Emoting over Books

1f972Nicola here. I’m in deadline territory so I’ve dusted down and added to a blog piece from 9 years ago on a topic that really interests me – books that make us cry. This is intended to be a cheerful blog, not a miserable one. It’s not about the latest craze in what has been dubbed “sad girl books” which are apparently about millennial women who are unhappy in their lives. I haven’t read any and the present time isn’t the right moment for me to start. No, it’s about authentic emotion and the way that can touch us.

A while ago I spent a day on writing retreat with a very good friend of mine, also a romance writer. Over lunch, we got chatting about the books that make us cry. We weren’t talking about those books that drive us to tears of frustration as we’re writing them although there are plenty of those. Nor were we discussing “misery lit”. We were talking as readers about the scenes that can make us cry every time we read them, even though we know them back to front and word for word. Not all of our favourites were romance books although some of them were. Others were thrillers, crime stories, even biographies.

What is it about certain books that will create such an emotional reaction in readers? BookTok has made emoting over books a Big Thing but a lot of us knew It ends with us that books could move us long before TikTok came along. I think we all have different reactions to different stories, depending on what strikes a personal chord, although some themes do seem to be pretty much universal. For some readers it’s the sheer depth of emotion. We’re right there with the characters, experiencing everything they are going through, rooting for them. We feel their pain – and their joy. In those cases, I usually cry with happiness when they get their long-awaited, much-deserved HEA. When I’m writing my books I tend to cry at the end. It could just be relief but hopefully it’s because there is authentic emotion there that I may be able to communicate to readers.

The bullet that missed 2Recently I’ve also noticed that I cry if a particular situation resonates with me. I’ve just finished reading The Bullet That Missed, a cosy crime novel by Richard Osman. I didn’t anticipate that it would upset me, in fact I chose it because I needed a light-hearted read. But there was a situation in the book that totally resonated with me as I had experienced it myself – so that set me off.

Other times it’s acts of extreme heroism that inspire us to weep; characters who stand up to the toughest challenges or defeat extraordinary odds. And then there are the heroic animals. They usually have me reaching for a tissue. Yet, as I say, stuff that works for one reader (or viewer because this happens on TV and in films as well) doesn’t always affect another in the same way. Sometimes if a book or TV programme is too overtly emotional, I will feel manipulated in crying.

Sometimes it’s not even about the characters, it’s about the writing. There are some books that are so beautifully written that the sheer elegance moves us. It’s intensely personal. Some people cried at “The Fault in our Stars.” Others didn’t and wondered if that made them a bad person. It didn’t, just someone whose emotional response is triggered by something different.

I’ve been going along my shelves and here are a couple of the books that always make me cry no matter how many times I read them. (WARNING – there are This rough magic spoilers here.) I’m going to try to work out why they work for me in this way, though I don’t want to kill the emotion in the process!

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart

Happens every time I read it, and I have read this book a lot. The heroine Lucy is the sort of girl who will rescue any living creature. You can imagine her doing everything from letting trapped butterflies out of windows to buying up caged birds and releasing them.

At one point in the book Lucy saves the life of a dolphin that has beached itself, running backwards and forwards with water to keep it alive until she can rope in the hero to help her tow it back out to sea. Later on, when Lucy is drowning, the dolphin saves her life. I’m welling up just thinking about it. We all know that dolphins are intelligent creatures and I love that this one recognises Lucy and pays back its debt to her.

Rat raceRat Race by Dick Francis

A thriller. Dick Francis wrote brilliant heroes in my opinion. In fact, they are great “romance” heroes even though he wasn’t writing romance. They are strong, resourceful, loyal and operate by a code of honour. In Rat Race, the hero and the woman he loves are flying back from a race meeting in separate planes. She’s just learned to fly and is really excited. But a dastardly villain has sabotaged her plane and as the mist comes down all the navigational systems fail and she and her passengers are totally lost. The hero flies back to find her and guide her in to land even though he’s running out of fuel… It’s nail-biting stuff, really tense and emotional.

