How to Describe Crying in Writing (21 Best Tips + Examples)

There is a lot more to describing crying than simply saying “He wept” or “She cried.”

You need to create a vivid, heart-rending image in your reader’s mind.

Here’s how to describe crying in writing:

Describe crying in writing by noting the physical signs (tears, facial expressions), underlying emotions (joy, sadness, frustration), and aftermath of crying. Capture the reason for crying and add unique details to convey the depth of the character’s emotions.

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to describe crying in writing.

1. Understanding the Tears

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Cartoon Woman Crying - How to Describe Crying in Writing
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Tears aren’t just drops of salty water that stream down your face.

In literature, they can symbolize a wide range of emotions – joy, grief, frustration, relief, fear – you name it.

They’re a natural response to emotional stimuli, and as a writer, it’s essential to understand their significance.

Crying is often seen as an intimate act, a window into a character’s most vulnerable moments.

Therefore, describing the tears themselves can be an effective way to convey the character’s emotional state to your readers.

Are they streaming down like a river, or are they just welling up in the eyes, threatening to spill?

Example: Her tears welled up slowly, refusing to fall, just like her pride. She was hurt, but she was not yet broken.

2. Body Language Tells a Tale

Body language is a powerful tool to portray crying in your writing.

When a person cries, it isn’t only about the tears. Their whole body can be engaged in this emotional expression.

Slumped shoulders, clenched fists, shaking body – these can all hint towards the internal turmoil.

Remember, each character is unique and their body language while crying will reflect their personality.

A reserved character might curl up, hugging their knees while a more expressive one might throw their hands in the air in despair.

Example: As he began to cry, his body hunched over, as if carrying the weight of his unspoken grief on his shoulders. His clenched fists were the only telltale sign of his silent struggle.

3. Listening to the Sound of Crying

The sound of crying can be as telling as the sight of it.

Some people wail loudly, while others may whimper softly. The volume, tone, and rhythm of the crying can reflect the intensity and nature of the emotions the character is experiencing.

Consider your character’s circumstances and their personality when describing the sound of their crying.

A character who is desperate might cry out loud, while a character who is trying to hide their feelings might suppress their sobs, creating a choked, stifled sound.

Example: Her cries were barely audible, like the soft whispers of the wind on a cold, lonely night. But each stifled sob echoed the loud, resounding ache in her heart.

4. Crying In Solitude

The setting of a crying scene can provide a deeper understanding of a character’s emotions.

When a character cries alone, it often suggests that they are not comfortable showing their vulnerability to others or that they prefer dealing with their emotions privately.

Crying in solitude can be depicted as a deeply personal moment of reflection, grief, or even relief.

It allows the character to fully express their emotions without the worry of judgment or expectation.

As a writer, make sure to describe the setting in a way that reflects the character’s state of mind.

Example: Alone in her room, she finally allowed her tears to fall. Each tear was a silent testament to the grief she hid behind her smile each day.

5. Crying In Company

On the contrary, a character crying in the company of others can indicate a sense of trust or desperation.

They might be seeking comfort, or they may have been pushed to a point where they can’t hide their emotions any longer.

Describing a character crying in front of others provides an opportunity to explore interpersonal dynamics.

The reactions of those around can provide insight into relationships and individual personalities.

Example: He wept openly in front of his comrades, his usual strong facade crumbling. The room was filled with an uncomfortable silence, his friends unsure how to comfort their usually stoic leader.

6. Cultural Differences

Cultural background can play a significant role in how a character expresses their emotions, including crying.

Some cultures view crying openly as a sign of weakness, while others consider it a natural and healthy expression of emotion.

As a writer, you can use this aspect to enrich your characters and the world they inhabit.

Be mindful, though, to research thoroughly and represent any culture accurately and respectfully.

Example: In his culture, men seldom cried. But as he watched his daughter walk down the aisle, tears welled up in his eyes. His heart swelled with a mixture of pride and nostalgia that transcended cultural norms.

7. The Physical Impact of Tears

Crying isn’t just an emotional experience; it’s also a physical one.

It can be exhausting and leave the character feeling drained, or it might provide a sense of relief and release.

Describe the physical sensations associated with crying – the heat of tears on the face, the ache in the throat, the headache that follows a long bout of weeping.

This can make your description more realistic and relatable.

Example: As her sobs subsided, she was left with a lingering headache and a rawness in her throat. But amidst the physical discomfort, she felt a strange sense of relief.

8. The Reason Behind the Tears

Tears often come with a story.

Understanding and conveying the reason behind a character’s tears can create an emotional connection with the reader.

It’s not just about the act of crying, but the trigger that led to it.

Is it a reaction to a personal loss, an outcome of immense joy, or a response to a stressful situation?

Answering these questions in your writing can bring depth to your characters and their emotional journey.

Example: The tears that streamed down his face were not of sadness, but of joy. He had finally achieved his dream, the dream he had worked so tirelessly for. His tears were a tribute to his relentless pursuit and hard work.

