No apologies for writing sad things.
So this is a question I got several days ago from a nice reader from France who thanked me for making her cry. (This is the best kind of email.) Then she went on to ask this:
Sometimes do you feel bad when you give sorrow to your readers?
I was going to toss off a quick “No! MUAHAHAHA!” in response, but it was late and I was tired and I went to bed instead. And then I woke up the next morning thinking about the question. Because it’s one I’ve gotten before, and one I’ve seen other authors get all the time, but I’ve never examined much beyond “Nope, it’s all good.”
So here’s the deal. No, I don’t feel sorry for my readers when I write a sad thing. If only good, predictable things happened in stories, they’d be pretty boring. To me, fiction is a way to rehearse life from the safety of your own room. You can experience tragedy and terror and triumph, all the while able to close the book and walk away from the emotions any time they get too difficult. It’s the wonderful thing about fiction—it’s why books never get old. We humans have a lot of feels. They take a lot of rehearsing.
But I do feel for my readers. Yes, I end up a bit gleeful whenever a reader reports feeling what I wanted them to feel, even if it’s sadness or fear, because that means I’m doing my job. But I also get this pang of sympathetic emotion, too, as if I can feel exactly what they’re feeling—usually because I HAVE, while I was writing whatever the sad thing was.
To me, it’s one of the best parts about being a writer. That sense of connection, of being able to share something as intangible and indescribable as an emotion directly from your heart to a stranger’s halfway around the world.
Because it doesn’t always happen—not every reader loves every book, after all. But when it does, it’s like finding a friend, someone whose mind works like yours and feels the same things. My memories of beloved books rarely involve specific events in the plot or lines of dialogue. They’re almost always memories of emotion, of how the book made me feel, and how they made me feel connected to the person who wrote it.
So do I feel bad for giving sorrow to my readers? Not really… because my fondest memories of fiction are of authors giving sorrow—and joy, and fear, and love, and wonder—to me. That experience, that connection, was what made me want to be a writer too. And this experience is what makes me want to stay a writer.