Cry Me A River by Julie Heslington

‘Are you okay?’ asked hubby.

            ‘Yes, why?

            ‘Because you look like you’ve been crying.’


He was right. I had. Not because anyone had upset me. Well, not anyone real anyway. My protagonist, Clare, had just had some really bad news and, the more I wrote about her reaction to it, the more I mirrored her reactions until I was reaching for the tissues, the paracetemol and the nearest teddy bear to hug!


Does anyone else do that? Sob at what they’ve written?

As a reader, if I’m reduced to tears, I feel like I’ve read a great book by a talented writer. Why? Because that writer has managed to make me care about the characters, become involved in their journey, and feel what they feel. Does that therefore make me a brilliant writer or is it more that I know my characters so well that I really do feel what they feel? I wish it was the former … but I suspect it’s the latter! Surely it’s a good start, though.

The same works for humour. I’ve had hubby appear in the office before when I’ve been giggling at a joke or a turn of phrase I’ve used. I feel even more guilty if I laugh at my own writing as that feels really egotistical. I have to tell myself that it’s not really me that’s funny but my characters. Then again, I am my characters. Aren’t I? Confusing isn’t it?

I once read an interview with J K Rowling and she said she sobbed for ages when she killed off Sirius Black in The Order of the Phoenix. I wasn’t very far into my writing journey at that time – certainly not at the laughing or crying stage – so I thought it a little strange. Now I completely understand. These characters become us and we them. The protagonist in the first book of my trilogy, Sarah, is modelled on me. My little brother read it and said it was very funny to read as he could spot phrases I use and things I do. The main protagonists in books two and three are completely fictional and, although I’ll always feel most closely aligned to Sarah as she was the start of this journey and is basically me, I’ve found myself “becoming” the other two as I’ve written from their point of view and have laughed and cried as them too. But I equally feel aligned to sub-characters and feel their hurt and pain too. Pretty emotional stuff this writing malarkey!

I’ve just come to the end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and have “won” it a day early (i.e. written 50,000 words or more in a month). It’s been an incredibly achievement for me as I’ve been working 7 days a week across 3 part-time jobs and job hunting for a permanent job. Some days I’ve felt too exhausted to write and other days, it’s the writing that’s exhausted me! I cheated a little with NaNo. You’re meant to start a new novel but I was partway through book 2 so I finished the first draft of that and started book 3. To me, it was about writing 50k words, not starting from scratch so I got what I wanted out of it. However, Clare’s story (novel 3) has been far more emotional then the others. Sarah’s is a really light-hearted story, Elise’s is a little darker, and Clare’s goes quite deep. I actually feel really ready for a break now as I feel like I’ve spent most of the last week in tears! If only shedding tears shed calories too; I’d have achieved my goal weight by now and solved another problem 😉

I’d love to hear about your views on laughing and/or crying at your own work or, if you’re not a writer, what makes you laugh and cry and do you see that as a mark of a good book?

Bye for now

Julie xx


12 thoughts on “Cry Me A River by Julie Heslington

  1. Awh, I can’t wait to read books two and three in your trilogy and I know you’ll have me laughing and crying again too! Like you, I used to think it was weird when I read authors saying that their characters took over and that they could feel their emotions, but I have just written some domestic violence scenes in my NaNo novel that came out of nowhere and feel really emotional to me. I’m also thrilled to know that I’ve written things that have made you laugh and cry too and I’m sure we’ll both have lots more of that to share on this novel writing journey together 🙂 xx

    • Thank you, Jo. Your new novel sounds very powerful and I can’t wait to read it because you are such a talented writer. As you know, I’ve put comments on your MS saying “this actually made me laugh out loud” (as I know you have “lol”!) You’ve got it girl! xx

  2. First of all, congratulations on completing NaNo!
    I too can relate to what you said about finding it weird that writers cried or laughed with their characters when I was at the beginning of my writing journey. Now just like you I feel what my characters feel. Yes, I think it means we know them well and I’d also like to think that makes us great writers!
    I really hope to get to read your trilogy!

  3. I know exactly where you’re coming from with this! If I write something that makes me laugh, then I know it’s funny. Likewise, if I make myself cry. I’ve just finished writing a fairly sad book and I feel completely wrung out.
    I’m going to have a funny book next time, just to cheer myself up.

  4. Excellent work with the NaNo…well done you!
    I’ve cried with my characters too and I think it’s a good sign. And like Rhoda and Julie I feel that I must have a bit of a laugh with my characters too so that I don’t get too maudlin! I think that going through several emotions in the course of your book is what keeps it real, what makes people care about the characters and the journey that they are on. If the reader doesn’t care about the characters, then the story is pretty meaningless and unlikely to capture them until the end.
    Great post Julie!
    Helen 🙂

  5. Congratulations on your amazing NaNo achievement Julie! Brilliantly done especially with everything else you’ve had going on during November.
    I surprised myself the first time I cried with one of my characters. I felt a bit ridiculous afterwards especially after I told one of my friends and they looked at me as if I’d suddenly become schizophrenic. So it’s good to know that it happens to other people too. I’ve always felt easier about laughing with my characters. If they make me laugh then that’s got to be a good thing. Maybe, if I’m really lucky, they’ll make other people laugh too!

    • Thanks Alex. Yes, I do think that non-writers probably wouldn’t get it although hopefully they’ll laugh and cry themselves when the read the material and then see where we’re coming from xx

  6. What an insightful post, Julie. You know I think it might be a good benchmark for our writing if we are so moved by our characters we laugh and cry with them. If something awful happens to them but we aren’t really feeling it inside, then perhaps it’s a sign we need to look at it again? Maybe.. I don’t know. I do know I’m laughing like a drain as I write my newest novel, the one I started for NaNo, but then it has turned out to have far more comedy in than I realised was going to happen. With my completed one that’s doing the rounds at the moment, the last chapter never fails to bring a lump to my throat, and others who have read it say the same, so maybe there is some hope there after all!

    • Can’t wait to read your novel and giggle along to it! I do enjoy a good laugh … but also a good cry although I feel traumatised if that’s on the bus commuting to work so I like to see it coming lol xx

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