Tuesday, April 30, 2013

When Feeling Bad Feels Good!



The Difference Between Sad Situations that Make a Reader Feel Bad and Those That Make A Reader Feel Good:

It’s Important to Know The Difference

Yesterday, I commented about reading a romance that has made me feel bad as I read it for almost all the 70% of the book that I have read so far. Reading the book is hard going. After I put the book down, I don’t really want to pick it up again to continuing reading. I’m actually more likely to pick up another book instead. That’s very easy to do on a Kindle. With just a click of a button, I can delve into a different book.  


And that is what is happening! While I have been reading this ‘bad feeling’ book, I have started reading two other books: “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Kiowa Trail”. I’m 25% into the Hound and 88% into Kiowa and both these books were started after my beginning to read the ‘bad feeling’ book.


Can an Author Write About Sad Situations?


After I wrote yesterday’s blog it occurred to me that some readers may believe that the need to make a reader feel good precludes writing about sad situations. One might think that an author is thus prevented from ever writing about real life situations. However, this is just not the case.


Sad events can be written in a way that will make the reader feel good and have sympathy for the character who is suffering. Some sad situations are life affirming. Today I just started reading one such book, “The Lawman’s Second Chance”  by Ruth Logan Herne. This book starts with the hero feeling bad because of a situation that reminds him that his wife died of breast cancer. He was deeply in love with her.

May First Release



Lieutenant Alexander Steele turned into the parking lot of Gardens & Greens Nursery and pulled up short. Shades of pink surrounded him while huge banners proclaimed the garden center's tribute to breast cancer awareness.

The Southern Tier investigator had three choices. Fight the bile rising in his throat, drive the car away and disappoint his ten-year-old daughter yet again, or man up and choose a parking spot.

He chose the latter and pretended to like it, but he'd been pretending for too long and the garden center's Pink Ribbon Campaign slam-dunked his already damaged heart. Why here? Why now? He'd made the move to Allegany County not only to get away from the city, but also to escape the grief breast cancer had left behind.

Realization hit home. Spring had arrived, finally. May loomed just around the corner. That meant Mother's Day.

Of course. He hadn't thought of that. Was it a deliberate mistake, like so many others of late? Or was he simply bogged down with work and the task of raising three motherless kids?

"Oh, Daddy." Emma's gray eyes rounded as she grasped his hand. "Have you ever seen anything so beautiful in your life?"

The crush of pinks wasn't beautiful. Not to him. Not when every ribbon, every banner, every rose-toned bloom and 5K run reminded him of what he'd lost two years before. His wife. His helpmate, appointed by God.

He'd believed that then.




This is indeed a sad situation. The hero is heartbroken after losing his wife who he dearly loved. He finds it painful to look at all the pink flowers. Little does he know that the heroine has also suffered from breast cancer and that her husband has left her because of her ‘missing parts’.  OMG! I want a front row seat for this conflict!
While this is a totally sad situation, it is dealt with a great deal of hope. The reader knows from the first page that help is on the way. The reader is rooting for the hero. The hero and his child are very sympathetic characters. We want them to find happiness and be comforted. And we know they will find happiness because this is a romance with a guaranteed happy ending.

How to Write About Sad Situations


“The Lawman’s Second Chance” shows how to write about a very sad situation without making the reader feel bad. Indeed, such writing can even make the reader feel good -- even some warm fuzzies.  Within a page things are looking up. It seems the reader is joining the story just as the hero’s long night of pain is coming to an end. This alone produces a feeling of hope and relief vicariously in the reader.


The Bad Kind of Feeling Bad


A writer can also make the reader feel bad by having bad things happen to people who are not sympathetic. Like the husband who walks out on a wife who is a shrew and who no one could live with. Besides the wife is not the heroine and we don’t feel much sympathy for her. We just feel bad or uneasy. The abandoned wife also says things that make the other characters in the story very uncomfortable.  
A reader may well feel this unhappy wife deserves what she is getting. That she brings it on herself. How about having a suicide that is not directly related to the hero or heroine but which serves to make those two feel bad (to say nothings of the reader!)  Then there are also characters who are very unsympathetic and who you would not want to be around in real life  yet the author is making you be ‘around them’ vicariously. What a difference between the two approaches.


