Many years ago, when I was married to my first husband, he punched me.

I learned something about writing from that punch.I learned about tears and cliches.

1. I learned that before tears come feelings of disbelief, shame, and the need to hush yourself so the children won’t be afraid. I learned that before tears comes the quiet in the soul that questions everything you thought you knew. I learned that before tears comes the instinct to survive, and when tears do come, perhaps years later, they don’t come pretty. They come ugly, with lots of snot and unattractive gutteral noises. Whenever I am tempted to cue the violins by allowing my character to indulge in tears, I stop to search my deepest imagination – what would this particular sorrow really feel like? What would my character really do? If my character must cry, I ask myself, what would that really look like? Surely not the delicate brimming of the eyes or the tasteful sobs you see on TV. Elie Wiesel once said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” When we use cliches, we contribute to the silence.

2. Another thing I learned, with time, is that virtually everything bad that happens to us has the potential to enlarge the soul and the imagination and one’s capacity for compassion, making us better human beings and, therefore, better writers.



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8 responses to “Tears

  1. Laura Kvasnosky


  2. sharonvanzandt

    Wise words, Martine! Thanks!

  3. maryquattlebaum

    Thank you, Martine!

  4. terrypierce

    Powerful words, Martine. I remember doing a workshop with you, where you told us, “No tears until your main character is at their lowest emotional point of the story. Not a single tear before then.” I’ve always carried that with me and thank you for your poignant explanation here.

  5. gingersjohnson

    I was thinking about you today, Martine, and wishing I could have a little piece of Martine to cheer my soul. This didn’t exactly cheer my soul, but I do feel better. 🙂

  6. Julie Larios

    Your story, Martine, is so moving. You’re quite right that the potential to grow from adversity exists. Some people can tap into that potential, and some people simply keep getting smaller and smaller until they are almost invisible – so heartbreaking when that happens. I applaud you for wanting to tell the stories of people who, like you, survive and are not diminished over time.

  7. karibaumbach

    So true, Martine. Tears reveal nothing, while the thoughts and feelings you mention reveal a loving and protective mother, a thinker, and a survivor.

    You make a powerful point in so few words.

  8. Louise Hawes

    Something else came before those tears, Martine. Courage.
    Thank you….

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