9. The Aftermath of Crying

Crying can leave a character feeling various emotions such as relief, embarrassment, exhaustion, or even more confusion.

Describing the aftermath of crying gives your narrative a sense of progression.

It also provides a deeper look into the character’s psyche.

You can describe the character’s physical appearance after crying, their thoughts and feelings, and their subsequent actions.

This aftermath can be just as telling as the crying scene itself.

Example: After the tears, she felt an eerie calm. Her face was blotchy, her eyes red-rimmed, but her mind was clear. She picked herself up, squared her shoulders, and decided to face her challenges head-on.

10. Gendered Tears

Societal norms and stereotypes often influence how characters express their emotions.

In many societies, crying is seen as a feminine act, and men are often discouraged from displaying such open vulnerability.

However, these stereotypes can and should be challenged.

Describing a male character crying can add depth and help break stereotypes, while describing a female character choosing not to cry can show strength and resilience.

Example: He sat on the floor, surrounded by the shards of his shattered past, tears streaming down his face. He didn’t care for societal norms that asked men not to cry. He was hurting, and he let it show.

11. Age and Crying

Age can affect how a character expresses their emotions.

A child might cry loudly without any inhibition, while an adult might try to suppress their tears.

On the other hand, an elderly character might cry out of loneliness, nostalgia, or physical pain.

Use age-appropriate expressions and behaviors while describing a character crying. This will add realism and depth to your characters and their emotions.

Example: The little girl broke into loud, unabashed sobs, her tiny shoulders shaking with each cry. She didn’t understand why her friend had to move away.

12. Cathartic Crying

Sometimes, crying serves as a catharsis for pent-up emotions.

It can be a healthy way for characters to release stress, pain, or frustration. Describing such a moment can be powerful and add a significant turning point to your character’s emotional journey.

The cathartic nature of crying can be accentuated by the relief a character feels afterwards.

The release of emotion can lead to clarity of thought, a renewed sense of purpose, or a deeper understanding of one’s emotions.

Example: She let the tears fall, each one washing away a little bit of the pain she’d been holding onto. When the sobs finally subsided, she felt a lightness she hadn’t felt in a long time.

13. Quiet Desperation

Not all crying is loud and noticeable.

Sometimes, it’s quiet, hidden – a symbol of silent suffering or inner turmoil.

Characters might cry in this way when they’re trying to hide their pain from others, or perhaps even from themselves.

The silent tears can be the most powerful, as they suggest a deep, underlying sadness that the character is struggling with.

Use descriptive language to paint this subtle, poignant picture in your reader’s mind.

Example: He cried silently, tears streaming down his face without a sound. It was the quiet, desperate crying of a man broken by his own thoughts.

14. Reflective Crying

Characters might cry when they’re immersed in deep thought, reminiscing about past events, or regretting missed opportunities.

This reflective crying can provide an excellent opportunity for character development.

While describing reflective crying, you can take your reader on a journey into the character’s past, revealing memories, regrets, and long-lost dreams.

It’s a chance to share backstory and character history, deepening reader engagement.

Example: As she looked at the faded photograph, a tear trickled down her cheek. Each face in the picture ignited a memory, a ghost from her past, and with it came a profound sense of loss.

15. Crying for Attention

Sometimes, characters might cry to draw attention, express their frustration, or manipulate a situation.

This isn’t necessarily negative.

It simply adds another layer to the character’s personality and their methods of handling situations.

When you describe such a scene, focus on the character’s intentions and the reaction they’re seeking to elicit.

This can create interesting dynamics and add a twist to your story.

Example: She started to cry, the tears coming easily. She knew her tears always made him uncomfortable, made him give in to her demands.

16. Symbolic Tears

Tears can often be used as symbols in your narrative, signifying much more than just sadness.

They can symbolize a pivotal change, loss, healing, or even joy.

They can be seen as a rite of passage, or a mark of resolution.

Use your creative liberty to imbue tears with symbolism. This can give your writing an added layer of depth, creating a resonating impact with your readers.

Example: As the rain started to fall, so did his tears. They were not tears of sadness, but of rebirth, washing away the old him, symbolizing a fresh start.

17. Fake Crying

Characters might resort to fake crying as a method of manipulation or deceit.

This can showcase a cunning aspect of their personality, adding an interesting dynamic to their character arc.

Describing fake crying can involve focusing on the character’s lack of genuine emotion or their exaggerated attempts to seem upset.

Pay attention to the other characters’ reactions as well, adding to the complexity of the situation.

Example: She squeezed out a tear, her sobbing loud and dramatic. The others watched, oblivious to her act, taken in by her convincing performance.

18. Contagious Crying

Crying can be contagious.

When one character starts crying, it might trigger a chain reaction, leading others to cry as well.

This can create an intense, emotional scene, showing the deep empathy between characters.

Describe the emotions and reactions of each character involved. This can be an excellent way to showcase relationships and shared sentiments among characters.

