Of Joy and Heartbreak

If one day The Sea Wolves is published and someone asks me, “Why this book? What made it different from the others?” I’m going to tell them this: joy. I found the place for joy in my fiction.

I’ve learned it’s hard to hope for a character who doesn’t have hope for themselves. Even in their darkest moments, a character must have hope — what else will keep them moving, keep them fighting toward the end?

I’ve learned that hardship means less without the bright moments of joy to throw it into sharp relief. Dark moments are darker when compared to moments of joy. Give your character something to love, something to find joy in, and suddenly they will have something to lose. Let your characters feel happiness and their heartbreak will mean more.

SF 2011
SF 2011

I’ve learned anti-heroes aren’t for me. I know there are people out there who enjoy these stories, but I’ve become convinced that what we really seek in fiction is characters who are more than what we are. We don’t want to see ourselves in fiction, we want to see our better selves, our braver selves, our greater selves.

But the rule about darkness and joy still applies. A character’s greater qualities mean little without the contrast of flaws. A character’s flaws are only obvious when compared to their strengths.

LA 2011
LA 2011

But the single most important thing I’ve learned about joy in fiction is this: we need it.

As readers, we need it. As people, we need it.

So much is said about stretching the boundaries of darkness in fiction, going deeper and deeper into the human psyche, and this is important in its own way. But people come to fiction not just to be challenged, but to be reassured.

We need to believe growth is possible. We need to know we can persevere. We need to have hope in the power of love. We need joy.

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”– G.K. Chesterton

I wish I could end this with a real-life example, but there are things happening that I can’t talk about publicly yet. Just know that when the odds are against you, when you’re beaten, when it seems impossible, it’s still not over. If you can find the strength to keep working toward your goal, your day will come.

That isn’t just fiction, it’s truth. And that’s why I write about joy.

DC 2011
DC 2011
Of Joy and Heartbreak

One thought on “Of Joy and Heartbreak

  1. “we want to see our better selves, our braver selves, our greater selves” — yes! I totally agree. Characters need flaws, definitely, but my favourite characters are ones I not only relate to on some level, but also aspire to. My better self.

    I’m okay with darkness in fiction, but only when there is a sliver of light, a promise of hope and joy. I need that in fiction, maybe because I need that in life (or maybe because I already believe it to be true in life — that even in great darkness, there is hope).

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