How much angst is too much angst?

I played The Last of Us 2 recently, and it made me reflect on a habit that a lot of writers have: piling angst upon angst onto their characters. And it made me think, how much angst Is too much?

I know it’s a subjective thing, so where do you personally draw the line, as a writer and/or a reader? My line, personally, is drawn at: “does this contribute significantly to the development of a character, or advance the plot? If it does, is there any more effective, potentially less tragic way to do so? And if there is no more effective way, does it drive home the point of the story without being too overwrought?”

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Just a note telling you I changed the category to writing and development, because this topic seems to be about both development and writing of characters.

I’ll respond to the thread “soonish”

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This second game has forgotten about the keys of the first one. Solid story with flawed yet realistic characters, that grows together, due to a master dialogue. Here nobody grows, the dialogue is static compared to the first game. So they try to add angst and cheap dramatic content. It doesn’t work

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I haven’t played either of the TLOU games, but I think that it is possible to induce a sort of angst fatigue in readers if there’s too much piled on at once. A reader may feel sympathy for a character whose family member dies, but if you also have that on the day of the funeral her dog gets hit by a car, plunging her into debt from the vet’s bills, which leads her boyfriend to break up with her and her house to be repossessed etc etc… the reader is likely to start eyerolling and wondering when this cascade of misery is ever going to let up!

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You said it pretty well here. Angst has to fit within the narrative you’re trying to tell, otherwise it’s going to get labeled shock value. I’d expect more angst in a post-apoc game like TLOU than I would from other games that deal with different genres. Personally, for me, where I end up drawing the line is how the trauma is ultimately handled. I can usually tell the difference between an author writing trauma respectfully and realistically and an author writing trauma because they’re hoping it’ll get a rise out of someone (or worse, give their character ‘foolproof’ justification for being a jerk, which I see more often than I’d like and which rarely hits right with audiences).

I also prefer to read stories where the only reason trauma occurs (narratively) is so that it can be healed. So I’m less likely to want to read a story where the main character is in a consistent downward spiral that ends in their death, or in them never even starting to embark on the path of healing, than I am to read a story where a character is traumatized and over the course of the story learns to deal with that, generally with the help of the people around them. Of course, negative character arcs have their own place in fiction, and I don’t want to make a blanket statement saying they’re all terrible- it’s just not my cup of tea.

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I have gotten tired of the amount of angst that seems to have become a requirement for any story. Sometimes I feel like I can’t find a single story (especially romance) where the plot isn’t dragged out by twist after twist, multiple betrayals, and layers of angst, just piled on top of it, and it’s just exhausting.

I’m worn out emotionally, my physical and mental health is deteriorating, and the world is going up in flames.
So while I know that I’m fairly sensitive to these things, and a lot of people need more emotional impact to get the desired physiological response, sometimes, just sometimes, I could really do with more interesting, well-written, stories to read, that doesn’t rely on excessive amounts of angst to engage it’s readers… :weary: :disappointed:

Note: I’m not saying there shouldn’t be angsty stories, just that it shouldn’t be the only option, and not just added for extra drama.

:unicorn: :racehorse: :unicorn:

I haven’t played Last of Us 2, but I found the first one extremely well-written, but very, very draining.
It’s narrative frame-work of always going two steps back for each step forward, and then NOT having the usual pay-off at the end, for that model, was super effective, but tiring and unsatisfying.

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There can never be too much angst. It all depends how well the story is written and if the angst makes sense or not. If there is angst for the sake of angst then I believe the story will fail. As many have said already, angst shouldn’t be used for only shock value, angst has a purpose.

If you like manga Goodnight Punpun is a story I’d recommend you to read. (Warning that manga is not for everyone, it is very dark) There is a ton of angst in it, but it works because of the bad decisions made by the main character, who is only making bad decisions because of how he was raised.

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Too much angst is when it’s just added to make the story look more mature and edgy because the writer has the assumption that angst is needed to make a story feel ‘real’ and ‘true’.

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Personally, i think it all depends upon the execution.

Angst is a plot device which many writers use to provoke strong emotions from us, the readers. And if done right, it can be very, very beautiful and satisfying.

