Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writing Happiness

On the flip side of last week's post about sadness, now I'm exploring happiness.

In between the hurdles we put our characters through, we often have bright scenes where they enjoy themselves or begin to achieve something they've always wanted--even if that moment is brief. Having these high points often make the sad events seem more profound by contrast. We can later take our characters' bliss away from them for maximum impact. (YES! we are cruel and brutal, mwuah-haha.)

Writing these scenes of happiness can be more difficult than writing sadness or grief. How do we describe this happiness, so that it comes across as believable?

Ways to Express Happiness
1. LAUGHTER. The traditional way: laughing, giggling, chuckling, tears streaming down the face from laughing too hard. Be careful overdoing this; it can set up an emotional disconnect if your reader isn't feeling it to the degree your character is. As far as style of writing, definitely don't go all flowery and syrupy in your prose when your character is joyful; usually simpler is better.

2. BODY LANGUAGE. A bounce in the step, humming or singing, whistling a merry tune. Taking the stairs two at a time. Skipping. Dancing. Feeling floaty, light, and alive. Being breathless. Unable to get a coherent sentence out, with words tumbling over the tongue. Cracking jokes and smiles. All these things are great ways of showing happiness without writing the words happiness or joy.

Key concept: SHOW not TELL your characters' emotions.

3. INTERACTIONS. How your characters react to the world when they are happy will vary. They may shout and whoop, or even weep tears of joy. They may go quiet and dreamy in bliss, staring off into the distance. They may be giddy and not able to think coherently. They may party with their friends, drive a car or ride a bike too fast--or keep it under wraps if it's a forbidden romance. Often judgment is skewed, and they can make (plot-interesting) mistakes while bouncing around in the ether.

Staying True to Your Character
How you show joy in your stories depends on your character's personality. Is your character emotionally expressive and not afraid to emote in front of others? Is he or she more subdued or shy? Is she or he the kind who walks around with a quiet smile--or runs around bouncing and whooping? Be sure to stay consistent.

YOUR TURN
What things do you relate to in a book, that cause you to smile or be happy?
Do you find writing happiness harder or easier to write than sadness?
How does YOUR character show happiness or joy?

31 comments:

  1. Great insights, Carol! It depends on my character's personality on how he/she expresses happiness.

    Writing happiness isn't always as easy as sadness. But I do enjoy writing it more. :)

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  2. I am better at showing a downcast spirit in my characters. Happiness is much harder.

    Great tips, Carol!

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  3. I am also better at writing sadness than happiness. I especially like your reminder that a bit of joy in a protagonist's life makes the trials and tribulations that much more powerful. Thanks Carol!

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  4. I'm better at writing happiness, but I think my current MC might be a bit of a cry baby. :(

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  5. Another great post. I find that showing joy through actions, body language, and interactions works best in both what I read and what I write. It's true that too much laughter, smiling, etc. can seem forced and make a reader feel manipulated.

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  6. Hmm. I'm beginning to realize that my characters don't spend much time being truly happy!

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  7. Things that make me smile - I love when a character has a funny one liner out of left field that makes me bark a laugh out! With my latest book, I found the sadness was easier to write because of the circumstances that I put my character in. The book before that was a YA Fantasy and the happiness flowed just as easily as the sadness in that, though my character spent the majority of her time happy in that one. I was really mean to my MC in my Dystopian. Mwahahaha. Great post, as always Carol! They should pay you to do seminars. You have some really great stuff that can help every writer grow!

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  8. The trick is write fresh as Cynthia mentioned, and don't forget imagery. And be aware of what crutch words you over use. If you keep writing how the character smiles, the reader is going to get bored.

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  9. "We can later take our characters' bliss away from them for maximum impact."

    YES!!! Why is this so much fun to do? I think there's something wrong with me. :/

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  10. Thats so funny , I just had one of my characters take the stairs two at a time. lol
    Thanks for all the great tips!

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  11. Body language/interaction I can do - but I find I always have my characters smiling at each other. I need new expressions!

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  12. I laugh more when the situation is funny than when I'm told the characters are laughing. But that doesn't bug me like the big boo hoo.

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  13. Wow! Great post! My character has a tendency to hug people, or punch people playfully in the arm, or challenge them to a race if she's happy . . . she also smiles. I definitely could work on showing her happiness more.

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  14. I always love to read banter between characters that have an obvious chemistry, so I love to write that too :)

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  15. Great list and examples, Carol.

    I find it easier to write happiness than sadness. Years ago it was the other way around. I wonder if that's a reflection on my own mood.

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  16. I remember in my first draft everyone simply smiling to show happiness. Had to fix that quick! Thanks for this post, Carol.

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  17. Oh, I find happiness much harder to write and relate to than sadness. Maybe because I don't feel it as strongly as I do the negative emotions? I don't know, but I like reading and writing sadness and angst much better. Maybe I'm strange...

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  18. I tend to find sadness easier to write about than happiness; though depending on what causes the emotion, it can be the other way around!

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  19. Stay true to your character. So important. Both in real life and our writing lives.

    Happy Spring :-)

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  20. Great, great post! I need to find ways to show emotions that aren't too cliche. Thanks Carol!

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  21. I do okay at not telling the emotions of my characters, but I don't know that I always show them properly. (In fact, I've gotten critiques from agents asking me to tell more.) These are some good tips. Thanks.

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  22. When I'm reading its usually random things that make me laugh, not the characters telling a joke or doing something funny... Those bits usually only get me smiling, so I remember that whnpen I write.

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  23. Great examples. I've just realized I need to write more happiness in my story! On the next pass... :D

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  24. I like it when someone is so happy or excited they can't sit still. I can definitely relate to fidgeting!

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  25. Hi Carol. I've been an uber-crummy blogger lately. So sorry I haven't stopped by in a while. :D I've been missing your insights!

    I like this post a lot. Characters that are doom and gloom get a boring. It's nice to mix in the happy, and I agree about the contrast. I use internal thoughts sometimes to show MC's mood. Like if someone is talking to her and she can't pay attention because she's happy/excited/whatever over something else. Other times, like you mention, I try and add a quality of lightness to her actions, while when she's unhappy her actions are heavier, if that makes sense. :D

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  26. "simpler is better"
    I totally agree.
    I think happiness is easier to write, but I rarely use it because I'm so mean to my characters ;)

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  27. I'm absolutely loving these posts about showing emotions. Body language is so important, but I find myself turning to the same tired gestures again and again. I was just reading a book last night where a girl and her mother were happy and relieved, and the girl came home from school and it was sunny and the mom was outside washing the car. I could almost feel their happiness as they washed the car together.

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  28. Wonderful post, Carol! I hope you are keeping a binder with these type of posts in them. They would make a great magazine article series!

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  29. Great post. I never noticed if I had a harder time writing happy scenes or sad scenes, but as I'm thinking about it, I think it would be harder to write happy - not sure though. :)

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  30. Happiness over sadness - it just easier for me to write.

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