Prelude to Imagined Situations

A friend of mine writes children’s stories, and is blogging about to process. She just wrote a blog post about sad stories: how much she loves them, and how she doesn’t feel like she can write them. A particular line caught my eye:

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.

So I wrote her a LONG reply. I’ve (barely… I removed half a line) edited it a little for here, but I’m putting it up because it’s on the same thread as a blog post I’m preparing that’s a little more “academic.”

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 :) 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 :)