Rebecca Day

Random Thoughts on Angst

Posted by rwday on July 7, 2009

I did a whole 50 words today, on a short story.  Go me.  And I looked at Ashes, and that made me think about angst.

My very first piece of fiction was a Mary Sue short story that I wrote on these teeny tiny legal pads when I was in 8th grade. The plot (fortunately) fades from memory, but as I recall, it involved this girl I had a crush on and communists invading our middle school. This was 1975, okay? Long before <i>Red Dawn</i>, maybe I should sue Patrick Swayze.

Anyway, it was appalling, and the next one, written about my then-boyfriend (I think this one had aliens, not communists) was probably worse, and both, now that I look back on it, were dripping with angst.

I didn’t know that then, didn’t know the word ‘angst’ – it may come as a shock to anyone who came of age in the 90’s and beyond, but back in the day, we didn’t really have teen angst, per se. No Goth, no black clothing, none of that, at least not in small town Ohio. There was punk, far away in the cities, but basically we had the cheerleader/football types, band kids, drama kids, rednecks. We didn’t even have the word ‘geek.’ It was nerds then. Or squares, though that was fading.

My point, and I do have one, is not that I was angsty before angsty was cool. It’s that I think for a lot of writers, self-insertion and angst are necessary steps in our development. But as I re-read my own work and try to make some sense out of Ashes, I’m trying to sort out what is angst and may need to be eliminated and what is just the normal drama of fiction, and I’m wondering what the distinction is, if any.

Apparently there’s teen angst poetry and teen angst book reviews and fan history angst and even wizard angst. People who write fanfiction sometimes ‘warn’ for angst, as though it’s potentially objectionable. The fan history angst page describes angst as emotional pain which adds intensity to a story. That’s not a bad thing – fiction had damn well better tap into emotions, including emotional pain, or you might as well be reading the phone book. And a story needs intensity. But anyone who reads fanfiction has run into those stories described as ‘dripping with angst,’ where the poor character is gang raped, then contracts a painful wasting disease before being hit by a truck, leading to a long death scene filled with (usually out of character) emotional vomit. It’s as if the suffering of the character doesn’t serve the story, it serves the kink of the writer or readers. As a fandom writer, I had no trouble torturing poor Sirius Black to within an inch of his life, but it’s VERY hard to do the same with my own characters. I wonder if that’s why fanfiction is so filled with angst – we may have deep emotional attachments to those fandom characters, but they’re not our children.

I guess my question is how much angst is okay? Is any character suffering angst, and if not, where is the line drawn? And what do you consider angst anyway? Wikipedia defines angst as being “used in English to describe an intense feeling of strife.” Other definitions are associated with existential philosophy, paraphrasing Kierkegaard – “a profound and deep-seated spiritual condition of insecurity and despair in the free human being,” or in music (classical and popular), and as a theme in fiction, “a common adolescent experience of malaise.”

Thoughts? I don’t think the classic definitions really fit the meaning of angst as it’s used today among fan writers – I see it more as character suffering that doesn’t advance the plot or character development.  I’m not totally happy with that definition, but it’s where I am.

Coming tomorrow (I hope), some updates on actual progress.  But at least I wrote today.

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2 Responses to “Random Thoughts on Angst”

  1. […] Random Thoughts on Angst But anyone who reads fanfiction has run into those stories described as ‘dripping with angst,’ where the poor character is gang raped, then contracts a painful wasting disease before being hit by a truck, leading to a long death scene filled with (usually out of character) emotional vomit. It’s as if the suffering of the character doesn’t serve the story, it serves the kink of the writer or readers. fandom fandom:meta writing fandom:fanfic […]

  2. I always used to read piedce of writing in news papers but now
    as I am a user of internet thus fromm noow I am using net for articles,
    thanks to web.

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