Imagine for a moment a game whether neither team was allowed to win. The 2008 Detroit Lions versus the 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs. No scoring allowed either. How exciting would that be? Three plays, then punt, then repeat. Again. And again. And again. Boring. Painful.
Yet, this is what some believe makes for good books. Never-ending struggle. Pain. Suffering. Several writers I know claim with seeming pride that their work almost never has any happiness in it. I haven’t read their stuff, so I hope that’s not true. If it is, their work is almost certainly deathly boring (sorry if this applies to you).
Without some element of joy, struggle is meaningless. Struggle without the possibility of happiness is pointless. Without joy, there can be no loss, and no victory. Without joy there can be no sacrifice. If a character has nothing, what does it mean for him or her to lose everything?
The anti-joy authors claim that they prefer truth to happiness. As if that is the choice. The false belief that misery is more ‘true’ than happiness contributes to a lot of bad teenage poetry, nothing more.
The truth is, everyone has some happiness. Even in sadness. Big Fish ends with Edward Bloom’s death. It’s very sad. There is also joy, because in telling the story of his father’s death, Ed’s son finally begins to accept and understand his father.
I don’t know where this notion that misery is somehow more ‘deep’ or ‘important’ than joy originated, but it is pure fiction. The joy in our lives is what makes life worth living. Experiencing the highs and lows of someone’s life is what makes it interesting – not just the lows.
Truth requires pain and joy. Happiness and sadness. Sweet and sour (like good Chinese food). To wallow in misery is to punish readers and yourself. No thanks. For me, I will include the spice that joy brings. At least, I hope to bring some joy to my readers – even if it is while they are crying.