My cut off for angst is when it becomes obvious the author just thought “hey, this isn’t tragic enough so how do I increase the drama?” Drama and angst, as much as I’m a drama llama, should never exist solely for their own sake any more than romance, character death or earth shattering revelations–we all know stories where we puzzled over what the flux capacitor just happened, in a negative way, at least once.
That is because (in my experience) rather than focusing on coherency/logical flow in the narrative, the authors wrote what they thought would be more popular, more shocking or more exciting. Ex: Listen to the interviews about why D&D wrote the commonly criticized ending to Game of Thrones that they did. They aimed to be contrarian and throw all theories for a loop; they didn’t want there to be anyone who predicted this–which is why in practice it was confusing, unsatisfying and flopped hard. There was no groundwork laid, no foreshadowing, no sensible progression of the plot and the characters toward one fate, no payoff. Imagine if, instead of defeating Azula, Zuko had joined her again at the end of Avatar the Last Airbender to drag the conflict out into another series. Would that be dramatic? Sure. Would it be right for any of the characters or the story? Absolutely not.
It may occur to you, well, in real life death, romance and earth shattering revelations may truly throw you for a loop randomly–nonsensical drama happens all the time just because. And I agree. However, in a story, we do not write to perfectly reflect realistic circumstances. Realism, while often parroted, is not actually the main marker of quality writing. Adhering to realism can help you suspend disbelief with certain audiences, but it isn’t necessarily needed nor is it free of subjective arguments and bias either. Someone who was happily married to their late spouse for nearly 40 years whom they got engaged to three months after meeting them (not a fabricated example, family friend of mine) would likely be more inclined to believe in love at first sight than others.
Real life has no rules while narratives do and in fact must if they are to make any sense. Even for subversions, there are rules. In writing, ideally, nothing will come out of absolutely nowhere. Not to say that it won’t be surprising or divergent in some way, but if there is truly no way your audience could have seen one detail of the plot point you want coming, then there’s a huge chance you aren’t writing it with coherency in mind and it will feel tossed in.
I’m not saying all epic drama is tossed in though. Sometimes, maximum, all consuming angst is in line with the story and its characters. Will such stories be everyone’s cup of tea? No. But authors should no more sacrifice the integrity of their grimdark story than they should sacrifice the integrity of their happy go lucky stories for artificial angst.
I may have went on a bit of a tangent, but this brought up a lot of thoughts from another post