Posted On August 24, 2012 by Print This Post

Making Readers Cry with Emmie Dark

I have to confess . . . I am lucky enough to have Emmie Dark as my critique partner and I got to read “In His Eyes”  as it was written and I know I wiped away a few tears.  How do you ensure your book is going to have tears rolling down your reader’s face and have them reaching for the Kleenex as they read? I am thrilled to have Emmie here to talk about dialing up emotion.

Making Readers Cry

I’m sure, like me, you have fond memories of books that have dissolved you into tears and had you sniffing and blinking your bloodshot eyes for hours afterwards. Sometimes we cry because something traumatic or awful or terribly sad happens. Sometimes we cry because of something joyful and wondrous. Either way, the author has managed to engage our emotions and extracted a reaction that has extended beyond the page and reached into our heart.

So how can we as writers attempt to make this connection?

Reflect on personal experience
While it’s obvious that romance stories come from our imagination, our own daily lives tend to influence and color our characters and the situations they find themselves in. This is particularly important when it comes to describing emotional moments.

The best way to write authentic emotion is to recall times when you’ve experienced strong emotion. You may not have been through the exact experience that you’re writing for your character (and given the average romance heroine’s back story, thank goodness for that!), but you’ve certainly in your life experienced joy, grief, sorrow, pain, pleasure, and more.

Take a moment to think back to one of these times. What was it like? What was the reaction in your body: did your stomach hurt, your fingers tingle, your pulse race?

At the recent Romance Writers of Australia conference, keynote speaker Eloisa James said: “Best sellers are born of strong emotion.”She then went on to talk about her experiences of motherhood (and daughterhood) and how they had been poured into the books she was writing at the time.

Use those times in your life that were particularly difficult or wonderful as your key source material.

Make the most of the setting
There’s a reason most of my latest SuperRomance, In His Eyes, takes place during winter. It’s cold, and stormy, and my heroine Zoe is often lying alone, listening to the wind howl through the gaps in the roof. It all goes to adding a sense of the chill of loneliness that has been following her through her life.

The Waterford property she has inherited is in complete disrepair and yet the next door property (and home to the hero, her ex-lover Hugh) has never looked better. In comparison, Hugh has a life filled with people and activity – his winery now even boasts a restaurant with huge windows to take in the view.

What can you do to increase the sense of place in your story? Think about things like weather, environment, buildings, other characters, pets and how they can tie in to your central character’s emotional journey.

Don’t be too obvious
Having said the above, it’s important that these details feel natural and not overdone. If a reader notices that you make it rain when someone feels sad, they can roll their eyes instead of dabbing them with a tissue.

Subtly-layered details add atmosphere and create a wonderfully emotional read.

Feel it with them
As you’re writing, you want to be feeling the emotions you’re writing about. That’s not to say you should be sobbing your heart out every time your characters are put in a perilous situation. But if your writing doesn’t make you feel sad/happy, then odds are it’s not going to make anyone else feel sad/happy either.

Don’t set out deliberately to try to make readers cry. You’ll end up using clichés and tired expressions that won’t be effective. Set out to make yourself cry. Then, rather than guessing at what might push someone else’s emotional buttons, you’ll be sure that your writing will be authentic – and much more likely to provoke a reaction.

Emmie’s latest SuperRomance, In His Eyes, is set on rival wineries and is gathering a reputation as a real tear-jerker. Leave a comment to be in the running for a signed copy of In His Eyes.


What book or books made you cry?  How do you wring the emotion out of yoru story?


What if everything he thinks about her is wrong?

Hugh Lawson and Zoe Waters have a tangled history. But she left him ten years ago and he’s put her behind him. Except she’s here again–just when Hugh’s ready to make an offer for her family’s legendary vineyard. And her version of those long ago events is enough to make him question everything he thought he knew.

Hugh can’t let the past destroy his plans for the future. Which means he has to unravel the truth. But as he does, he begins to realize that he may have been as responsible for what happened as Zoe. And that going back could be the only way to move forward.


After years of writing press releases, employee newsletters and speeches for CEOs and politicians – none of which included any kind of kissing – Emmie Dark finally took to her laptop to write what she wanted to write. She was both amazed and delighted to discover that what came out was sexy, noble heroes who found themselves crossing paths with strong, determined heroines. And plenty of kissing.

Emmie’s overnight success has taken about five years to achieve. She began fiddling around with story ideas when the urge to write fiction became overwhelming. In July 2011 she sold her first book to Harlequin SuperRomance.

