I have been praised for writing (a few) emotional scenes and, if I were to give advice on them, I’d say it boils down to a few things:
- One of the biggest misconceptions is that writing an emotional scene is about getting a specific emotion out of a reader: You want to make them sad, happy, unsettled, angry, unsettled, relieved, etc. This is a dead end. Emotional scenes are about what your characters feel; the audience merely reacts to their feelings.
- To write a good emotional scene, you need to show on your characters’ experience. The best way to do it is to describe what your characters are going through - how they feel, what evokes these feelings, what they do about it. If you can describe it well enough, your readers will get emotionally invested in the scene.
- Your readers will have different reactions to an emotional scene. It all depends on their personal experience. Don’t try to force a specific feeling out of them - it’ll only make them angry.
- Don’t judge or interpret, just show. Don’t present the situation as right or wrong, good or bad, sad or happy, or anything else. That’s for your readers to judge; don’t take that freedom from them. Your characters are, of course, allowed to judge the situation and other people, since they’re a part of it. However, make sure to present their judgement instead of your own.
- Emotions are actually something of a chain of cause and effect. We don’t get emotional for no reason, so
unless your character’s emotions are affected by their physiology you should show what get the emotional reaction out of them. These circumstances can be even more important than the feelings themselves, as they’re much more relatable than bare emotions.
- Dialogue is not a bad thing. Talking lets the characters express their emotions, which in turn affects (and fuels) the feelings of everyone involved. In a group emotional scene, expression is often your way to go.
Last but not least: To write an emotional scene, you have to be comfortable with your emotions. This is especially true for emotions you’re writing about, but not only. This is, unfortunately, a very personal thing: I find that emotionally repressed people have a lot of trouble handling intense feelings, which makes writing (and sometimes even reading) emotional prose very challenging.
(This is the main reason why I haven’t been writing my main project, actually. It’s a very emotional piece and, over the last few years, I’ve been thrown into an emotional turmoil that made me very repressed. I know that I wouldn’t be able to follow it up on the same level as before, which is… Kind of the whole point of that series )