ANGST: When Is Too Much WAY Too Much?

I had another post I was writing for today but Sirius and I were emailing about something else entirely and the topic of overwhelming angst in M/M romances came up. We had a long discussion about the pros and cons of angst in romances so I thought I would write about it. Blame Sirius for my inspiration. 🙂

Angst seems to be a common feature in many contemporary M/M romances and right now I’m suffering from a condition called angst dissonance. lol Some of you LOVE angst and say bring it on! Buda, one of our guest reviewers, can’t get enough angst, so whenever I start reading a book which has lots and lots of angst I usually pass it to him to review since I know how much he gets off on it. 😆  Sorry B, I know it was our little secret but I couldn’t resist. At least I didn’t tell them about your tat with the hearts and flowers on your *ahem* 🙂 Oops.

I don’t mind a reasonable amount of angst in romances but I can only tolerate a certain LEVEL before my eyes glaze over, my stomach churns and I have to stop reading or my mind and body will rebel. Relationships evolve and change in RL and romances are no different, except everything is emphasized in fiction where everyone’s reactions to different circumstances or issues are more  extreme. However, when I read a book where the writer just piles on the angst which is over the top to begin with, and I no longer can see where the story is headed or even what was the plot of the romance in the first place, and the angst becomes the focus of the book rather than the love story, I give up in disgust and it becomes a DNF, unless I’m reviewing it and I have to finish it. My hard drive and Kindle are full of books that I bought but never finished, due mainly to their over reliance on this plot device. Some experienced authors have an instinctive sense of when to rein it in and add humour, and they also don’t forget that the book is supposed to be a romance rather than the heroes’ struggle for survival, but a large percentage of authors just don’t seem to know when enough is enough IMO.

As you know, there are different aspects of a story that can cause angst – one is whining about life in general and being dealt a bad hand which at times can go on and on until the end of the story; then there are the small misunderstandings between the MCs which some authors elevate to a Big Misunderstanding that could have been resolved by having them simply talk to each other, but hey, where is the fun in that? After all, men don’t communicate, right? Other authors use angst through hurt/comfort. MCs are viciously beaten, raped (gang rape is becoming more frequent), maimed, humiliated, or injured to the point where they are in hospital for weeks and their bodies are permanently broken. It seems to be a case of “how much more can I add without killing this guy (don’t want to piss off the readers) so before I give him his HEA let me also throw in a situation where he gets beaten to within a inch of his life one last time.” Some characters are injured so many times in a story it’s a miracle they are still alive when it ends. Don’t the protagonists have fun any more outside of the sex?

I don’t equate good writing with the amount and level of angst in a romance, and I don’t believe many of you do, so why do some authors feel that hyping the angst to an unbearable level (your mileage may vary) makes a romance more marketable and therefore generate increased sales? Conflict in a romance, or any book for that matter, is essential for it to be interesting and enjoyable, and that’s the best way to hold the readers’ interest – there’s no fun reading a romance which is all kisses and light and bike rides to look at the sunset. Creating believable conflict is difficult to do but that’s called writing.

The boom in M/M romance is still going through the roof, with new authors coming on board every day. Perhaps the pressure to rise to the top and stay there in this very competitive field leads to many writers deliberately escalating the angst which they know some readers love, because they think this will make their books more popular and give them a significant advantage over the competition. However, a high level of angst in a book is no substitute for a good plot, intelligent prose and dialogue as well as three dimensional characters, qualities that make stories memorable. No amount of angst can cover up deficiencies in a plot or failure to write an interesting story that holds a reader’s interest from cover to cover. A book that has my stomach in knots from beginning to end is not usually an indication that the writer is hitting all of my hot buttons, unless it’s a high octane adventure.

I have recently stopped buying or reviewing books by certain authors because extreme angst is their signature and I don’t want to read about the escalating amount of injuries inflicted on their heroes. These writers seem to delight in bringing their characters to their knees with massive injuries and they usually end up in hospital, some almost at the point of death for extra dramatic effect, before their HEA. Where is the fun in reading a book like that? Is this a trend in M/M romance where the heroes’ lives are made as grim as possible so readers will feel they deserve a happy ending? I expect protagonists to work for their HEA, but is there no limit to the amount of excruciating pain and tragedy that they have to endure before The End?