Example: As she broke down, her tears touched a chord in everyone’s heart. One by one, they all started crying, their shared grief creating a bond stronger than words could express.

19. Empathetic Crying

Characters might cry out of empathy, feeling the pain and suffering of others.

This can showcase their sensitive and compassionate side, adding depth to their personality.

When describing empathetic crying, focus on the character’s thoughts and feelings towards the person or situation they are empathizing with.

This can create an emotional and powerful scene, connecting your readers to your characters on a deeper level.

Example: As he listened to her story, he couldn’t hold back his tears. Her pain was now his, her tears reflected in his eyes.

20. Crying Out of Frustration

Frustration can often bring on the waterworks.

Your characters might cry when they are overwhelmed, stuck in a situation, or unable to express their feelings.

This can make them relatable, reflecting real human reactions to challenging circumstances.

Describing frustration-induced crying involves illustrating the character’s inner turmoil, their feelings of helplessness or irritation, and the ultimate release through tears.

Example: Overwhelmed by the sheer unfairness of it all, he started crying. Each tear was a silent scream of frustration, a desperate plea for relief.

21. The Weight of Unshed Tears

Sometimes, the most profound pain comes from the tears that are not shed.

Characters might hold back their tears due to fear, pride, or denial. The burden of these unshed tears can add a dramatic intensity to your narrative.

While describing unshed tears, focus on the character’s internal struggle to keep their emotions in check.

This restraint can speak volumes about their emotional state and character traits.

Example: His eyes were dry, but the pain in them was palpable. They were the eyes of a man who carried the weight of unshed tears.

How to Describe Crying Dialogue

Crying can significantly affect a character’s speech.

Words can be choked, interrupted by sobs, or can even seem more heartfelt. Describing crying dialogue can bring a higher level of authenticity and relatability to your character’s emotional state.

When a character is crying, their dialogue might be broken, breathless, or whispered.

Alternatively, their emotion might lend them a surprising strength, their words coming out loud and clear despite their tears.

This contrast between physical vulnerability and verbal resilience can create a powerful impact.

Example: “I… I can’t believe you’d… do this,” she stammered, her voice choked with sobs. Despite the tears that blurred her vision, her words held a strength that surprised even her.

How to Describe Happy Crying

Happy crying can be a beautiful contradiction to portray in your narrative.

It happens when joy, relief, or happiness becomes so overwhelming that it triggers tears. It’s an emotional high point that can really connect readers to the character’s joy.

When describing happy crying, focus on the positive emotion behind the tears.

The character’s tears can be warm, their sobs might be mixed with laughter, or their crying might be accompanied by a wide smile.

It’s a celebration of a happy moment, and the contradiction of tears of joy can add a beautiful layer to your narrative.

Example: He laughed as he cried, tears of joy streaming down his face. The happiness he felt was so profound, so overwhelming, that it could not be contained.

Words to Describe Crying

  1. Sobbing
  2. Weeping
  3. Sniveling
  4. Blubbering
  5. Wailing
  6. Whimpering
  7. Moaning
  8. Bawling
  9. Crying
  10. Teary
  11. Misty-eyed
  12. Lachrymose
  13. Sob-choked
  14. Tearful
  15. Mournful
  16. Grieving
  17. Dolorous
  18. Anguished
  19. Bewailing
  20. Lamenting
  21. Desolate
  22. Despondent
  23. Heartbroken
  24. Wretched
  25. Distraught
  26. Depressed
  27. Forlorn
  28. Melancholic
  29. Grief-stricken
  30. Tear-streaked

Phrases to Describe Crying

  1. Tears streaming down their face
  2. Weeping uncontrollably
  3. Crying rivers
  4. Silent tears
  5. Eyes welling up with tears
  6. A flood of tears
  7. Sobbing their heart out
  8. Tears of joy
  9. Crying like a baby
  10. A waterfall of tears
  11. A single tear rolled down their cheek
  12. Crying their eyes out
  13. Eyes filled to the brim with tears
  14. Crying buckets
  15. Crying a river
  16. Tears stained their face
  17. Choking back tears
  18. Eyes glistening with unshed tears
  19. Sobs racked their body
  20. A tear trickled down their face
  21. Wetting their cheeks with tears
  22. Wiping away their tears
  23. Fighting back tears
  24. Bursting into tears
  25. Eyes red and swollen from crying
  26. A sob caught in their throat
  27. Overwhelmed by tears
  28. Uncontrollable weeping
  29. Hot tears burned their cheeks
  30. A lump in their throat

Some of these phrases describe powerful crying or heavy crying.

Here is a good video with more details about how to describe heavy crying in writing:

YouTube Video by Get Answers w/ Scarlett – How to Describe Crying in Writing

Final Thoughts: How to Describe Crying in Writing

Don’t forget to mix up your crying descriptions throughout your story.

The same type of description will get repetitive fast. Use different words, phrases, and techniques. Make the crying an expression of the theme, conflict, and character.

For more description guides, check out the list of articles below.

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