Sad things you can do in a book other than killing of a character
Character death is sad, but it also has huge consequences on your plot that can’t be reversed. Not to mention, depending on your genre, character deaths are often reserved for later in the series as a way of telling the reader that things are getting serious.
So, until that moment, here’s a quick list of things you can do to tug at your readers emotions:
1.- Destruction of an item of value. For this to work you’re going to have to set this up early on, it could be a childhood toy they need to sleep at night, a necklace they swear gives them good luck, and old family trinket or any number of things. The important thing is you show just how important it is to the character, make them happy and excited just to talk about it. Later on your character will feel loss and so will the audience.
2.- Arguing. Two characters with a strong bond arguing can be heartbreaking, even if you know the argument is going to resolve itself eventually, going from cuddles and banter to cold looks and the silent treatment, can easily hurt the audience just as much as the characters.
3.- Betrayal. When well done, it’s worst than character death. When you as a reader fall head over heels in love with a character, only for them to betray the rest, it’s heartbreaking, especially if when you read back the foreshadowing was there. It was so obvious yet you were all so blind! As blind as the other characters. Also, unlike character death, they’re still there, there to taunt you with their mere existence.
4.- Failure. We have probably all felt that emptiness, that feeling as the world crumbles around us, haplessness, when we failed an exam in school or just couldn’t get the house clean in time for that visit. Take that feeling and reflect it into your characters, it doesn’t have to be an exam, it can be anything, a task they’re parents asked them to do and they tried their best, a mission, anything. Just let them fail and feel the world crumble.
5.- Being forced to stay behind. Following from point four, if a character is not good enough they can be left behind, perhaps it comes from a place of love, an attempt to protect them from enemies too strong, yet it still hurts. Perhaps they haven’t failed, perhaps they are left behind for another reason, because they are “too valuable”, or because they’ll be more useful back home. Either way, watching those close to you go of to fight for what you believe in, without you, can be painful.
6.- Finding out something they believed in was a lie. It can be something relatively insignificant, an assumption they never bothered to question. Or something world shattering. Allow me to offer up an example with an unimportant spoiler from my second book (it’s not even out yet but oh well): in this book, while talking about some law, Henry realises his daughter believes he and her mother were married. This is an assumption Itazu made and never questioned. It affects nothing, nothing changes, yet finding out her mother and her father were not the happy married couple she’d always pictured, it’s painful.
This could also be something huge, finding out you’re adopted for example.
7.- History. Oh, history, how depressing it can be. And if you have a fantasy world you have many opportunities to go into this. From slaughters to slavery, finding out how society got to where it is, the base on which it is built. Well, it’s pretty depressing. Obviously be careful how much inspiration you take from real world history and always be respectful and do your research!
8.- Scarring. An injury can be painful, it can be scary. And depending on what caused it, leave you with traumatising memories. Now add to that a physical visible reminder on your skin you can never remove. Well, that can be pretty horrible. Imagine the scar came from a battle the protagonist longs to forget, but can’t because every night before going to sleep they can’t help but glance at their arm where the nasty scars forever lies.
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This another post I could probably do a part two on someday. Can you think of any books where any of these are done effectively? Do any of these happen in your owns book? Please tell me! I love hearing from you all.