Peggy Bechko: Make Them Laugh, Make Them Cry

More great advice from one of the best reasons to visit Santa Fe: (Hey, Peggy lives there, that’s all we’re sayin’.)

horse drawn trolly

by Peggy Bechko

Writing is always a tricky business. It’s the writer’s job to hook the reader without the reader knowing he or she has been hooked. You want the reader to fall in, enjoy the adventure and not be aware of you, the writer, or even the fact they’ve been ‘away’ except for that golden afterglow of reading a truly great story.

So, with that goal in mind, among many other facets is the writer’s ability to give the reader reason to laugh and/or cry. Emotion is vital to keeping your reader involved in your story – right readers?

One might seem easier to accomplish than the other but they’re pretty much neck and neck in my book.

Let’s make them laugh.

Here’s the thing. People are not all exactly alike, but we share a lot of triggers. What a lot of people share, including agents and editors is a love of wit. And may I add wit isn’t precisely humor. Lots of people get a laugh out of slapstick, you know a fall on slippery ice or pie in the face. But that kind of humor doesn’t really involve the brain, wit does. And to key in to wit we need to realize surprise can cause laughter, absurdity too as well as understatement. All are elements, tactics you can use to add wit to the story you’re writing. And your characters are more likely sources for this than your plot.

Think about characters like the bone-steeped archaeologist with his many degrees who is socially inept. Or what about the accountant so adept at guiding is clients but who can’t control his own impulsive online spending. Or a CEO who diplomatically keeps peace in his office, but has the war of the gardens going on at his semi-palatial home.

There are many more – and lots more ways to put grins on readers faces. Think about it. Read other books or scripts and think about what made you smile.

Want to make them cry?

Yep, you do. And here’s an even better point to be made. If you create an atmosphere where readers laugh and cry reading the same book, they’re sure to remember it. And if they remember it they’ll in all probability be looking for another book with your name on it as author.

So, how to make them cry ~

No, don’t just have the family dog die. It’s more than that. It’s that by which the reader is so wrapped up in the story that they feel for the characters. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Bambi and his mother just got killed by the hunters or whether it’s that homemaker who while making a special birthday cake for her kid just found it fell flat in the oven.

It’s emotional suspense, build up, anxiety in anticipation, process and a final really great payoff.

To accomplish all that it can’t happen quick. You can’t just toss in pathos.

As the writer you must take your time whether you write fast and blast it onto the page, then rewrite or whether you go slowly to begin with, what you write needs to build from a small, single seed.

When thinking about this consider your characters. Do you want to break a heart? Who among people are the most vulnerable? Children? Romantics? Dreamers?

How about this. You have a war veteran. He’s been working with a military dog – gone through hell with him. They’ve been best friends and watched each other’s’ backs. He retires from the service with his dog and they go camping. Somehow they’re separated. Circumstances force the soldier to go, believing his friend dead – but he never stops thinking about the dog in the wilderness – will they find each other again? Readers think the dog dead; but still they hope.

Readers can be swept up in stories that make them laugh and cry, not thinking about or even caring what it is about that story that sweeps them along.

It’s up to you as the writer to find those human links, the chords that resonate and to pluck them in a way that touches the heart.