How to make viewers, or readers, cry over the death of a character:
As an author I pull my inspiration for my stories from everything around me, from friends and family to books I’m reading and movies I’m watching. I think seeing how someone else created a believable scene, or displays a believable emotion can help writers better understand people and emotions and how to write those things in their own stories in a believable way. So, to help inspire all of you in your writing here are my top ten saddest TV episodes.
10. House – episode “Wilson’s Heart” – No one really liked “Cutthroat Bitch” but after episodes of watching House piece together the tragic bus accident you couldn’t help but shed a tear for Amber and the hopelessness of her situation. House did a great job of making its viewers feel for a less liked character. Part of what made this episode so great was the buildup. The fact that House puts so much effort in to figure out what happened, only to find that there’s nothing he can do to save her is completely heartbreaking.
9. Bones – episode “The Graft in the Girl” – Anytime there’s a child or a young person facing death our hearts reach out to them, and the fact that Amy is so mature about her situation makes us feel for her that much more. It’s not so much the thought of her death that makes this episode sad, but more so the thought of all the things she’ll never be able to do. This is emphasized by Angela bringing her the virtual reality headset to give her a glimpse of places she’ll never really get to visit.
8. Supernatural – episode “Swan Song” – Who doesn’t like Kansas’s “Carry on my Wayward Son”? That song alone could bring tears to my eyes. It’s not always just what happens that makes something sad, it’s how it’s presented. Having the right music, setting the scene in the right way, is necessary to evoke emotion. Also seeing good overcome evil and the way Sam’s memories gave him strength was a powerful message making his “death” all the more meaningful.
7. Angel – episode “I Will Remember You” – How could you not cry at the end of this episode? Buffy and Angel finally had a chance to be together, and forever the martyr Angel gave it all up to keep fighting the good fight. This worked because of who Angel was; he’d devoted his whole existence to making up for his wrongdoing and protecting those who had no one else to look out for them. We could believe in his love for Buffy, but being unable to protect those that he loved meant that he couldn’t be himself, and thus he and Buffy would forever be star-crossed lovers. Sacrifice will only bring a tear to your reader’s eye if they truly believe and understand why your character gave up what he or she did.
6. Buffy – episode “Becoming Part 2” – This is another example of good music choice, Sarah McLachlan and stabbing your boyfriend and sending him to hell to save the world. This is also another example of making sacrifice believable. The world was at stake, and Buffy did what she had to, to protect it, but in the end you saw how much that took from her. But, what I think makes this episode really sad was more than just music and sacrifice, it was looking at what it means to be alone and to have no one but yourself to rely on. Angelus has Buffy cornered and says “No weapons... no friends... no hope. Take all that away and what's left?” and she responds “me.” She finds strength in herself, that strength helps her win the fight, but in the end it also means she’s alone.
5. The Closer – episode “Last Rites” – Brenda finally pay’s the price for putting her work first. I think what hit me hardest with this episode was how unexpected it was. It was just so incredibly real, and the fact that Brenda’s mom never gets the chance to tell her something just eats away at you. Building up to a sad scene can be really effective, but this episode shows that the unexpected can draw just as much emotion if done correctly.
4. Buffy – episode “The Body” – I mentioned before that music choice in episodes was helpful in getting viewers to really feel what was going on in the scene. For this episode it’s the lack of music that tugs at your heart. It’s so raw, so real, and the fact that the entire episode is without music really drives the point home. As a writer I tend to lean more toward the descriptive and using language to describe in detail a scene, but I think this episode shows that pulling back and letting the silence seep in can be just as effective.
3. Angel – episode “A Hole in the World” - Not many people can make the decision to look at the bigger picture. What made this episode so sad for me was that it wasn’t just death that Fred faced, but the complete destruction of her soul. In the Buffyverse we got used to characters being killed off and brought back, but with Fred there was no possibility of a return. The finality of her death was what hit me the hardest. And, they could have saved her, but saving her would have meant death for thousands of other people. It was sad because to protect thousands of people they didn’t know they chose to not only let Fred die but for her entire existence to wiped out. The weight of that was heavier than any other death I’d seen on the show.
2. The Ghost Whisperer – episode “Threshold” – At the end of this episode you completely believe that Melinda’s husband, who was shot and in a coma, has just pulled through and that he’s woken up, but then you realize that Melinda was really talking to his ghost - completely unknowing that he’d passed away, and the whole time you’re sitting there saying “no” this can’t be. His final words to her and that last moment they got to have together was what made this episode sad. In the Closer’s “Last Rites,” the fact that Brenda’s mom never gets to tell her something is what makes it sad. In “Threshold,” it’s getting to hear those last words and knowing that they are the last words she’ll ever hear him say that makes it sad. It’s in knowing that she has to let him go that we feel for her.
1. Buffy – episode “The Gift” – I have never cried harder than when I first watched this episode. What I think makes it so sad is that you see how Buffy’s death effects so many people. Sometimes it’s not the death itself that’s the saddest part; sometimes it’s the way that death creates a loss for everyone who was a part of that person’s life. At the end of the episode you see all Buffy’s friends gathered around and it’s like you can feel the hole she makes in their lives and in their hearts with her death. After all, “the hardest thing in this world, is to live in it.” (Buffy ep. 5.22) and what makes this episode sad is the thought of living without someone who, in so many ways, was your world.