An example; the Muv Luv VN trilogy. The last game, Alternative, is just angst piled on angst, which is, no matter how emotionally unattached you’re with the characters (which is virtually impossible since the previous two books will make you care about them), emotionally draining and depression-inducing for almost everyone. But it isn’t “edgy” or “bad”, it has spacing between each twist and the worldbuilding is so damn good that it doesn’t feel out of place.

And then, (I’m going to go out of the relams of IF for a bit) there is Maximum Ride.

The first three books are decent, but after that, the next six books are going to leave just one sentence out of your mouth; what the hell did I just read?

It’s dark, it’s edgy and it’s angsty for no reason at all. It’s like James Patterson just went the “Angst for the Angst God” route.

My point is; it’s bad.

So is more angst good? Is less angst good? Should stories be more like fairy tales (the edited ones, not the original ones)?

Well, it depends on the author.

As I’ve said at the start, angst is a plot device, and it’s a very good one at that. But not everyone can use it properly. There are few stories that can use it in a significant proportion and still have the readers captivated. And there are some that just use it for the drama and the shock value it adds.

So, in the end, to me at least, it depends upon the execution of the angst. Like @Red_Eyes said, there can never be enough angst.

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As a player and reader Yeah TLOUS2 was not

Good in terms of story.

It drains you of energy.

Angst is good for a characters emotions. I mean if someone takes an arrow to the knee . Them complaining about it or is generally feeling bad for the rest of the adventure. Can you blame them?

But it should never be used as a plot device . In fact personally the less of it the better. You can’t just have a character get thrown from one bad rodio to the next for the sake of plot twists.

Person A is living a life of hell and everybody is shitty to them and it gets worse and worse. And there is no happy character. There is no happy ending. The journey is but miserable

They fall into a swamp.
The end.

Just no .

You might think that it will subvert expectation but no. It will just be more predictable.

Angst should be part of a story . Not be the story.

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I think that’s what perfect angst looks like; when everything adds up and you end up provoking a strong emotion (not annoyance) from your audience.

On the other end of the spectrum, if angst is something that’s sticking out of a story and not in a good way, then you’ve got a problem.

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Exactly. And when that happens . You ruin characters with fixed traits. Plot holes starts to appear. The theme and motive of the tale changes from what it should have been to what you ruined it into being.

It’s why the plot in the last of us 2 doesn’t work for me

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TLOU2 is the reason why I hate the review systems today because clearly most critics like it because angst is their cup of tea whilst most fans hate it for… logical reasons. Of course those fans then get drowned out by cries of ‘You don’t understand!’ by the critics. It’s very ironic.

Depends.

Like if the angst is avoidable and short lived, fine.

If a character constantly whines about it, maybe fine. Depends honestly.

If a character constantly whines and are actively surrounded by people with similar or harder live they’ll get annoying.

You can’t really measure it and say a cutoff point. I mean Nasuverse is pretty popular and everyone has awful lives in it and most are super evil.

I do love it when the. character is a comic relief though, even if the event is still played seriously. Since it either serves as more comic relief or as an explanation for their personality.

I think the problem with Tlou2 (not having personally played it but having spoiled myself since I won’t afford it soon, so forgive me if I might get things wrong) is that you already worked for a happy ending and went through a lot of angst in one, and even then it results from what I feel should’ve been a choice. Furthermore it continues to hammer that violence and revenge moral away while giving little choice to drive the message further. I mean don’t get me wrong the first one was super angsty too but you eventually had a victory and it had a common theme to go hand in hand with it. This one is, your life is bad, you make other people’s lives bad, you’re a bad person for following the plot and there’s no reward, we might give hope for a happy ending but there is none, your life is even worse than before and you had no choice to affect the story and the theme from the last game made everyone’s lives worse.
Also you could guess the plot and endgame before buying it making it the angst feel even more pointless and less worth it.

Tldr; Hammering morals with set characters is annoying especially if it goes against other entries in the series. Hammering morals with a choice is still annoying but way less. I had a similar problem with Undertale.

More to focus on angst. Let’s see. Revenge stories are usually ok. If they weren’t angsting they’d just be a psycho looking for an excuse to kill.