One story is very sad but your feelings as you read the story are of hope and the anticipation of relief; while the other story is one of despair with little apparent relief in sight. These sad secondary characters might not even be part of the guaranteed HEA.  

Yet, there will be a happy ending to the 'bad feeling' book. Nevertheless, I feel that the happy ending is going to come too late and the reward will not be worth the price paid. Of course, the critics may love this book for making the pain seem so real. The critics could actually feel the pain. But then critics don't read for enjoyment. At least, not the way ordinary readers, who don't have a dog in the fight, read for enjoyment and for how their reading expeience makes them feel as they are reading the book.
Writers Should Be Aware Of What Their Readers Are Feeling on Each Page.


  1. Vince, I think you hit the nail on the head. What you need is a sympathetic protagonist. That's a big job we writers have at the beginning of the story. Before we can throw stuff at our main character/s, we have to make the reader want to pull for him/her.

    Great points.

  2. By the way, I love that opening to Ruthy's book! Excellent example.

  3. Hi Missy:

    I think that’s it. I think it’s part a matter of timing. Look at it this way: when does the bad situation start improving?

    If the improvement begins near the very beginning of the book, then the reader can begin to feel the exhilaration of recovery right from the start. For example: the hero wakes up disgusted that he’s 100 pounds over-weight but decides this is the day that he joins Weight Watches. Every week there after he loses at least five pounds. We cheer with him.

    However, if the improvement only begins towards the end of the book, and the bad situation only gets worse until that point, then that’s making the reader feel bad for a long time. For example, the heroine wakes up disgusted that she is fifty pounds over-weight but does nothing and for a lot of the book she gains more weight until near the end she goes on “The Biggest Loser” and loses all the excess pounds. The reader is going to feel bad for most of the second book but hey the reader will almost feel a more wonderful HEA! You get what you pay for! : )


    Hi Missy:

  4. Hi Missy:

    I just love the start of Ruth’s book. I can see the train wreck coming. In a few pages I’m in love with the hero, heroine, and the child who lost her mother. But when will the hero learn of the heroine’s cancer? After they fall in love? And when told will the hero hesitate and make the heroine think he is just like her ex-husband – unable to deal with it? A cad who really didn’t love her for better or worse?

    The only problem with this plot is the difficulty in writing it with the proper sensitivity. So far, one chapter in, the writing is perfect. But then Ruth is very, very close to this story. I’m so glad that she is the one to write it.


    1. Definitely. And I bet Lisa read it before she sent it off to her editor.

  5. HI Vince, I have been reading these last blogs on stories that make you feel bad. I"m wondering why you are reading a story that makes you feel bad. I had a similar experience. One of my favorite favorite authors wrote a novel that I picked up all excited to read and it was about a heroine facing Alzheimers with her mother. Well I was facing that with family members and it was truthfully the last thing I wanted to read about. I never got past page 10 in that book and even though I've read every other book by that author, I will never read that particular book. It received awards and many people wrote how it helped them, but it made me feel bad so I won't read it.

    As an author I would never want a reader to feel bad. I would much rather they put the book down than feel bad. We all come to books with different experiences so we aren't going to make everyone happy.

    If someone promised to read a book that they couldn't read, I would certainly understand and would feel terrible if that reader felt forced to read something that made them feel bad. Especially if I wrote it.

    So I hope you have been able to put this book down. Read those other two you found. smile

  6. Hi Sandra:

    Asking a philosopher a question like, “Why read a book that makes you feel bad,” is enough to explode his mind! It would take over 1000 words to just outline the answer. It might even make an interesting short Kindle writing book.

    There is a difference between feeling bad and feeling sad. I didn’t really make this distinction (because I didn’t think of this until you asked your question.)

    A book can make you feel bad, sad, or both. Then there is a difference between a good book that makes you feel bad, sad or both and a bad book that does the same.

    Then there is the ‘page turning’ power of the book in question. A good book can be a strong page turner or a weak one. This same applies to a bad book. I’ve read bad books I couldn’t put down! (Trash?)

    “Winter’s End” made me sad but it did not make me feel bad. It did take over a month to read. Just as in your case, it mirrored the hospice experience I was going through with my mother. It was hard to read but it was also 5 star quality and something I wanted to read.

