I can’t write sad stories

May 14, 2011 at 9:06 am 2 comments

Some of my favourite children’s stories over the years have been sad. Whether it’s crying buckets or just feeling a deep melancholy, stories with sad endings make me… happy. Isn’t that strange!

I get chills reading anything written by Hans Christian Andersen, especially the original story of The Little Mermaid.

I have read Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner countless times, and George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, while perhaps not quite your average children’s book, has made me cry every time I’ve read it, which doesn’t happen often due largely to the strength of my emotional reaction to it.

The magic of books is that you can be so swiftly transported to a world that is not your own, experiencing things that, on your own, you could not even imagine.Β Part of that magic includes introducing us to emotions and the expression of those emotions.

So in a way, I guess sad stories have been a release for me when I feel down and am unable to express myself adequately in real life. Instead, I can escape into a sad book and feel emotion through the veil of the characters.

Whether that’s healthy or not, I can’t say.

But, for all that sad stories capture me and offer a release, I cannot seem to write a story that has a sad ending.

I’m certainly not suggesting that a story must be sad in order to be good, there are plenty of great stories with happy endings, but I suppose for me I see it as a challenge, something I would like to someday accomplish.

Perhaps I am just waiting for the right idea to walk into my head, or maybe sad stories are something that come with age and experience – Hans Christian Andersen, for example, had a lot of experience with sadness at a young age. There is no doubt his experiences shaped his stories, many of which are haunting in their tales of human cruelty. I do not envy him that.

But another thought that crosses my mind from time to time is that maybe, just maybe, I will never write a sad story. Maybe it just isn’t in my nature.

I am naturally optimistic, to the point where a particularly cynical co-worker told me I was too nice and needed to hate more. Yep, those were his words!

So maybe it just isn’t in me to look to life’s darker side and capture it in a story. And if that is the case then I guess I’m ok with that. I love my life as it is, and if that means I am unable to write one particular type of story then so be it.

Still, I will always have that quiet yearning to someday write a truly sad story.


Entry filed under: Author's Notebook, Blog.

How to write a children’s story Inspiration is an elusive beast

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Christine Feary  |  May 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    Hey Ellen, thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your insight on this!

    It’s always good to have a more academic perspective on things, and I find the historical significance fascinating.

    Please come back and link us to your blog post when it’s written, I’d love to know more and I’m sure other readers would be interested too πŸ™‚

    xx Chrissie

  • 2. Ellen  |  May 14, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    Regarding whether it’s unhealthy to enjoy the experience of someone else’s misfortune via a sad story or whatever- well, I am writing a blog post about this, but no, it’s not.

    Tragedy was considered a very important part of Ancient Greek culture- it guarded against excesses of virtue/vice. It caused the audience to first feel horror at the experience of the hero, and then feel relief that it wasn’t happening to them, followed by a fear that it COULD.

    Aside from this, there is enough research into play and fantasy, especially of negative emotions. These emotions occur to us, we all know they do. We like to feel fear on rollercoasters, we like to cry over sad stories. But we don’t want to really be falling for our lives or have something sad happen to us. Hence, we enjoy experiencing them in Imagined Situations (Vygotsky’s term for it), suspending our disbelief (see Coleridge), but deep down knowing that we’re safe. Do we enjoy the actual experience, or reawakening safe? I’m not sure.

    I just went largely off-topic based on one line you wrote, and I have a feeling I should post that as a introduction to my other post πŸ™‚ But I think that while sad/tragic/scary/horror stories have their place, so do happy stories. We all want to believe that we can achieve something great. We want to see someone like us achieve happiness. We want to feel happy for someone we deem worthy. I don’t actually believe they are opposites, but they complement. I love Hans Christian Andersen, but I love the Grimm brothers as well as the similar stories Dad has read me from Slovakian folklore. I also always loved Aesop’s fables. Many of these are extremely abstract and use large amounts of symbolism. They are warnings, they are moral. They had poor narrative structure sometimes. They often involved something potentially very bad happening, but then order being restored. They were warnings that at the end said, “It’s okay. Don’t live your life naively, but don’t live in constant fear.”

    I also loved Little Golden Books and one called Whistle For Willie, which was about a little boy who couldn’t whiste to call his pet dog. I think in the end he learned how to whistle? But I loved just being in his world, drawing on the pavement with chalk with him. Every story has its place. Sometimes it’s nice to live in a happy place for a little while πŸ™‚


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