A while ago on my blog, I addressed the problem of crying in public places while reading a romance novel. In particular, the problem of crying on a plane and thus terrifying your seat mate, who becomes convinced that she’s sitting next to a loon. Since then, I’ve thought a lot about the whole question of what makes readers cry, perhaps because I’m a chronically weepy reader myself.
For example, I’m a sucker for stories about suffering kids. If the hero or heroine had a sad childhood, and that sad childhood is described in detail, I’ll be sniffling before I’m done. Take Linda Howard’s After the Night. The heroine’s miserable childhood is described in the first third of the book, and it’s so miserable I always find myself skimming that part (yeah, I re-read the book every couple of years). On the other hand, that description is absolutely necessary since it sets up the rest of the book and explains the extreme hostility between the hero and the heroine (at least initially). And yes, I also get weepy when the heroine confronts that hostility and resists it.
The thing is, this tendency for readers to sniffle when reading romance is sometimes used as a criticism of both the genre and the readers. “Sentimental” critics sniff. “Melodrama.” For me, the problem with these criticisms is that they overlook the point that sentiment and melodrama are perfectly okay, as long as they’re appropriate and effective for the story. I remember once hearing a writer (I think it was Larry McMurtry, but I could be wrong about that) say that it’s easy to make a reader cry—you have a child with a dog and then you kill the dog. Bingo, instant tears! What’s harder is to make a reader cry because of the basic situation in the story. I think Mary Balogh is a master at this, but she’s certainly not alone. Linda Howard is another. So is Loretta Chase, although she does mainly comic historicals—there’s always something in Chase that makes me tearful, even if it’s just the painful experiences the heroine or hero has had to endure before they get to the point where they’re funny (try to read Not Quite a Lady without tearing up—I dare you). Being able to inspire tears is the mark of a writer who creates characters you believe it, so why is that considered a point against the book?
But here’s something really weird (or really pathetic, depending on your point of view)—I also tear up at my own stuff. I mean, I know these people aren’t real. Heck, I created them! I also know exactly what happens in the story so their travails aren’t much of a surprise. It doesn’t matter. When my hero in Venus In Blue Jeans murmurs, “So long, babe,” thinking he’s lost the heroine, I still tear up. Ditto when my heroine in Wedding Bell Blues gives her wedding toast, thinking the hero is leaving in the morning. Go figure.
So, okay, enough about me—do you cry at romances? If so, what makes you do it? And have you ever felt sort of embarrassed to be doing it in front of strangers? Just asking.