“Why are we drawn to sad stories?...No one wants sad in real life. You want the sad life behind door number one, Monty, or the happy ending behind curtain number two? And yet sad plays well in literature. Romance and tragedy. Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina…Why is that?”
I got to thinking, and here’s what I came up with:
We say we want happy endings in our stories, but when that happens without incident, we’re cynical about it. “That could never happen so easily.” Or we’re envious of the characters for not having achieved that happiness without struggle. “Not real, no way,” we claim. So even though we want things to go well for our characters, we feel cheated or ripped off if it’s unbelievable.
Happiness is fleeting. We feel exhilarated, but it’s hard to carry that joy around for long since, ironically, it is that happiness that gives us the power to move on. Sadness, on the other hand, sits deep within us for a spell, doing some damage and causing a ripple effect as we contemplate our misery. It reminds us we are alive.
How many of us have said to ourselves while perusing options for DVD rentals, "I'm in the mood for a good cry"? We never call it a bad cry. Think about it. Sharing in a character's sadness is like traveling through cyber-space. It's virtual sadness, which feels as real as the real thing but doesn't way us down the way our own grief could. It's cathartic.
Sad songs do the same thing for our souls. They help us feel passionate about something but then allow us to move on. Because even though the music and lyrics stirred up something real within us, they don't bog us down with real troubles. I, for one, like to be stirred but not shaken. But as Faulkner implied, given the choice to be shaken up or left stagnant, I'd take shaken up any day. Drama queen, you say? Perhaps. But life is messy.
What say you? Are you ever up for a stirring tear-jerker, or does that kind of story suck the life out of you?