I saw this today on another site which gave me a chuckle:

“Hey, Let me tell you something. I just finished this show/movie/book, and it’s awesome! You’ll totally love it! It’s so artistic! You’ll fall in love with all the characters, and when you see what happens to them it will just break your heart! If the final part doesn’t cause you to cry for weeks, then man, you have no soul!… hey, where are you going?”

However I think some of you may prefer this quote 🙂

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?”

We all have different personal tolerances and I understand that mine and yours could be as night from day. I never developed a taste for lots of angst, probably because I started out reading fantasy and murder mysteries, not romances. I think that’s where I went wrong. 🙂

Bring out the brickbats guys. :strike: Buda you don’t get to wield a bat. 😆

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

116 comments

  • My initial, evil response is to ask you to list some of the stories you disliked, because I haven’t read a good torture novel for a while now.

    My situation is similar to Erastes’s: I come from the fan fiction community, where angst and hurt/comfort are common tropes. That’s how I got into reading m/m – not through seeking out romance stories, but through seeking out angsty stories. Because that’s what I read when I’m reading non-m/m novels: fantasy stories about assassins and rebels, historical fiction about wars, science fiction about alien invasions.

    I do like a good love story. I just don’t want give up tense drama for the sake of it. In fact, my initial difficulty with the m/m romance genre was that I kept running across non-angsty romance, which just wasn’t to my taste.

    However, it sounds as though what you’re talking about is gratuitous angst, especially gratuitous violence. And, paradoxical though it may seem, gratuitous violence irritates the heck out of me. A couple of people above mentioned George R. R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones.” I’m currently debating whether to read Mr. Martin’s latest novel. On the one hand, his novels are always page-turners. On the other hand, I just know that he’s going to take some sympathetic character and kill them in the bloodiest manner possible. He’s done that so often now that I’m beginning to classify his series as “violence porn.” The horrible deaths don’t seem to serve enough purpose – in terms of characterization, plot, or theme – to justify the loving detail in which he describes the terrible events.

    Similarly, I enjoy reading erotica, but I hate reading stories with gratuitous sex. So I’m right with you in asking that writers consider whether angst is actually necessary to their plotline.

    Reply
    • Hi Dusk
      I didn’t grow up on fan fiction so all of the overwhelming angst is not something to which I’m accustomed.

      I could name a few authors but that wouldn’t be fair – they know who they are and many of the readers do as well. They will defend their right to beat up their heroes to a pulp because they say that’s what the characters tell them to write. Bullshit! They get off in wallowing in this kind of book. There are many authors who know when to rein it in, but there are three times more who love this too much to give it up.

      There is a book mentioned by a few readers that lots of them love but I coudn’t finish, (maybe they had a fan fiction background) :)and I was afraid to review it because I knew I would get beaten up since this wasn’t for me – heartrending sobs throughout the book for 12 years. I don’t know many guys who could do this for a year much less 12.

      I won’t be reading A Game of Thrones because I have read some of reviews so I know it’s not for me.

      Since M/M romances are supposed to be primarily love stories I expect the books to contain internal and external conflict. I don’t mind some violence, but what I’ve been reading lately should probably be categorized differently, not as romances.

      Other genres such as historical books based on battles, and science fiction where colonies are capured would of course be extremely violent and contain decapitated heads and mangled bodies, but I know that going in. However contemporary romances are not supposed to be opportunities for the author to kick the crap out of the heroes before they get a HEA. Or maybe my expectations are wrong.

      I understand that because of your background in fan fiction your expectations of M/M romances are different, but isn’t a romance supposed to be, at its core, a love story? Is it supposed to be the torture chamber to which we’re being subjected? I don’t mind reading violent books and some of my favourites are violent but those authors don’t pile it on and on until there’s no real story, only gratuitous violence. If I read a book by Stephen King I know what to expect, but in M/M romance am I wrong to expect the book to be a romance?

      Re erotica, M/M romance is for the most part erotic, but it’s not supposed to be erotica which, according to my understanding is one sex scene after another. However that’s for another post. 😆

      Everyone’s taste is different but I thought that the definition of M/M romances is that they would be romances and that these “love stories” would play out in the course of a book, with conflicts ultimately resolved and there’s a HEA. Some M/M authors are cheating by writing angst filled, over the top violent books, or books wtih overwhelming angst, and on the last 5 or 10 pages they tack on a manufactured HEA so their books can be designated with the coveted “romance” label.

      Reply

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