7  Happy happy, joy joy

Most people have heard at least a few really good jokes, even if we can’t always remember them to tell them at parties.

How many really good comedies or happy stories can you think of, either in short stories or novels or plays or movies?  Compare that to how many good tragedies or sad stories you can remember in the same genres.  Most of the “greats” are more serious and troubling than light and happy, probably because we need them more to help us deal with human problems.  When we’re happy, we don’t want to write; we want to enjoy ourselves.

Funny bits can appear in sad stories as well as happy ones, but the sad tends to overwhelm the happy or funny.  I’ve never believed in the idea of “comic relief,” not in serious writing; I’m more in Thomas De Quincey’s camp:  comic elements place the tragic elements in greater relief to make them stand out and astonish us all the more.  Sad or tragic stories also seem to me easier to write:  we understand pain and describe it better than we can joy or pleasure, which may quickly become trite in print or on stage or screen.  Can we write comedies with “tragic relief”?  Or can we use the sad bits to make the comedic elements more powerful by contrast?  Krazy Kat may say “Happy happy, joy joy,” but Ignatz the mouse is usually waiting around the corner to fling a brick.

Here’s something I’m trying now:  to write a happy story.  Not a story that goes only from one joyous moment to another, but one that mostly highlights joy and happiness and understanding rather than suffering and pain and violence.  One of my friends calls that the “nicey nicey” approach to writing.  For now, I’m willing to accept that term, derogatory though its intent, because I think it’s an exercise worth trying.  I’m not meaning a story with no tension at all, nor am I thinking of one where the characters go through all sorts of trouble to get to a happy ending, but one that focuses mostly throughout on characters finding reward or satisfaction in each others’ company and in what they do.

The attempt may fail.  If it does, that’s all right.  I think it’s an exercise worth trying.  What do you think?