Saturday, February 18, 2012

Emotions in Writing, Part 2: Pain and Joy

In Part 1 of this series I talked about the power of emotions and why they are important in writing. Now I would like to cover two of the most basic and powerful emotions we can inject in our writing: Pain and Joy.


All the most interesting characters in fiction experience pain at some point. It is why we care about the story, it is what draws us to them.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond Dantès suffers the pain of being falsely accused and loosing everything he cares for.

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo must bear the heavy burden of the ring all the way to Mordor.

In Harry Potter, Harry is an orphan who feels unloved and out of place.

In The Hunger Games, Katniss sacrifices everything for her own survival and that of those she loves.

Pain gives us something to identify with. We identify with Edmond because we have all felt betrayed. We identify with Frodo because we all have burden's to carry. We identify with Harry because we have all felt alone. We identify with Katniss because we can imagine giving up so much to save what we love.

We can inject pain into our writing by giving our characters something tragic in their past and having them face difficult circumstances and set backs in the course of the story.


On the other side of pain is joy. After travelling with a character through their journey we learn to take joy in what they take joy in. We celebrate their success and find home in the victories. Some stories, by design, lack joy. But for me a fulfilling story always has one ray of joy shining at the end.

But the joy most worth having comes at a cost. It is by pushing through the pain to find the joy on the other side of the trial that our characters overcome. They turn the pain into joy.

In most stories the joy comes at the end. Some endings are happy. Some are bittersweet. But both will linger.

What stories with pain and joy have you read lately? Do you prefer a happy ending or a bittersweet one?

1 comment:

  1. My MC in my WIP, Edom, has a lot of pain in his life... surviving while other children are being killed and the loss of his family. Pain is driving the story, but he does at least find some joy in his sister. :)

    I think I like happy endings, but at the same time I like bittersweet endings. Both make you feel something deep. :)