We always say we don’t want to read about happy characters with perfect lives. We prefer to read about characters who are in trouble, people who are in crisis with challenges to overcome. Of course, we want the happy ending. We just don’t want to be bored on the journey to that ending.
“Happiness is an allegory, unhappiness a story.” ~Leo Tolstoy
But there are characters in our stories who are happy. Sometimes they are foils for our protagonists. Sometimes, our protagonists live through intensely happy periods.
So, how do we write about these happy characters without putting our audience to sleep? We can’t just say that he or she was happy. We have to show the happiness.
I have looked at real people who are happy and they seem to share these characteristics:
1. Happy People Focus On What They Have
This does not mean they don’t want other things, but it does mean that they are grateful for the small things.
Writing Tip: Some of the most beautiful moments in writing come from when characters are doing ordinary things, and they are caught up in that moment.
Quote: ‘Happiness doesn’t lie in conspicuous consumption and the relentless amassing of useless crap. Happiness lies in the person sitting beside you and your ability to talk to them. Happiness is clear-headed human interaction and empathy. Happiness is home.’ ~Dennis Lehane
2. Happy People Don’t Have Agendas
They have learnt to let go. Carrying around grudges and dreaming of revenge does not make anybody happy. People who are constantly plotting and manipulating are only happy if they are psychopaths, or writers, of course.
Quote: ‘If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man.’ ~Paulo Coelho
3. Happy People Don’t Need To Affirm Their Happiness Externally
People who constantly look to the outside world for approval will never be happy. So write about characters who are at peace with themselves. Happy characters are at a point in their lives when they have made peace with the world.
Writing Tip: Peaceful moments with happy characters can provide a respite for a main character in distress.
Quote: ‘I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.’ ~Hunter S. Thompson
4. Happy People Are Generous
This does not mean that they are gregarious extroverts who give of themselves and their time. It means that they give what they can, when they can.
Writing Tip: Show this by allowing these characters to give.
Quote: ‘Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.’ ~Charlotte Brontë
5. Happy People Aren’t In A Hurry
People who are merrily rushing around are generally only pretending to be happy. The noise and movement covers up the emptiness. Happy people often have hobbies, they turn off their devices, and are happy to do nothing.
Writing Tip: Use these people to show your unhappy characters a different life. Use body language to underline this.
Quote: ‘And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”’ ~Kurt Vonnegut
6. Happy People Don’t Preach
Actions do speak louder than words. What do these people do every day that allows them to be content?
Writing Tip: Show their daily routines. Show their positive attitude and energy.
Quote: ‘Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.’ ~Oscar Wilde
7. Happy People Take Responsibility
Happy people are not waiting for anybody to save them or to give them something. They have taken responsibility for getting what they want or for accepting what they have. They also know they are responsible for their past actions. They don’t waste time blaming others. If happy people want change, they generally act.
Quote: ‘Don’t wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you’ve got to make yourself.’ ~Alice Walker
Perhaps the best way to think about happy characters is that they have already reached their destinations. They have looked at themselves and their lives and risked something to reach this state. They are what we are all striving for.
Setting up happy characters who are about to lose everything is also a skill. We have to show what they have so that the loss becomes personal for us.
Remember that happy characters are mostly likeable, good at what they do, and empathetic. They probably love (or have loved) deeply and are (or were) loved in return. They earned the right to be happy.
“We’re only passers-by, and all you can do is love what you have in your life. A person has to fight the meanness that sometimes comes with you when you’re born, sometimes grows if you aren’t in lucky surroundings. It’s our challenge to fend it off, leave it behind us choking and gasping for breath in the mud.” ~Jane Hamilton
If you enjoyed this article, read:
- Mary Karr’s Memoir Checklist To Stave Off Dread
- Perfect Scene Templates To Help You Plot Your Book
- The Anatomy Of A Sequel
- The Anatomy Of A Scene
- Everything You Need To Know About Scenes And Sequels
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