Also on the list are The Leper of St Giles, a historical murder mystery by Ellis Peters, and Ferney by James Long and several Leper of st giles more by the Word Wenches!

Emoting over books isn’t for everyone. Does a happy ending or a moving scene make you cry happy tears or would you prefer it not to? Are there any books or scenes or movies that have particularly touched you?

38 thoughts on “Emoting over Books”

  1. Happy endings never make me cry. I guess it’s just not in my DNA. I smile like crazy.
    Some scenes or situations in books do make me weepy. The first book that came to my mind was one by Barbara Metzger – Can’t remember which one it was. But in the book, a character is dying. But even in this scene Metzger throws in a line that was so humorous that it had me laughing through my tears.
    This blog may have been an oldie but it was a goodie.

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  2. I’m so pleased you liked it – again! – Mary.
    I do love the way that some authors can lighten even the most emotionally heavy scenes with humour.

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  3. I try to avoid books that make me cry, but you’re right in that sometimes the depth of emotion just makes you want to. The book that consistently does that for me is “The Winter Sea” by Susanna Kearsley – the ending always has me in tears as it was so unexpected. ‘Ferney’ on the other hand had me in tears of anger and frustration LOL – not the kind of ending I wanted! But the final Brother Cadfael book was brilliant and yes, had me crying. Great post, Nicola!

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  4. Very interesting analysis, Nicola! I’m okay with ‘happy tears,’ and certainly agree with Lucy and her dolphin. I’ll often get teary at the end of a book where characters find the happy ending that seemed to be impossible.
    Actually, I’m kind of a watering pot, in Regency terms!

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  5. I haven’t cried over a book in a long time but one that did do it to me was Dreams of Other Days by Elaine Crowley. It’s an old book now. It was set in the Famine years in Ireland and it was a heart breaker! Something happened at the end that had me in floods! I actually could never read it again even though it’s still on my bookshelves.

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  6. Oh yes, The Winter Sea is a good one! Interesting that you didn’t like the end of Ferney. It didn’t make me cry but it did leave me feeling shocked. Didn’t see that coming!

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  7. The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon K Penman, and Some Touch of Pity by Rhoda Edwards. Both of them leave me sobbing every time I read them.

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  8. I don’t THINK I cry at happy endings, Nicola; I’ll have to pay more attention! I did recently get teary eyed reading a recent Mary Balogh book when some characters died. I don’t watch television these days, but commercials have been known to make me sniffle…and let’s not talk about the opening and closing Olympics ceremonies!

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  9. I know there must be books that made me cry in the past but off the top of my head I can’t remember any except bits from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – mostly (but not all) death scenes: the death of Thorin Oakenshield; Gandalf at the bridge of Khazad-dum; the death in battle of King Theoden; Faramir’s proposal to Eowyn. These are terse but epic and they echo in my memory.
    I don’t cry at happy endings; in a romance I’m kind of expecting that – it doesn’t come as a surprise. However if a dog or a horse or a cat dies in the book, I will cry at that – and likely wallbang the book!

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  10. What a lovely blog, Nicola – some books I haven’t read I will certainly look out. I’ve recently read Mary Stewart’s Touch Not the Cat for the first time, and a few scenes there – particuarly her ‘lovers’ voice had me welling up. And just last night, reading Adrienne Chinn’s The English Wife, the hero thinks of his wife who’s passed… ‘Four years ago. An age and a moment.’ Brought tears to my eyes. Some of your heroines and a couple of vikings Pia has introduced me too have had the same effect. (In a nice way, of course)

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  11. It’s interesting that commercials can really get to you emotionally when they are done well. And I so agree on the Olympic ceremonies, Kareni. Very moving!

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  12. Janice, the death of an animal in a book or film is a total wallbanger, isn’t it, or movie equivalent! Just no!! Gandalf at the bridge gets me every time I watch it and there are other parts of those epic movies that will always make me feel emotional. They are so moving.