    Debby Giusti wrote a book that took more than a month to read, “The Colonel's Daughter”. This book hurt to read! I have still not been able to write a review. I’d give it 5-Stars and a Spanking! (I don’t think Debby reads these comments. Besides I'm saying it is a great book!) It was too good not to read and too sad and even painful to read at the same time. But this is for me. That book violates a long standing mystery tradition: kill the victim off stage before the action opens and don’t make the murder victim highly sympathetic. Her victims were war heroes or the wives of war heroes. This probably says more about me than the book.

    This gets me to your new release book. I have never read a Vietnam related story. It hurts too much. I hated the two movies I saw and won’t go to any Vietnam movie. I don’t even know if your book would make me feel bad or sad but I don’t think I’ll get up the will to try. So I’m glad you understand.

    BTW: I wrote a post some months ago saying that I don’t finish most of the books I start any more. I read at least five books at a time on my Kindle and I let them compete with each other for my attention. Some I start to read but never go back to. Tina’s new book crowded out the other four books until hers was over. “Kiowa Trail” started out great but has been stalled for a long time. By reading five books at once (they have to be different enough so you don’t get the characters mixed up between books) you get to evaluate the comparative merits of each of those books in a way you can’t do any other way. Sagging middles really stand out when four other books command your attention more that it and it was once a hot contender. Doing this has really taught me to worry about every page of the book. My Kindle now has about 1400 books on it. (I believe that is the limit). Books are inexpensive or free for the Kindle. I never lack anything good to read. The world has changed, reading has changed, and in this one respect, I’m in the vanguard.

    Thanks for your question, it may lead to a short Kindle book on the topic. Also, thanks for understanding if I don’t read a certain book.


    P.S. Will I finish the bad feeling book I am now trying to get through? Well, it’s a bad feeling book and not a sad feeling book. But it is very well written. I’d say it is 50/50 that I read the last 30%. That’s the best I can do for your question.

    P.P.S. “The Bossy Bridegroom” made me feel mad, not sad or bad. The madder I got, the faster I turned the pages. This book is a gem.

  7. Hi Sandra:

    After all that, I need to say this: “The Colonel’s Daughter” is also a suspense and you can kill sympathetic characters to heighten the suspense for the next sympathetic character who is at risk. But it still hurts if you really like the character and you closely identify with that character.


  8. Hi Vince, I should have known I would get a philosophy lesson out of that question. chuckling.

    Great answer though. And no, I won't feel badly if you don't read the book. My brother went to Vietnam and it hurt so badly to see how the Vets were treated. At least we learned from that as I notice people from my generation going up to armed forces personnel in public and thanking them for serving.

    Interesting idea to read 5 books at a time. I'm like you though. I don't finish very many books. They have to really grip me. Missy's Rita finalist was the last one that did that to me.

    Someone told me that when I start writing I wouldn't be able to read anymore. I laughed so hard because I was a voracious reader. I used to sneak books under the covers as a child and read all night. Wouldn't a Kindle have been nice??? But they are correct. It is tough to finish books now. They have to be stellar. Or I have to be in the right mood. Not sure which it is.

    1. Thanks, Sandra!

      You know, I agree about not finishing. Vince is right, the books on my Kindle are more likely to be left unfinished. It's easy to just shut one and try another, especially when so many were free. I suspect I stick with something longer if I've invested more in it--which sounds kind of ridiculous now that I admit that. :)

      Also, I sometimes find I need to be in a certain mood to read a certain type book.

  9. Hi Sandra:

    My two best, most glowing, reviews last year were for Missy’s “A Family for Faith“ and Scarlet Wilson’s “West Wing to Maternity Wing“. Both these books are up for a RITAs this year! So either RITA judges are influenced by my reviews or I’m a very good judge of outstanding romance writing. (Either option is fine with me. ☺)

    As for not finishing books: as we get older it becomes obvious we are not going to live forever and time is too precious to spend reading a weak or slow moving novel. I want to find those RITA and CAROL quality books and to find them I may have to kiss a lot of frogs. However, those frogs are only going to get one kiss.


  10. Hi Missy:

    I have to agree. I am much more likely to finish a book I paid $24.95 to buy, than the same book I got free on loan from the library. Even though, if you value your time, that is like throwing good money after bad.

    There is something about looking at an actuarial chart and seeing you only have x years left to live – on average – to make you ration your time.


    1. LOL! Don't be looking at those charts! How depressing! :)