments from their past such as the loss of a loved one, heartbreak, or personal tragedies, when explored with sensitivity and depth, can provide a powerful emotional anchor, driving readers to empathise with the character’s current struggles. If they understand their past, they can help champion for a better future, keeping those pages ever turning.

  1. Contrast and Conflict

To amplify the emotional impact of tearjerker fiction, authors often incorporate contrasting elements and internal conflict within their characters. By juxtaposing moments of joy with heartbreak or placing characters in emotional crossroads, writers intensify the emotional rollercoaster ride for readers.

Essentially, playing strong emotions next to one another, such as hope and despair, love and loss, and happiness and sorrow, deepens the emotional connection between the reader and the character on the page. The juxtaposition of emotions resonates with us as readers because all too often this is how we experience emotions in our own lives.

To add an extra loop to the rollercoaster, by presenting characters with moral dilemmas and difficult choices, we can create opportunities for extreme emotional connection. If we are already invested in this character’s life, when they hit a crossroads that even we didn’t see coming, as a reader we become even more invested in the outcomes. Moral dilemmas heighten every single emotion, the sacrifices our characters make, be it for love, justice, or personal growth, often resonate deeply with readers. 

  1. Authentic Relationships

The emotional depth of tearjerker fiction often relies quite heavily on the genuine relationships between characters. Showcasing intricate connections, such as deep friendships or heart-wrenching romances, allows readers to invest emotionally, but the relationships must feel authentic and provide a mirror to our own lives. This serves to remind us of the beauty and fragility of human connection.

Relationships on the page should always feel real enough that your readers can see either themselves, or their loved ones, in similar situations, so making sure that the relationships you craft on the page are not too ‘Hollywood’ will almost definitely see your reader make a much stronger bond with your characters.

Developing authentic tearjerker characters in fiction is an art that demands an understanding of human emotions. To make your readers cry, you first need to understand what makes us as humans cry. To make them laugh, we must first understand why we humans laugh. By fleshing out complex emotions, exploring vulnerabilities, creating relatable backstories, introducing conflict and sacrifice, and crafting authentic relationships, authors can create characters that resonate deeply, evoking tears and leaving an indelible mark on the reader’s heart.

If you ask a reader who has cried during an emotional novel what truly made them cry, nine times out of ten they will tell you it was because the characters felt so real that they were living the drama with them. So, what makes a true tearjerker successful? It’s all down to depth of character.

(c) Emma-Claire Wilson




About This Child of Mine:

this child of mine Emma-Claire WilsonWhen Stephanie is told she’s pregnant and that she is sick on the same day, she faces an impossible choice…

After trying for a baby for so long, finding out I was pregnant was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. But in the same breath as the news I had been waiting years to hear, the doctor told me I was seriously ill.

If I carry my baby to term, I will almost certainly die.

If I proceed with treatment, my baby will not live.

My husband – the father of this child – is telling me to save myself. But with all the secrets I know he is keeping from me, I can’t trust him anymore.

What would you do?

An emotional yet uplifting tear-jerker that will have you reaching for the tissues – perfect for fans of EMMA ROBINSON and JODI PICOULT.

Order your copy online here.

Additional Information

Although not entirely autobiographical, This Child of Mine is inspired by Emma-Claire Wilson’s real-life experiences and tackles issues very close to her heart. Dealing with cancer during pregnancy is far from a unique situation, but it is still something not often discussed. With ‘a woman’s right to choose’ being debated widely at the moment, this story tackles the incredibly tough issue of how and when to put a mother’s health first, and asks the question ‘what is it that makes us mothers?’

Emma-Claire writes: ‘The day after The Bookseller announcement, Ed Sheeran and his wife announced that they had struggled with the same issue tackled in this book. The time to talk about this issue is now – so many mothers have dealt with these emotions alone, and I very much hope that this novel will help some to feel seen and understood, and maybe even be strong enough to talk about their own experiences. I am willing to discuss my own personal attachment to this story and the inspiration behind the novel if journalists are keen to discuss.’

About the author

Born in Scotland, Emma-Claire Wilson travelled the world as the child of military parents. After almost 20 years in Spain, she returned to the UK with her husband, two daughters, and rescue dog, Pip. Emma-Claire worked as a journalist for English language magazines and newspapers in Spain and in 2015 launched The Glass House Online Magazine. When not writing emotional fiction, you can find her dreaming up new book ideas or wrapped in a blanket with a book in her hand.

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