I’m quite an emotional person. And I tend to empathise strongly with others. Which means that watching the news, viewing certain movies and reading certain books can be a draining experience. I’ve always struggled with war-movies and, since having children, anything in which a child gets hurt sends me over the edge. And yet, my husband often asks me, why can’t you write something happy?
Go on. Name a story that’s happy all the time? Even with Disneyfication I bet you can’t. Cinderella – reduced to slavery by her step-family. The Little Mermaid – misunderstood by her father and forced to do a deal with (essentially) the devil. Toy Story – overcome by jealousy, Woody attempts to murder Buzz.
Without conflict there is no story and conflict is not a happy thing. Don’t get me wrong, there are levels of conflict. Not all stories begin with rape, murder and theft. But for the characters in a story, all conflict is difficult and emotional.
- Because We are not Always Happy
Depressed is an overused word. I have a depression and anxiety disorder and there is a clear difference between when I am depressed (an unshakable sense of unhappiness that persists regardless of what’s happening in my life) and when I’m sad (a feeling which is quite often a response to what’s happening around me ie. a death in the family). Often when people say they’re depressed they mean they’re sad – and that is normal and natural and perfectly fine.
We want to be happy all the time and we want the people we love to be happy all the time, but constant happiness is unattainable. For us and our characters. Sometimes the characters I write are unhappy, sometimes they’re hurt and sometimes they hurt others. For fiction to work, whether it’s contemporary realism, Sci-Fi or Fantasy, there has to be a reflection of real life and, in real life, sometimes we cry. And sometimes we ugly-cry.
- Because There Will be a Happy Ending
Let’s go back to war-movies. I think the last one I watched was Saving Private Ryan and I wept. If I remember correctly, it was the most graphically real depiction of war to be found in a movie at that time. Of course, now, war-movies are incredibly graphic and incredibly violent every time and I can’t watch them. Because war is real. I know that what I’m watching on the screen is actually happening somewhere and I’m old enough to know that war has no easy fix. There is, often, no happy ending.
But for the most part, in a novel, there is a happy ending. The whole point of reading a book is to see the protagonist try and fail and try and succeed. Unless you read and write tragedies, you’re guaranteed a good outcome. There may be losses along the way (have you read Little Women? It’s a classic for a reason. Have a box of tissues handy) but ultimately, the protagonist will succeed. And, not only will they succeed, they will be strong for having gone through the conflict.
So, my darling husband, if you should read this, know – this is why I can’t write a happy story. And, why I don’t read happy stories. Because the joy is in the conflict, in relating to the character’s world and in experiencing success with them at the end.
So, what about you? Do you write happy stories?