If you really want to make people cry, you’ll kill a puppy or something adorable like that.
Spiders that dedicate their lives to keeping a piglet out of the frying pan might work on children, but shouldn’t impact most adults in the same way. Jack may have mostly froze before Rose let him sink to the bottom of the glaciating ocean, but truthfully, he died because she was a selfish cow.
Bambi’s mother never came back after she sent him away (who names their son Bambi, anyway?) and that’s because she was shot by some stupid white guy who was clearly desperate and didn’t need a rack to hang above his fireplace. I bet he never told his buddies what he shot that season- what a waste.
Crappy writers and geniuses alike have a wretched tendency to place too much emphasis on pathos, or emotion. They abuse already tired conventions to make us feel a particular way and it’s cheap. Not only that, but it’s easy. We all cry when a loved one dies. It can feel almost as bad when we’re 300 pages deep in a novel and our protagonist’s lover gets shot, stabbed, run over, dies from any number or outrageous and rare diseases or falls prey to any other unconventional circumstance. Death takes the cake for most abused, but then we get to dreams gone by, relationships lost, failure and all the other bad emotions. Unfortunately, I haven’t touched any positive feelings yet.
Love and romance can quicken the beating of our desirous hearts and leave us breathless, wondering when we’ll have a moment like the one when Patrick Swayze messed up the pot that Demi Moore was working on in that terrible romance Ghost and they started making out because there was nothing else to do.
Do you see where I’m going? Too much emotion will leave people laughing at you later. I sometimes write because arson is a felony and I wouldn’t fare well in prison, but I have to go back and check myself, and make sure that I wasn’t hunting for pity or misrepresenting my generally neutral-to-crabby self.
Here’s my advice. Write with an honest level of emotion, because people will relate to it, but don’t overdo it- and if you’re going to try, please consider your metaphors, symbols and circumstances. Don’t use something that’s already been done unless you’re going to flip it on its head.
Pathos is one third of the rhetorical trio used to convince people. The other two (posts on their way, my friends) are ethos and logos. All three are important in our writing today but can’t be used alone because on their own, we have incomplete, poorly supported arguments and stories and we look like crappy writers.