Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Sad Stories (Or, William Faulkner was spot on)

William Faulkner said, “Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.” I’m not a Faulkner fan - let's be clear about that - but these particular words ring true for me. As they do for many of us. In Meg Waite Clayton’s novel, The Wednesday Sisters, she asks:
“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?


  1. I am so with you on this. I revel in the tear-jerker. A book isn't good to me if I don't cry at least once. Happy ending notwithstanding.

    You're right. I think we all need to see someone else's sadness so we don't feel so badly about our own. What is it they say, misery loves company?

  2. I love happy movies and books, and scary ones...but, yes, I do enjoy a good tear jerker once and a while. I love when a story moves me to tears or laughter or thought.

    Then again, I've cried at 30 second TV commercials. I'm a softy.


  3. I love happy endings, but the sad ones are so memorable.
    Believe it or not I've managed to get both into my book.

  4. Well said! I love the tear-jerker, personally. While a happy ending is much needed once in a while, I like a little drama in stories and books :)

  5. I don't mind the occasional sad song, but I don't like to watch sad movies. And I hardly ever read sad books. (although it's easy to suck me in)

    I feel it too much.

    PS How apropos. My word code was: cries.

  6. I don't watch a lot of sad movies, but I do love sad songs. Sad books fall somewhere in between for me. I have to be really upbeat at work (I teach little ones) so sometimes I look for a more serious read in my own time. But books that feel like they punch me in the gut... maybe not.

  7. Stories that pull me in and make me emotional are the best! Happy is wonderful. Love is nice. But reality is not always flowers and sparkles...It is pain. It is grief. It is desperation. (Yeah, I'm in a happy place tonight...) I think you have to touch all the emotions, just like all the senses to have a good book.

  8. I cry at everything. Even comedies. Everything is a tear jerker for me.

    Why don't you like Faulkner?

  9. Well put, Wendy! I actually avoid sad endings. I DO want to feel the emotional attachment of struggling MC, but it had better end well or I might not be able to let go. I'm a very cheerful person so maybe that has something to do with it? What ever it is, I never go looking for a tear-jerker and can count on my hand how many times I've cried about a flick. I think the only movies I seek out are rom-coms (light-hearted) and thrillers (thought-provokers). I guess that makes me kind of weird. lol!

    Have a great night!

  10. What I look for in a movie, or book, is to be moved. Whether it's sad or happy doesn't really matter, as long as it's authentically done by the author. An easy, pat ending generally isn't the answer. If I'm moved to emotion, and thought, I've enjoyed the experience.

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  12. I am coming around. I use to think tearjerker and heavy stuff would overwhelm me. It can but there is something tender in the connection you forge with the characters in these books/movies.

  13. I have to admit, I feel that I get enough drama in my own life. I need no more. I look for comedies almost always. I can't watch the reality shows either...'cause I keep thinking about the director that's in the background telling them, "Do it again but be more of a BITCH."

    I know we can be disappointed by a happy ending...but I feel that if it's fiction, why does it have to end w/tragedy? Isn't there enough tragedy in real life? Maybe it's just me.