What does it mean for a story to be happy?

Sun, Jan 11 2015 07:13am GMT 1
Babblefish
Babblefish
1039 Posts
So, me and a friend were talking last evening about what it means for a story to be "happy"... and we figured it doesn't just mean for the heroes to win or something: in LoTR, the ring is destroyed, but that DOESN'T make it a happy story.

So... The current working hypothesis is that a happy story is a story which is some way teaches the reader how to be happy- (just as "rationality" fiction tries to teach rationality, or a story might be considered courageous if it teaches /encourages courage).

I'm not sure I'm totally happy with this definition, but it does seem interesting, and perhaps useful.

So, I figured I'd through it out to all you lovely cloudlings, and see what people could come up with.

What do you think makes a "Happy" story?

What stories do you know that are happy?

What stories can you think of where a major character consistantly demonstrated (or perhaps learned) some worldview or skill or choice that made them happy?

What do you think makes people happy, and how would you go about incorperating that into a story?
Sun, Jan 11 2015 10:58am GMT 2
Stevie
Stevie
217 Posts
Well, you can have a happy ending but since most stories are about conflicted characters dealing with change, you could argue that there are no happy stories (or at least, none worth reading). But that's a bit simplistic.

A happy story should maybe define what the happy state is, then tell how the hero restores that state (or something better) after it is lost. In LOTR, happiness (for hobbits) is life in the Shire - comfortable and unchanging. At the end, that is what the hobbits get but Frodo has to pay for it, so it could be a happy story with the message that personal scrafice is a noble thing for the greater good.

I think a happy story is simply one which makes us feel happy by way of reminding or re-affirming or making us reflect on those things in our own lives that are precious to us. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King is, to my mind, a happy story because it tells me that bravery and compassion and intelligence can win the day. Charlotte's Web is a happy story for the same reasons.

How do you put it in a story? I'd say write about the things that make you happy, both big things and small things and make your character live them. I'd be wary of setting out to write a happy story. Starting with a theme seldom ends well!
Sun, Jan 11 2015 01:35pm GMT 3
Hil
Hil
987 Posts
An example of a writer who writes happy stories is Elizabeth Berg. As Stevie says, conflict is at the centre of any story, so there are bound to be negative emotions. But one of the reasons I like Elizabeth Berg is that her characters find happiness in the simplest things, even while they are suffering - you know, things like a pile of beach stones on the window-sill, a favourite green pottery bowl, the smell of sheets drying in the sunshine, the smile of a stranger shelling peas on her porch. This sounds a bit trite, but ... read them, and see if you agree.
Sun, Jan 11 2015 02:04pm GMT 4
BellaM
BellaM
2129 Posts
I think that a happy story needs to make the reader feel happy. Not necessarily all the way through, but it needs the feelgood factor.

Gerald Durrell wrote happy books. Then there's books like "Three Men in a Boat", the Winnie the Pooh books, the Paddington books.
Sun, Jan 11 2015 07:14pm GMT 5
Loretta Milan
Loretta Milan
162 Posts
I'd definitely agree that it's a story that makes a reader feel happy but that it's especially important that, when they finish the last page, they feel some special sort of contentment.

Loretta.
Fri, Feb 13 2015 07:28pm GMT 6
K.S. Crooks
K.S. Crooks
39 Posts
It been a long timme since I read it, but from my memories gulliver's travels was a happy story. How much happiness needs to be in the story? My wife would say most of Nicholas Sparks' books are happy, despite the tears they seem to cause her. In terms of a character's change of circumstance from the beginning of a story to the finish, my favorite happy ending is The Shawshank Redemption, two best friends getting to be together again.
Thu, Apr 6 2017 10:03pm IST 7
A.R. Carpenter
A.R. Carpenter
39 Posts
Does a story have to be happy? Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm aren't.
Fri, Apr 7 2017 08:00am IST 8
Seagreen
Seagreen
1904 Posts
There's nothing worse than investing time in a book, only to get to the end and suffer that 'is that it?' feeling.
Fri, Apr 7 2017 11:43am IST 9
Caducean Whisks
Caducean Whisks
2312 Posts
To quote PD James, she said that what a reader really wants, is 'the restitution of order.'
It may be the old order or a new order - but order it must be.
I think she's right. It's the most satisfying narrative arc I can think of.
Fri, Apr 7 2017 11:45am IST 10
Caducean Whisks
Caducean Whisks
2312 Posts
i.e. you start with instability, and end up with stability.
Fri, Apr 7 2017 02:25pm IST 11
Snowflake
Snowflake
124 Posts
Defining happiness, is that possible? You could have the darkest of circumstances and yet happiness could still arise. Conversly you could have the most idyllic of settings only for misery to ensue. How to find happiness, define it , distill it, tap it. I'm still working on that, I'll let you know if I ever do.
Fri, Apr 7 2017 02:29pm IST 12
Hilly
Hilly
78 Posts
If I feel that I've laughed, cried and lived the lives in the books I've read, then whatever the outcome, as the reader, I'm happy.
If, like Seagreen says, you get to the end and think, 'is that it?' then no, I don't feel happy. It's not all about 'the happy ending' but the journey along the way.
Shawshank and The Green Mile. Not the definition of 'happy' books but as K.S. Crooks says:

In terms of a character's change of circumstance from the beginning of a story to the finish, my favorite happy ending is The Shawshank Redemption, two best friends getting to be together again.

I certainly lived them, loved them and was happy at the end, even while I was crying my eyes out.
Don't get me going on Charlotte's Web...
Fri, Apr 7 2017 02:33pm IST 13
Hilly
Hilly
78 Posts
I also agree with Snowflake. In the darkest of stories, you can have happiness and in the brightest, utter misery. But it's how you get that across.
Then there's the ones like A.R. Carpenter pointed out. The ones with relentless anguish and sadness and barely a tiny glimmer of happiness.
Fri, Apr 7 2017 02:49pm IST 14
Snowflake
Snowflake
124 Posts
What Hilly said . . . and Charlotte's Web!
Fri, Apr 7 2017 03:06pm IST 15
A.R. Carpenter
A.R. Carpenter
39 Posts
I wish there was a +1 button here...

Does there even have to be a stable ending? A novel about a war that ends with the decision to fire the nukes for example.

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