Toxic relationships and dysfunctional people—what about these characters and the chaos they bring makes for a compelling story? Reading about heartbreak, addiction, loss, and insanity—it’s sometimes just so good. And let me tell you, as a writer, they aren’t just enjoyable to read about but what many of us like best to write about. While I’m sure a simple story about an uncomplicated friendship or a couple who meets and falls crazy in love without any real bumps in the road might be easier to pen, I think I’d be sleeping before finishing chapter two, and if I’m napping, you can bet the readers will be.
I was reading a post on social media in one of the book groups I belong to, and the author said,
“Give me a book where there is a beautiful love story with a good guy and a great girl.”
She went on to say that she was tired of every book having a woman fall in love with a “Bad Boy” or “Mr. Bad Boy” turns his life around because of a good woman etc. I couldn’t help but agree with her. Why don’t we write more about extraordinary men and women and love stories that aren’t riddled with strife and tragedy? In books so many of us love; there’s often a character with significant issues. Does that say anything about us? While I think it can and certainly personally, I know it does for myself as I’ve had some experience with toxic love and dysfunction. But before we judge ourselves, let’s first look at how a novel is traditionally written. A story shouldn’t have a slow and steady pace without conflict. Books have specific structures from the most basic to the highly advanced. They all have similarities and follow certain rules but in varying ways. While many writers fine-tune this to their style, there are still basic rules in story building.
Each story has a protagonist, the main character living some kind of way but wants something else, maybe a greater goal or desire for something different or better. This is usually at the beginning of the story, where the exposition is established. There is world-building, and you get to know the characters and setting.
Next, there’s an inciting incident. The stakes are greater for the protagonist on whatever journey they’re taking. This sets the story in motion causing the reader to be invested.
Now we are at the rising action where the protagonist pursues the goal they have set, whatever it is they’re chasing or running from, etc. Through this, they are tested along the way.
After this we will arrive at a defining moment where all is lost, things are hopeless or there is a pivotal point where everything could change. The stakes are at their highest.
Lastly, a resolution. The protagonist either gets what they wanted or doesn’t or they realize something greater has been achieved.
Now again, while this is a basic story structure, it might be challenging to write or read if the story is just about Jack falling in love with Jill and nothing happens. What’s the inciting incident, what problem doesn’t the protagonist have to work out? What are the stakes? So, while toxic love and dysfunctional people aren’t often enjoyable for the long haul in real life and can be exhausting, heartbreaking, and sometimes bring us to the brink. These messy characters and the situations they find themselves in often do make for an excellent read.