What does it mean for a story to be happy?

Sun, Jan 11 2015 07:13am GMT 1
Babblefish
Babblefish
1044 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
226 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
1022 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
2313 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
165 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
40 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
46 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
2130 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
2392 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
2392 Posts
i.e. you start with instability, and end up with stability.
Fri, Apr 7 2017 02:25pm IST 11
Snowflake
Snowflake
143 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
163 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
163 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
143 Posts
What Hilly said . . . and Charlotte's Web!
Fri, Apr 7 2017 03:06pm IST 15
A.R. Carpenter
A.R. Carpenter
46 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.
Thu, May 11 2017 10:52pm IST 16
FredaPeople
FredaPeople
856 Posts
Hi Babblefish.

Interesting post.

"Teaches the reader" only via show not tell, I would suggest (having been there & bought the T-shirt, myself). I think a perfect example of a story that
  • Makes you feel good
  • Shows you what happiness is
  • And never tells you or defines happiness
... is that lovely Mike Leigh play Happy Go Lucky. If you've not seen it, I'd thoroughly recommend it.

Good luck with your writing.
Fri, May 12 2017 08:51am IST 17
Squidge
Squidge
2176 Posts
I'd define 'happy' as the story ending up in a better place than when it started.

BUT - 'happy' doesn't really define the story itself. As has been pointed out, there are many books which are utterly miserable to read re angst, conflict etc,

So...not sure you can define a happy story because it often goes through a lot of unhappiness to get to the happy place. As a reader, I'd be looking for a good story rather than a happy one, which means it keeps me reading and gives me a sense of satisfaction having read it, whatever the subject matter. And a good story will always show characters learning and changing their lives...whether it leaves them happy/content or not.

Hmmm...definitely food for thought, this one. Will keep pondering.
Fri, May 12 2017 09:02am IST 18
Caducean Whisks
Caducean Whisks
2392 Posts
The Good Companions by JB Priestley is such a happy book. I read it first in my teens and have remembered it fondly ever since. It's also an engrossing read; I don't know how he does it - make a page-turner about people being nice and decent. It's also a tremendous relief to read it - without all the wrenching heartache and death and destruction that prevails in modern books. SUCH a nice book. Gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling that there's still hope in the world. Seriously - I'd like to know how he does it.
Tue, May 23 2017 11:12pm IST 19
AlanP
AlanP
1240 Posts
The Trustee from the Toolroom by Neville Shute is about someone who is entirely content with his lot in life and for that reason it is a happy book. The MC has given pleasure to people through what he does and he doesn't quite realise it until they choose to help him out. It's also a story of engineering, death on the high seas, an orphan and a neat bit of tax evasion.

It just makes me smile to remember it. I haven't read it in years.

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