I wouldn’t mind a character who is a jerk because of their past or circumstances, God knows I deal with that irl. Though I guess that’s a how much situation. I mean I tend to hope those characters have at least one good point about them.

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I think angst can become too much angst when you focus on it too long. Like this scene from Ant Man could’ve been pretty angsty, but it’s played for laughs. Doesn’t diminish Luis’s struggles or ignores them, but he focuses on the positive thing.

So I guess it depends on how the author implements the angst. As long as it’s not all angst, all the time? I’d say you probably won’t induce audience apathy.

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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 :joy:

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I only have to add an example MASS EFFECT 3 ENDING and the infamous note “Drama. Speculation, speculation everywhere.”

They have serious endings that would have to close the gap between several arcs in two previous games. Then producers changed by themselves the end game to be DRAMATIC and poetic. Destroying the mass effect forever because of Angst.

Angst should be a part of the narrative not overpowering it to the point is just plot hole after plot hole.

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Hello hello hello, angst gremlin dropping in! This stuff is literally my bread and butter, so I can confidently say that—for me, personally—there is no such thing as too much angst. ~~Mmm yes, delicious, give me more.~ This type of thing is simply too subjective to agree on. What is one person’s gut wrenching catharsis can easily be another person’s overdrawn melodrama. There simply isn’t any reliable way that we can quantify just how much angst may be too much, but for the sake of actually providing some insight, permit me to discuss genres.

See, different genres will be more tolerant/inviting of angst than others due to the generalized expectations (read: stereotypes) of each genre. These expectations can in turn color the way in which we see angst within the story, ranging from outlining how intrusive the angst is to seeing it as an organic aspect of the story to repurposing the emotional weight to achieve something else within the story besides angst.

For example:
Say the protagonist has been hearing their dead brother’s voice as a manifestation of their guilt because they failed to save him from [vague character death].
In a drama this would be a high level of angst, and if not handled well it may even prove to be too angsty as there may be other, more effective ways to show the protagonist’s guilt. But then in a comedy, this is less an angsty and more a situation tailored for funny hijinks and witty repartee.
In contrast to both of these, this situation fits seamlessly within a horror setting. It will almost never feel so angsty as to be out of place, even if it’s the focus of the horror and the protagonist spends 90% of the story agonizing over it. The nature of the horror genre should completely tolerate all that angst. At the same time the horror genre should (in theory) also tolerate the lack of angst from this situation if, say, the dead brother is not the focus and is more a symptom of the horror (i.e. the brother’s voice is summoned by a malevolent entity to torture the protagonist). As I said before, this is simply because this situation fits the horror genre so naturally.

There are tons of examples to give, but this should hopefully give everyone an idea of what I’m talking about. If not, here’s a tl;dr:

Different genres tolerate different levels of angst because they have different expectations from readers. These expectations and the way in which the author weaves the angst into the plot also affect the intensity/weight of angst in a story as being anything from unbearable, to organic, to a comedy goldmine. Because of this, there is no single answer to how much is too much angst? Further, a skilled writer can pull off anything but I’ve spoken enough already. :wink:

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I have zero tolerance so angst to for me any angst is too much. But I also too grumpy.

My answer varies depending on whether it’s interactive fiction or regular fiction that I’m reading.

For interactive fiction, I’m of the same mind as @lovinglydull:

  • Is the angst necessary to the plot or the character’s development? Obviously this is hugely-subjective, but if I can find a justifiable narrative reason for the angst, I can tolerate it.
  • Is the angst avoidable dependent on player actions, or is it inevitable and does it always happen no matter what? (If it’s inevitable, does it meet the criteria above? Is it necessary for the story’s plot or characters?)
  • I am way more averse to angst in IF if it’s going to happen and pile on no matter what I do, especially if there seem to be choices to avert it, but they don’t actually do anything.
  • Is the angst seemingly there for shock-value, or as a way to make the story more “realistic” or dark?

In regular fiction, I can tolerate most kinds of angst as long as I still have faith that everything’s going to be all right in the end, or that the characters are going to achieve some sort of satisfying ending that isn’t just “everything is awful and everyone suffers”. As long as the writer instills that faith in me, I can keep going as long as I have hope and faith that the angst will all be “worth it”.

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