How to Make Your Reader Cry: Anatomy of a Death Scene

This post by Livia Blackburne originally appeared on her blog on 8/21/11.

Spoiler warning: Major spoilers for Plain Kate in this entry.

I recently fell in love with Plain Kate by Erin Bow. Every sentence is beautiful, and the story is impossible to forget.

Plain Kate is also a very, very sad book. A major character dies at the end, and Bow pulls no punches. I cried when I read it. And being a sucker for punishment, I reread the ending the next day and cried again. Then I started thinking.  People die in my books as well. Why don’t my beta readers cry? So, being the cold, analytical psychologist that I am, I went through Plain Kate’s death scene line by line to tease out the elements that tugged at my heartstrings.


From later in the post:

1. Emphasize the good qualities of the dying character.

Taggle tells Kate. “You can survive it . . . And that is all I want. You do not need me.” The narrative then continues. “And Taggle, who was beautiful, who’d never misjudged a jump in his life. . ” For the reader, it’s gut wrenching to be reminded of just how selfless and special Taggle is as he leaps to his death.


2. Draw a connection to a previous tragedy.

When Plain Kate’s father died in the beginning of the book, his last words were “Katerina, Star of my Heart.” And this is what Taggle calls Kate in this scene as well.


Click here to read the full post, which includes the relevant excerpt from Plain Kate and seven more specific points of analysis, on Livia Blackburne’s site.