Okay, as cheesy as it sounds, I was playing Undertale a couple weeks ago, and it actually made me laugh and tear up more than once. After finishing, it occurred to me that my stories are well written (or so I'm told...) but I struggle to write really emotional scenes. I can tell the audience how the characters feel, but I've never had someone comment on one of my sad scenes that they were crying, or that they laughed during a funny scene. So, how do you guys make your audience feel the emotions you want them to?

I've heard once that it helps if the characters are also reacting with the same emotions you want the reader to feel during that scene (this might not apply to comedy). I don't have any experience, but I think that reading some works known to tug emotions (such as Flowers for Algernon) would help you out.

TL;DR: be mindful of avoiding emotional whiplash, except in very unusual or extrahuman minds

One such scene I've been struggling with involves a character (who you've just met) going on a sudden journey because she killed her grandmother (who you've also just met)


Struck her grandmother in the face.

And it was her fault.

The reason you're struggling with emotion in that scene is that there's no emotion in that scene. It reads like it was written by a robot. The action and blocking is unclear. It feels like pantomime. The dialogue is composed of cliche after cliche.

How do I improve, then?

I've written a novella whose reviews mostly consist of "damn you you made me cry", but I can't tell you the "steps" to write like that. All I can say is that I myself was crying as I wrote the last scene.

Some elements that are definitely required:

- Full immersion. This requires a certain level of writing skill. There can't be a single inconsistency, typo, awkward phrase, or anything else that reminds the reader they are "just" reading a story. Their consciousness must be fully absorbed into the story

- Deep characters. You mention that the two characters in that scene have only just been introduced to the story. Nobody cares about them. You could kill them a million times and people would just shrug. It's only after you've built up enough layers of complexity and shared experience with the reader that the character becomes "real" and can be properly empathized with.

Pulling off those two elements in conjunction is quite the challenge. When you build characters with that much complexity, it is very easy for any single action to suddenly become inconsistent with their character. This is often my problem, as my characters suddenly start running around messing up my intended plot with their wilfulness. It requires a lot of creativity to keep the story remotely on track, but the effort is fun and the result is rewarding.

Humour is both easier and just as hard. It's reasonably easy to make a reader smile with a silly scene or a witty remark. Making someone full-out laugh takes just as much skill as making them cry. It takes pretty much the same elements, except the characters don't necessarily have to be emotionally "deep", just very characteristic of themselves, which can be done with exaggerated characters somewhat more easily than realistic ones.

Based on your example passage, you're better off working on writing immersive scenes in general. The whole thing feels very "zoomed out", clearly told by a narrator rather than through the lens of the main character. Third person limited can be as intimate with the character's experience and emotion as 1st person, but that scene doesn't come close.

Like I said, I've been struggling with that one scene for months. I must have rewritten it at least five times by now. I think I've done better in other parts of the book. Like this one... maybe?

For instance, these are examples of telling that I feel are hurting the first passage:

In an instant, all of her rage disappeared.

With a cry of fright

Tears fell freely from her eyes

The only person in the whole world she cared about was dead.

And it was her fault.

Contrast this with the other passage you posted:

Do you feel how much more personal these lines are? How they almost vibrate with emotion? You can tell there's a _character_ behind those words, thinking and feeling, and rendered into prose.

I hope this helps.

It's called bloodletting.

I think I need to completely rework T'vaskli's chapter. I've rewritten it over and over and it never feels right.

That extract doesn't read like a novel - it reads like a badly translated JRPG, where nobody talks (or, indeed, acts) like a real person. It reminds me of something Hayao Miyazaki said:

If you want to improve:

a) Study actual people, how they talk to one another, how they react and emote.

b) Read more, and study how other writers create emotion and express character.

@Dary "That extract doesn't read like a novel"

The first or the second one? Or both?