Thursday, April 22, 2010

S is for Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude is "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others" (according to my trusty Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary).

Schadenfreude is what a top golfer might experience, after playing the circuit for twenty years and remaining morally and ethically pure as the driven snow, when he sees a celebrity golfer finally suffer humiliating exposure after years of behaving badly.

Old retired George could feel schadenfreude when his next-door neighbor slips and sprains his ankle on a patch of ice by the neighbor's own front door. After all, the neighbor reported George to the city for not shoveling a wide enough path on the snow-covered sidewalk in front of George's house.

And it's just possible that the guy in the Porsche who rode Amy Lou's bumper for three blocks until he could race past and beat her to the red light will be the cause of her schadenfreude when she sees him pulled over by a patrol car a block later.

I'd like to pretend I never enjoy someone's mishaps or misfortunes, but I definitely smirk when I see some jerky driver pulled over by the cops. And I've been known to feel a bit smug when someone who fiercely defended his point of view against all my arguments is proven wrong and he suffers some minor inconvenience as a result.

Whether we're writing fiction or memoir, schadenfreude is a great topic to explore as we develop our characters. The cause of the emotion and the degree of joy and gloating that follow might tell us much about the character's sense of right and wrong.


Not enough hours! said...

That's me! While I do not seek pleasure from the troubles of others, there is that secret thrill when someone gets what was coming to them. I could identify with every one of your situations.
And what a wonderful word - it just rolls on your tongue the way a word like Serendipity does.

irishoma said...

Great advice, Pat, and I love your examples.

Michele Emrath said...

Great to include in books b/c so many can relate to it. And what a great word!


Anonymous said...

As long as the person is not hurt I'll laugh at them. Slip and fall but no blood or broken bones? Yep, I'll laugh. I'll help gather their stuff and help them up. But I will laugh too. In fact, I'm laughing now just thinking about it.

Stephen Tremp

Karen Walker said...

What a great word - I'd never heard it before. And yes, it would be a great thing to remember in our writing. These were wonderful examples, Patricia. I guess it's why so many people love slapstick comedy.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I've always loved this word - and yes, when that speeder gets pulled over, I do laugh.

Talli Roland said...

Agreed! Oh, how I love this word. I love giving my characters traits that all humans can relate to, whether we admit to it or not.

Carol Kilgore said...

Oh, yes. We're all human, and our characters should exhibit human traits as well. Good post.

Grammy said...

Yeah, Yeah, don't we just love to read about the troubles of others and realize it is they and not we who are having those problems. ha.

Anonymous said...

I love this! Not because I like the thought of someone suffering, but because I enjoy the truth in it. We are all guilty of doing this and yet we don't write it into our manuscripts often enough. What a great tip for making characters a little more full-bodied.