How to Write a Painfully Sad Scene in Your Novel

How to Write a Painfully Sad Scene in Your Novel

By on Aug 10, 2015 in Fiction, Writing & Editing


Sorrow and sadness are a part of life, just as much as love and happiness. In any kind of a novel, scenes where your characters are happy have a great effect on the readers, but scenes that are so excruciatingly sad will make your readers spill tears over a story that is not actually real. So, why does this happen? Because, of course, if you’ve created characters that are believable and easy to connect with, then your readers care for them, identify with them and when your characters lose an important person, or go through heartbreak, then your readers will feel that emotional pain as if it were their own – which is why you, as the writer, need to follow the five steps shown below, and turn your scenes from sad, to emotionally charged, painful scenes that will touch every reader.

1. Foreshadow the scene

Foreshadowing as a writing tool for sad scenes can be really useful, especially if you want to emphasize the importance of the scene. Casually mention the possibility of the event that will be the focus of the sad scene, between two characters as they converse, or as an inner thought of your protagonist, which will give much more power to the scene. Also, the scene and the event that causes it should come as a surprise – so if you decide to foreshadow the scene, make sure every character that will be involved believes that the event is impossible.

2. Personalize it

There are things that almost every person in the world – and by that, almost all of your readers will find sad. But what gives more power to a sad scene, turning it from sad to painfully sad is personalization. Not to your readers, but to the characters. Death, for example, is a part of life, but when we lose a loved one, a partner, a brother or a sister, mother or father, it brings a dark cloud over our life that never goes away.

3. Lace it with irony

The irony in the sad scene would come from the foreshadowing, and from the belief of the characters that such an event would never come to pass. Your protagonist and the rest of the characters were looking the other way, and did not see the danger coming in from a different direction. This brings on another layer of sadness, and makes the characters rethink their decisions and grow. Additionally, they will start thinking in “what if” scenarios, and try to figure out what they could have done differently to prevent the event, which in turn, only gives the event more power over their emotional state.

4. Add atmosphere

Don’t forget to include all five senses in the scene – from sights and sounds to touch. Everything is amplified and gives intensity to the emotional state of your characters, and through them, to your readers. The sun might be up, but inside, they feel a storm. Or you can go the other way and have the atmosphere match what your characters feel. Also, the atmosphere is completed by your characters’ behavior. So, think through how your characters will react – will they put on a brave face, or become a hysterical mess?

5. Add contrast

Have your characters witness people that are happy at the precise moment when they feel like the world has ended. This will make them feel even sadder at first, but then, slowly and gradually, they would come to the conclusion that life goes on. However, everything leaves a trace – and so will the sad thing they just went through, no matter if it’s the death of a loved one, or a break up, or something else that your characters will feel deeply. So, their realization that there will be happy moments in their future is laced with the knowledge that they will not forget, and that happiness will never feel the same.

Image credit: Orin Zebest on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.



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