I tried to sit down and write my next review on Sunday, but I wasn't quite there yet. Instead, I ended up typing this out. It's a lot more passive-aggressive than I usually am--than I like to be--but I'm going to go ahead and post it anyway, because the fact is, I don't really disagree with the meat of what I wrote. The presentation, maybe, but not the facts.
Anyway, I'm feeling somewhat better now, but if you want to hear my thoughts on where sad stories cross the line from bad to offensive, click below.
The key to writing a truly terrible sad story is to turn off your brain. Really, it's as simple as that! But you didn't come here for generalities, did you? No, let's delve into some specific terrible decisions you can make:
1) Write a story which has no purpose or intent other than to evoke sadness in the reader
Ask yourself: when's the last time you've heard someone say "Boy, I can't seem to stop being cheerful today! I wish something would come along and darken my mood," or "I've been in a good mood all day; I really need to find something that'll leave me depressed and gloomy?" Never? That's because people like being happy, and don't like being sad.
There are lots of good reasons to include sad stuff in a story. There are even a lot of good reasons to want your story to make the reader sad, most having to do with either creating a cathartic environment in which the sadness transmogrifies to relief, or using that sadness to make a point or encourage the reader to think about something which you've built up to in your story. But when it comes to "terrible idea," you really can't do any better than "try to inflict misery upon my readers just for the hell of it."
2) Have no idea what you're writing about--and don't bother trying to figure out
Have you ever had someone close to you unexpectedly pass away? Have you ever watched someone you love slowly succumb to dementia? Have you ever experienced depression firsthand--not just "sadness," but the overwhelming hopelessness which you can't "just get over," which robs you of all energy and passion for life?
No? Good--I hope you never do... but hey, don't let that stop you from writing about it, right? I mean, you're already writing about talking horses--it's not like you need to have personally met Rainbow Dash in order to tell a story about her. You can write about death, and depression, sexual abuse, war... all that horrible stuff, with just a little imagination!
But not too much imagination. I mean, sure, you could try--really try--to imagine what it must be like to lose a loved one. You could read up on Alzheimer's and other degenerative mental disorders. You could put a little effort in.
But if you did that, you might end up writing something genuine. Something sincere. Something, dare I say, worth reading. Instead, there's an easier route...
3) Parrot actions and dialogue without any comprehension
People cry when they're sad, right? Well, have your characters cry when something sad happens. That was easy! If you need to gussy it up a bit, either opt for a direct statement of mood ("He cried with sadness" is a classic!) or a metaphor which makes plain your unfamiliarity with the emotion your character is feeling. Don't worry about putting a lot of effort in, here. You've already written a sad situation, so the characters' moods are a given. Really, just remember to say that they're sobbing every once in a while, and you're clear on that front.
The same theory applies to what those characters say. People say things like "He's in a better place" and "She loved you so much" at funerals, right? You should probably have someone comfort a grieving character that way, then. And that character will definitely feel all better after such a meaningful pep-talk--that's why you say those things, isn't it? Whatever the setting, there are sure to be some stock phrases associated with it (or scenes--what war fic would be complete without a dying soldier making an ellipsis-filled last request of the protagonist?). Definitely use those, without any consideration for how or why you're using them.
4) Give complex emotions simple resolutions
This one's pretty self-explanatory. Why is your character sad? Let's fix it! Remember, if somebody's upset, there's one single reason why they are--and once that single reason has been addressed, they will no longer be sad. That's how feelings work, right? They're basically an on/off switch, and all it ever takes to get back to normal is a few hundred words of exposition coupled with those hoary cliches from #3. Then it's back to normal!
5) Sweeping generalizations are your friend
This might be the most important one. After all, it's not enough to write a tone-deaf paean to an emotional situation with which you have no personal or even hypothetical familiarity. If you really want to be offensive, you should make all sorts of broad, sweeping statements about emotions and how we deal with them. The goal here is to make sure that your story implies that anyone who doesn't react the same way your characters do--anyone who doesn't communicate only in leaden truisms, and who isn't an emotional automaton--is wrong. That there's something wrong with the way they grieve, or how they see the world, or maybe that they're just weak-willed or don't take enough personal responsibility to get over their issues.
Put it all together, and you have the recipe for a perfect, horribly offensive sadfic.