Male lachrymal leakage. It doesn’t work. I’ve been thinking about crying lately, particularly the crying in Star Trek: Into Darkness. Several bloggers have noted the excess of man tears, including Robin Zlotnick at The Blemish, who, like myself, found “a certain point where I momentarily lost track of the story and instead thought about how I wished I had started counting the man tear incidences there had been, because they were really racking up.” In short, everybody cries: Kirk, Spock, the bad guy, another good guy, and so on. I wish I’d bought stock in Kleenex, because I’d be a richer man now.
As a writer, all this caterwauling on the part of male characters made me wonder whether crying works dramatically. Does letting a character cry tell the reader something about him? (I’m only going to discuss male characters, not female.) I can’t recall a time in literature or film with memorable male crying scenes that didn’t force me to vomit. It may be that I don’t read enough romance novels, literary novels, or watch chick flicks; so I don’t see men bawling. But in the great, enduring stories, very few men seem to cry, at least convincingly. And that’s the issue; a man turning on the waterworks basically loses all believeability as a character.
A better approach lets the inner tension rise without breaking it. The approach is similar to maintaining the sexual tension between a man and a woman who respect each other, even love each other. My favorite example is Mulder and Scully in The X-Files; when they finally did the nasty (apparently, that is. The series is never quite clear, as was typical in that world), the entire relationship lost all its drama, in my view.
It’s far more effective to let the emotions build in a character and even let the tears well up. But don’t let them spill over, like water over a dam. Keep them at the edge of climax. The original Captain Kirk was an emotional man (when he wasn’t behaving like a child), and you knew when he cared deeply about something, but he didn’t cry a river whenever the emotions got to him. The best example is “The Naked Time,” wherein Spock cries but Kirk doesn’t. That made him much more credible as a character over the course of a series. So stow the handkerchief, and tell your men to buck up.
What do you think? Are male cryers credible?