So I've kind of been AWOL this past week due to excessive real life drama, and its got me thinking - how much is too much?
You see, I've lived a very annoying, obnoxious, excessively dramatic life, which is annoying and obnoxious because I'm actually very low key and loathe drama in my personal life with a passion. Get enough of that at work, thanks. Yet occasionally, it seems to follow me home like a lost little puppy - if that puppy were the size of a woolly mammoth. The amount of truly out there stuff that decides to all occur simultaneously strains credulity - and I'm like....really? ALL that really just happened? At once? For realsies, universe? And the universe replies, why yes, yes it did.
And if I can hardly believe all of that really just happened, you can imagine what other people think when I give them the play by play.
So to tie this into actual relevance, I was thinking about conflict in our writing. Not the nature or types of conflicts, but the sheer amount. As writers, we're constantly told that passive is boring. Readers want action, they want high stakes, they want tension and danger and well, drama. Say no to the down time, cram in more excitement, more, more, more!
So my question to myself and you and the Mighty Arbiters of Good Taste is how do you tell when your tension and drama crosses over to the other side? Shifts ever so slightly from being in the 'edge of your seat' camp to the 'oh gimme a break' camp?
In television, they call it Jumping the Shark. When your drama verges on the ridiculous and the reader/viewer is no longer willing to suspend their disbelief. You've lost them, because you pushed the envelope just a little too far. All things in moderation. So how do you know when to pull back and rein it in?
Your main character is failing school perhaps. And they just broke up with their girlfriend or boyfriend. And their parents are getting divorced. All that is dramatic. And all that is believable because its theoretically linked. If a teenager's parents are getting divorced, its going to affect their schoolwork and strain their friendships and relationships as they attempt to cope. It's all symptomatic of an inciting conflict, even if that's not apparent to the character in question. All they see is everything going wrong with their life and it all piling up and OMG FML WHY ME UNIVERSE WHY ME?!?!? But we the readers, ever so slightly removed, can see the bigger picture, view it a little more rationally, and accept that this IS actually all believable conflict because its so intertwined and feeds into each other. And thus, its good drama and a good story.
But then, the main character's beloved dog dies. And their car breaks down and their parents won't pay to get it fixed so they have to get a job. And their best friend starts dating their ex, and the MC finds out they were seeing each before other the MC broke up with the ex and its all stuff continuing to pile on that no longer ties together and has we the readers going really, author? Really? That's not all maybe just a LITTLE excessive?
Couldn't you at least have let the MC keep their damned dog?
But the point is, its a fine line.
For me the solution to the drama dogpile is always knowing why I introduce a particular conflict, whether its my MC's grades suffering or his dog dying. If I have a narrative or character reason for it, then its fine. It can stay. If I can't justify it to myself or come up with a good explanation for why it happened or why it NEEDS to happen, then its drama for the sake of drama, and it should probably go.
So how about you all? How do you decide when enough is enough and when your characters need a little breathing room? What's the most you've ever put a character through, or when was a time when you consciously had to make a choice to scale back on some drama because it was just too much for any one character to believably handle?