Listopia: What Constitutes Angst in MM Romance?

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I love the MM community on Facebook, where authors and readers interact in various groups. One of these groups is a relatively new one called M/M Angst Lovers, and of course, I joined as soon as I spotted it, haha. But it made me wonder: what constitutes angst in MM romance? (or MM+, but let’s not get too technical…)

Readers often describe books as “angsty” or “high angst” (or not angsty and low-angst), but what does that mean, exactly? How do readers (or writers) determine the level of angst in MM romance? Luckily, someone in that group asked the same question in the form of a poll, and I asked if I could write about the results.

What do Readers Consider Angst in MM Romances?

Here are in order of votes the elements readers consider to contribute to a book being angsty:

Past trauma-physical abuse
Current trauma-physical abuse
Past trauma – sexual abuse
Accident or injury of a main character
Past trauma – other (homelessness, etc.)
Current trauma – other (homelessness etc)
Past trauma – mental abuse
Current trauma – sexual abuse
Past trauma – mental abuse
Current trauma – mental illness
Low self worth
In the closet/hiding relationship
Relationship woes other than cheating (thinking the other doesn’t love you)
Addiction
Escaping from difficult life circumstances such as gang, mafia, criminal
Side character death
Accident/illness of a side character

As you can see, this is quite the list, but it can easily be summarized into four main categories:

1. Past trauma
2. Current trauma
3. Accidents, injuries, or even death from main character or side characters
4. Relationship struggles

Now, we can debate some of the details here, like if having a mental illness should be categorized as a trauma, but let’s leave that out of the discussion.

I thought this list was illuminating, because it shows the kind of story elements that give readers angst. This is subjective, of course, because some elements may not be angsty at all for certain readers while these will totally stress out others. Personally, I find current trauma way, way more angsty than past trauma, for instance. But the bottomline is clear with those four main categories.

What About My Books?

Obviously, I was now curious how my books would rank on “level” of angst, so I asked. Here’s what readers thought:

No Shame series: angsty
Irresistible Omegas series: a little tense at times, but not really angsty
Ignite: angsty, both because of the trauma these guys went through as the current peril they’re still in
The Time of My Life: angsty
Ballsy Boys: very low angst

As you can see, I have something for everyone, haha.

Now I’m curious, of course. What’s the highest angst book you’ve ever read? One that had you squirming with stress for the main characters?

12 thoughts on “Listopia: What Constitutes Angst in MM Romance?”

  1. The Beautiful Monsters series by Jex Lane. I actually had to stop reading near the end of book 2 because the tension was ratcheted so high, and personal angst for the MC was off the freaking charts.

  2. Recently – Rend by Roan Parrish. I literally had to stop reading it for a while because I wanted to slap one of the main characters for not even trying to understand the other at one point! But I went back and it was an awesome book.
    Another that always comes to mind is Finding Hope by Sloane Kennedy (angst queen). Beck Baretti has the worst past trauma to live with – he breaks my heart.

    1. Sloane is the Queen of Angst, haha. And yes, Finding Hope is a great example. I haven’t read Rend yet, but I have read other books by that other. Love their style.

  3. A novel by L.A. Witt, “If the Seas Catch Fire”, made my pulse pound and my imagination go wild. I had to literally put my tablet down, walk away and settle myself down before I continue reading more than several times. High angst is dripping from every page. Swirl Mafia, a contract killer out for revenge and secrets in a blender of blood and hide away motels, and you have a marvelous read. It’s long, but so worth the time and spiking blood pressure!

  4. Yep, Sloane Kennedy is the queen of angst for me and it takes me forever to get through one her books, but I am also really wimpy when it comes to angst.

    1. Oh yes, she is. I’ve had to put down some of her books for a bit because they got too angsty for me…but I love them anyway, haha.

  5. Without a doubt, coming in at the top of the angst meter for me were The Silver Cage/Silver Cord books by Anonymous. Omfg. Those books wrecked me hard.

    I’m an angsty writer myself, can’t seem to stop torturing my characters!

  6. Anything by Amy Lane. I don’t think there’s one book of hers that I didn’t cry through. The worst being Chase in Shadow and The Locker Room.

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