Joy and Sorrow in Fiction

Throughout 2021, I have discussed a range of human emotions in this blog. As I have read novels over the past year, it has been enlightening to observe how different authors approach the emotional aspects of their work. It seems appropriate to end this series with a discussion of joy and sorrow. Joy abounds during the holiday season because we enjoy holiday music, visit with friends and relatives, and welcome the tradition of holiday candles and lights that brightens the dark days of December. Then again sorrow often flows below the surface, an underlying current of memories of loved ones who are no longer here, opportunities lost, or sad events which occurred. As authors choose their themes, characters, and plotlines, joy and sorrow present creative avenues to consider.

What Is Joy?

As I have thought about how to use joy in my fiction, I have realized that it is an emotion that is personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal. Joy is a state of mind, a goal, a realization, or a reward. At the personal level, a state of joy may be achieved through meditation. Meditative states of joy involve serenity, bliss, ecstasy, and potentially rapture. Interpersonally, joy may be a simple pleasure in another’s company. It may be the gladness or elation one feels when a friend or loved one returns home. Transpersonal joy goes beyond the personal and interpersonal to a consciousness of humanity, to the mystical, and even to the paranormal. Joy arises when one feels the thrill of celebration for athletes’ success at the Olympics. We experience joy when seeing the life’s work of an artist or hearing a musician’s new symphony.

Joy impacts different aspects of a person or character. At the personal level, joy is experienced as an emotion. As a simple personal emotion, joy is an experience of extreme pleasure, gladness, or bliss. It could be as simple as enjoying a beautiful sunset or sunrise. Joyful decisions may relate to finding what brings one a thrill of ecstasy from taking a risk and succeeding, to meeting one’s heartthrob, to finding one’s path in life. At the interpersonal level, joy is enacted through an exchange of responses. A joyful response may express gladness, celebration, or gratitude for something someone else has done. At the transpersonal level, joy is the result of decisions made in the act of figuring out how to live one’s life. Do we seek a life of service? Do we join a spiritual community? Do we explore a universe of possibilities?

What Is Sorrow?

Like joy, sorrow is experienced personally, interpersonally, and transpersonally. Sorrow is a state of mind that occurs from loss, disappointment, or torment. Personal sorrow may arise as simple sadness, feeling gloomy, or being in low spirits. A character who is sad because of unmet goals may express discouragement, appear to be morose, or be depressed. Tears may fall.

Interpersonal sorrow is often based on mourning the loss of a loved one, distress about what is happening in the world, or regret for one’s misdeeds. Depending upon the cultural norms of the group, interpersonal sorrow may manifest in silent grieving, formal laments, or outright wailing. Transpersonal sorrow might manifest as mental anguish, regret, or despair. This type of sorrow is evident during public mourning for the loss of a spiritual leader, a beloved leader of the people, or the failure of a national space project, such as the loss of the Challenger which killed a civilian schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe, in 1986.

How Are Joy and Sorrow Used in Current Fiction?

In fiction, joy and sorrow may be used as themes that interweave, as intermittent descriptions, or to define characters. Joy and sorrow are often intimately linked or juxtaposed.

In All that Is Secret, a unique mystery novel set in Denver, Colorado, Patricia Raybon ties joy and sorrow together. Sorrow motivates the protagonist and drives the plot of the story. Annalee leaves Chicago for Denver to unravel the mystery of her father’s death. Her sorrow about losing her father is sincere and reoccurring. She experiences joy when she connects with Jack Blake.

In Have You Seen Luis Velez by Catherine Ryan Hyde, joy is expressed in the sense of a bodily memory of pleasure when Raymond takes Millie out for brunch. The blind woman tastes something she loves again for the first time in years. Raymond experiences joy at connecting with Millie. However, sorrow is very present in the book because a beloved person is murdered. The shock of her friend’s death causes Millie to suffer from a resurgence of the pain she experienced during the horrors of her childhood. However, the main character’s ability to connect positively with others ends up bringing joy to their new community of friends.

In a quirky collection of Japanese short stories, Where the Wild Ladies Are, by Aoko Matsuda, joy is attached to eating food—delicious creamy cakes. The juxtaposition of the joy of eating with the integration of ghosts in the stories is perplexing but intriguing.

In James McBride’s Deacon King Kong, the cop, Potts, experiences joy when he meets Sister Gee and realizes when she laughs that it is like seeing “a silent mountain suddenly spring to life.” McBride links joy with sorrow when Potts immediately senses that he wants to tell Sister Gee “every sorrow he ever knew.”

How Do Joy and Sorrow Manifest in My Fiction?

In one of my novels, I deal with transpersonal joy and sorrow. The main character experiences sorrow through the personal loss of loved ones, then joy in finding her path. In another novel, I deal with personal sorrow which becomes motivational for the main character. And, in my third novel, interpersonal joy and sorrow are at play.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021: 

This month I revised some chapters that integrate joy and sorrow.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

In November, I reedited the most sorrowful chapter.

Add 25,000 words to my third novel by December 7, 2021:

In November, I reread chapters that I thought used joy or sorrow.

Publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

This month, I accomplished some minor edits of the workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: 

This month I worked on increasing membership in the organization and identifying potential leaders.

Denver Women’s Press Club:

I decided to join a critique group with other DWPC members in January 2022.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers:

I read the newsletter and other members’ blogs.

Women Writing the West: 

I filled out a survey for WWW.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is December 7, 2021, I am posting my twelfth blog of 2021. This month I have been pondering what the New Year 2022 will look like for me. Will I continue writing this blog? Will I choose to do something entirely different? Will I finally finish the novels I have been working on? Will I set a poetry goal? Fortunately, I have most of the month of December to make my decisions.

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