From author and former writing professor, Dave Farland:
A few years ago, a young man won a short story competition for Reader’s Digest—two years in a row. This was a remarkable accomplishment, given the size of the contests. When asked how he had done it, the writer responded with something like, “It’s easy. The story that makes them cry the most, wins!”
He’s right. I’ve spoken to many an editor who will admit that the story that has the strongest emotional payoff is the most likely to be chosen for publication or for awards. You see, a tale should not be judged “objectively.” It’s meant to be a subjective experience, to arouse emotions.
Yet as writers we are often trained to back away from situations that honestly elicit tears. We don’t want to be accused of being maudlin.
I’ve seen the value of drawing tears myself. With my novel In the Company of Angels, when I was having my editors read it, I got several calls from my final editors. These were people that I was paying, and they both pleaded for more time to finish the edit because they were “crying too hard to see the page.” The problem was, they weren’t even near the end. So I watched my wife; sure enough, I kept her crying continually during most of the last 140 pages. I don’t think that it was coincidental that the novel won the Whitney Award for Best Novel of the Year, when competing against many other fine books. The story that makes ‘em cry the most, wins.
. . . .
You will notice that at the “climax” of a story, very often we have a “reversal,” a moment where it appears that the villain has won, but where the protagonist finds a way to turn the tables and pull victory from the jaws of defeat. I used to wonder why those reversals felt so necessary, until it struck me: a good reversal multiplies the number of tears that the reader must release. We may cry tears of frustration, shared agony, dread, relief, and joy—all within a few pages. When that happens, we as readers feel cleansed inside.
Link to the rest at David Farland