This year’s biggest hit for film songs was probably “Happy” by Pharrell Williams for Despicable Me 2, and I know “Let It Go” for Frozen won the Academy Award, as it should, but let me ask you this, when “Happy” comes on the radio, can you resist the urge to dance? I didn’t think so. In writing, however, is happy a term that is used too much? Not enough? Misunderstood or mistranslated?
I finally watched the season finale of Once Upon A Time yesterday and (SPOILERS) for those of you who watched Elsa walk out of that labyrinth and reacted as I did (with complete and utter joy) you were probably pretty happy. But what about the characters in the show? I happened to have had spoilers laid on me before watching and I new they were introducing Frozen to the story, so by the time I reached the end of the episode, I was focused on other things. I could not stop thinking about what Emma had just done in bringing Maid Marian back from the Enchanted Forest. I was devastated!
The picture above is a still from the finale and just look at the “Evil” queen’s face. Pure elation! She is finally happy. She has her son, Henry, and now she has finally found true love with the man she saw in the prophecy which stated that this man would be her one and only. Not five minutes later she walks into the diner to find that Emma, in a Snow White move to save some poor innocent soul, brought back someone who was supposed to be dead. Robin Hood and Regina have both lost their loves, he lost his Marian and she lost the man she loved when her mother killed him. They bonded over that and were able to heal through each other. Then this happens and all their hopes (well, Regina’s hopes at least) are shattered.
Now Emma not only altered the past, she has now altered the future because Regina is back to being as unstable as she was when she was still the Evil Queen. She became that way because her happiness was taken away so who’s to say that won’t happen again. So while the audience is overjoyed at the arrival of a new, and very popular, villain in the Ice Queen, the characters are slightly uncertain about how to work through their latest bump in the road.
How important is happiness to characters? If you’re George R.R. Martin, clearly it is not essential at all, but for “normal” writers, how happy do your characters have to be? How happy should they be? Stories must maintain some level of reality to them and we all know life is not fair. Sometimes it is the character’s misery which causes them to take action. Because happiness is something everyone wants, it is something for which they fight tirelessly, thus becoming the whole premise for the book or film. Often the character does not even know that they need that happiness. The movie for which the song “Happy” was written, showcased a character, Gru, who thought he was happy with his three little girls, only to discover that he still had room for a little more joy when he married his spritely red-headed partner.
Ask yourself how happiness drives (or doesn’t drive) your characters, either as individuals or as a collection. Once that happiness is achieved, can it be removed (as in the case of Regina) or is it permanent? This episode prompted me to examine this claim and I am forcing myself to not toss it around so easily. I don’t think I could be like Martin and throw it to the wind but happiness is something all good characters deserve but it should be well-earned.