Today, I'm going to explore three differences between tragic, sad, dramatic stories I enjoyed, and ones that left me rolling my eyes and wishing the characters would just get over it.
In other words, even the darkest story can avoid a descent into wallowing by adding bits of light and hope.
Yes, the situation is utterly horrible, but you've still got that one character who will keep fighting and believing in the possibility of a good outcome, no matter how bad things get.
Sure, characters are dying like spiders in a vacuum cleaner, but that just makes those who survive cherish each other more.
True, it is unbelievably hard for the characters to make any headway toward their goal, but once in a while, they do get to make an encouraging bit of progress, or fulfill one of their small, cherished dreams.
After all, conflict and danger aren't just there for their own sake - or at least, they shouldn't be. They're there to raise the stakes for characters we have a reason to care about, so it's important that the audience always has something to root for.
Pointless, avoidable and self-inflicted ones just make me want to smack my palm against my forehead. Or smack my palm against their forehead. Or both.
For example, in Spiderman 2, Peter Parker got into an accident and his bike got wrecked. As a result, he was late to MJ's play. Do you think he explained to her that he had a very good reason for missing her performance?
No. He just stood there, apologized, and let the situation get very avoidably worse.
Now, there ARE some instances where characters' downfalls are both self-inflicted and very moving. A certain character in Madoka Magica went spiraling into madness, broken by a series of events much milder than the ones that other characters in the series had survived, and her death was very avoidable.
But instead of being a cheap plot device, it was an exploration of her character, and of the different reactions that different personalities had to the same painful situation.
Unfortunately, he lives in a universe with characters like Gaara, who went through WAY more crap than he did, with far less support, and chose to become better.
The baseline level of angst in a story tends to affect my perception of the characters' reactions to various traumas. If a character loses his whole family in a slice-of-life, it's a big deal, and it's understandable if he becomes a rampant psycho.
If the same thing happens in a universe where almost every single character has lost people, and many of them have endured more abuse than the angsty character in question, it's still a big deal, but I find myself comparing the angster to his peers, and finding him whiny by comparison.
Admittedly, that assessment is probably unfair. But on an emotional level, that's what happens when a traumatized character rises well above their universe's standard reaction to traumatic events.
What do you think of dark, dramatic stories?
Where do you draw the line between engrossing drama, and annoying angst? Are there any differences I missed?
I look forward to hearing your opinions!