Emmie lives in Melbourne, Australia, and she likes red lipstick, chardonnay,  sunshine, driving fast, rose-scented soap and a really good cup of tea. Like, a really good cup of tea. She’s particularly fussy about it, and has been known to pack her own teabags when she travels. Most members of her family are too scared to make her a cuppa, in case they get it wrong.


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19 Responses to “Making Readers Cry with Emmie Dark”

  1. Hi Emmie!!

    Do you cry when you write certain scenes? How do you know when you’ve hit the right tone?


    Posted by Robin Covington | August 24, 2012, 5:27 am
    • Hi Robin!! Yes, I certainly have found myself blinking back tears as I write. It’s hard to know if you’ve hit the right tone in terms of what someone else will find affecting — all I think you can do is write what moves you and hope that others will be moved too.

      Posted by Emmie Dark | August 24, 2012, 6:19 pm
  2. Morning Emmie!

    Oh I love books that make me cry….lol…they just wrench it out of you. Drives hubby crazy though. =) I’ve cried several times when writing my own stories, but when I made one of the girls at work cry when she got to the ending of one of my stories? Then I felt I’d really “made” it. =)

    How do you keep the level of emotion high within yourself while writing, rewriting and more rewriting of a scene?


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 24, 2012, 5:53 am
    • Hi Carrie — great question. It is difficult to sustain the emotion when you’ve written and re-written a scene. The only way I find to make it work is to recall that initial emotion you had when you first wrote the scene as you revise, and then give yourself some time. Come back to read it again in a few days (or even weeks, if possible) and see if it has the punch you remember.

      I don’t think I ever respond to a scene again in quite the same way as I do when I first write it, but if you can still see the essence of it there when you’ve read it a hundred times, you’re probably on the right track.

      Hope that helps!

      Posted by Emmie Dark | August 24, 2012, 6:40 pm
  3. I’m still blundering through my first novel, but this is some awesome advice. If I don’t feel it, no one else will. Carrie, one of these days, I hope to make people cry as well!

    Great post.

    Posted by Callene Rapp | August 24, 2012, 6:47 am
  4. Hi Emmie,

    Great leaders and writers come from adversity. Being hungry makes people work harder. Personal pain is hard to revisit, but it helps.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | August 24, 2012, 7:07 am
    • I think you’re right. Although I also don’t think you necessarily have to have experienced the exact situations you write about, you do need a knowledge of the kinds of emotions involved so that you can write about them authentically.

      Posted by Emmie Dark | August 24, 2012, 6:42 pm
  5. The first book that ever made me cry was Scott O’Dell’s THE ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS. My kids reacted the same way when they read it.

    Wringing emotion from readers is not easy – congratulations on mastering that skill!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | August 24, 2012, 11:25 am
    • Hi Becke — I don’t remember the first book to make me cry — I think there have been too many! But I certainly do remember reading “The Lovely Bones” and needing to have a box of Kleenex nearby for the entire book…

      Posted by Emmie Dark | August 24, 2012, 6:43 pm
  6. Hi Emmie,

    We write what we know, right? And pouring out the emotion onto a page is cathartic!

    Thanks for being here!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | August 24, 2012, 2:18 pm
  7. I like to think of this as writing from the heart. It’s genuine emotion you are sharing with us. As you said, I think readers can spot the fake attempt to make us feel emotion. No wonder I feel so much when reading your books. You are giving of yourself in sharing these feelings with us. I think it’s takes courage to open up the places that hurt and pour it onto the page.
    A big Thank you from me.


    Posted by Dora Braden | August 24, 2012, 6:27 pm
    • Hi Dora — thank you! All of us writers deserve medals for courage because in a sense all our writing is a revelation of ourselves, put out there for others to dissect.

      Thank you for your lovely comment.

      Posted by Emmie Dark | August 24, 2012, 6:45 pm
  8. Hey Emmie

    I don’t set out to read a book that makes me cry – but when I do happen upon one that is so fill of emotion and a great story – wellllll..I have to keep that book don’t I, because I get an emotional connection with it and I just can’t toss it out when its read.

    Nicholas Sparks, almost every one of his books have made me howl…but the Notebook especially!

    Bye 4 now

    Posted by Tina Marie Clark | August 24, 2012, 7:13 pm
  9. The first book I remember reading that made me cry was Bridge to Terabithia. *sob* I love books that are emotional enough to make me cry! Looking forward to reading this book.

    Posted by Laurie Evans | August 24, 2012, 7:59 pm

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