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  13. Thank you so much for dropping in to the Wenches, Adrienne! Lovely to “see” you! Touch Not the Cat is a really moving book – so much of Mary Stewart can be – and I’m glad you liked it. Plus I’m very happy that Pia and I have moved you to tears:)

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  14. Lovely post, Nicola – and so interesting to see the Comments! I tear up at both happy endings and sad events, but for some reason tears especially flow for Christmas stories and even for Christmas tv commercials. The Kodak holiday commercials (that’s aging me, isn’t it?!) always got me! Since I re-read many Christmas romances each season, I sometimes cry in anticipation before the affecting scene even occurs – Mary Jo’s Sunshine for Christmas gets me every time, even before Lord Randolph gets to Italy!

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  15. Ferney, haven’t thought about this book in years, will be digging through my bookshelves for a reread. I remember loving it so many years ago.

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  16. I always tear up at that moment in Casablanca when they sing “The Marseillaise”. I’m not much of a crier but there are a few romances that made me weepy; Once Upon a Christmas by Diane Farr, Fallen Angel by Charlotte Louise Dolan, and Red, Red Rose by Marjorie Farrell. In the Dolan book, what touched me was not related to the main romance, it was when the hero is reunited with his grandmother, and learns his family history.

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  17. Karin–I also tear up at all of those except Fallen Angel, which I haven’t read, so off to find that! Jo Beverley’s Winter Fire also has a hero/grandmother reunion (also at Christmas) that always gets me, too.

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  18. Great post, Nicola. As for Mary Stewart, I’ve read all of her gothics, but the one that affected me most was Madam, Will You Talk? I consider it one of the seminal books of my life.And my favorite Dick Francis is Whip Hand. I love intense, emotional reads, whether historical, contemporary or in the realm of fantasy. I can’t think of a book that’s made me cry. OTOH, I suspect I’d have cried bitterly over Old Yeller. Didn’t read it and don’t intend to.

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  19. Nicola – I finally remembered a series that inspired teasrs. I’ve read many of Sharon Sala’s books – trad romance, romantic suspense, etc. But what what really touched me was her multi-book “Blessings, Georgia” series. I read the series from first to last. I got to know the characters, the town, and even found myself wanting to try Mercy’s wonderful biscuits. But when I reached the end of the series- the last page of the last book, the tears came, because it meant saying goodbye to the town and the people I had come to love.

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  20. I just read Steven Rowley’s latest book, The Celebrants. And I cried at the ending. A group of college friends make a pact to come together whenever one is in need and have a “funeral” and tell why that person is important to them. The results are wildly different over the years but the love within this group is constant.

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  21. The movies were a mixed bag for me because there were so many departures from the tale as told in the books, none of which were improvements, but on the other hand there were so many brilliant visualizations that to this day I have great respect for some parts of them. My reference was to the books, which never change and always satisfy.

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  22. Mary, was it Miss Lockharte’s Letters? Barbara Metzger is one of my top Regency authors of all times, and that book is my favorite Metzger! Pathos, meta-humor, her trademark “pivot on a dime” turn of phrase. Thanks for reminding me it’s time to read it again.

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  23. No Mary, I believe it was from A Debt To Delia. I love Miss Lockharte’s Letters also. I know this post is about weeping, but I love Metzger’s books because they always make me laugh – which in turn always make me feel better. Nice to meet a fellow fan girl.

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  24. It’s so rare for a movie not to change a book, isn’t it, and usually for the worse! There are books I love that have been ruined as a movie – Frenchman’s Creek springs to mind. “Books are the most unchanging of friends.”

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  25. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and the great comments, Constance. That’s a really interesting point you make about anticipating the emotional scene and crying before it happens!

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  26. I hope you enjoy the re-read. Jenny. I loved it too. It was brilliantly done (although I agree with Christina on the shock ending!)

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  27. That sounds like a very resonant aspect of the book, Karin. All these posts of reminding me of the emotional moments in the regencies I’ve read.

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  28. I’m so glad you’re another Dick Francis fan, Binnie!
    And Mary Stewart – wow, what a writer!
    Sadly I saw Old Yeller at the cinema as a child. I was traumatised for years. Still am!

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  29. What a lovely review of the Sharon Sala series. I think series can draw you in so much that the places and people become so real. We don’t want to part with them!

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