Monday, August 2, 2010

The Difference Between Hope and Happiness

Making Monday

On the League of Extraordinary Writers blog, Jeff Hirsch asked about Hope and Endings
"when we're writing for teens, be it post-apocalyptic or otherwise, do we ultimately owe our readers a hopeful ending?"
Some of the responses among the comments conflated hope and happiness, and said, "No, life doesn't always provide a happy ending so we should be honest with our teen reader."

Unless you equate happy endings with anything that isn't the worst possible outcome, there's an important difference between hopeful and happy endings. Happy means most if not all wants are supplied, problems resolved, and lose ends tied up. Hopeful simply means that it's possible to avert the worst outcome.

Perhaps a better way to say it is that hope and the possibility of change are deeply entwined. In a hopeless story, nothing you do can change your fate. But if there's even a tiny possibility of change, then the story is fundamentally hopeful.

To say that a story is hopeful doesn't necessarily make it happy. Indeed, the process of realizing the hope may be frustrating, painful, and heart-breaking, but the fact that change is possible makes the striving worthwhile.

There's a long tradition of dystopian stories that appear hopeless because they show what happens if we pass the point of no-return. But cautionary tales like this are still hopeful because of the conditional, "if." There's still time to change our course so we don't pass the point of no-return.

What does this have to do with making?

Making is a fundamentally hopeful act because we change initial materials into a finished thing. The fact that we can change something means that there's still hope in the universe. Even something as ephemeral as making sand into a castle is an act of defiance against the meaningless void.

 Image: Bill Longshaw /

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