Written in response to this question:
Going off of the angst anon, how much werewolf angst would you say is the Goldilocks of werewolf angst? Just asking ’cause I’ve read too many stories where all the main character does is whine (“ohwoeisme”).
Oh man, there’s so much for me to say about this. It’s a topic close to my heart, one might say. I know there is no way I’ll get all my thoughts about this out in one post because my brain won’t consolidate all my thoughts at once like this and there’s always more I could add, but I’ll do my best.
I have very particular opinions on the whole “werewolf angst” thing because what the werewolf community talks about as “werewolf angst” is something I greatly enjoy writing.
I think it’s all about reframing what “werewolf angst” is – and figuring out why it can so often come across as just a character “whining.”
Bear with me. I’m going to do some breaking down, here. I promise I’ll get to the point. I’m a professor, I ramble a lot and wave my hands around before I finally make my final statement.
First of all, calling it “angst” isn’t doing it any favors. Referring to it as “angst” makes it sound immature and silly. Baseless. Unimportant. It makes them “whining” about being a werewolf seem ultimately like it’s not a big deal, and they need to focus on more important things.
So what do we mean by angst? People on the internet mean the very modern idea of angst, like teen angst. One informal definition of angst is as follows:
a feeling of persistent worry about something trivial.
The formal definition of angst is:
a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.
The root of “angst” comes from fear, and the root of that root comes from “tight, painfully constricted, painful.”
We have made the word “angst” into something base and trivial. It originally wasn’t. However, the werewolf fandom as a whole tends to refer to someone upset about their lycanthropy in this way, and they tend to mean the modern definition (as most people today do).
Personally, I prefer to refer to this as “werewolf anxiety” rather than “werewolf angst.”
There are a few reasons I prefer calling it anxiety.
This – that is, being a werewolf, and not wanting to be a werewolf – is a big deal for the character. This isn’t something people should refer to as “angst,” because that implies a lot of things that, by nature of this issue, should not be true (i.e., all the things I said about it being unimportant/trivial/a passing thing/etc).
And, as we all know, anxiety is a big deal and a very bad thing. It’s not something we want to have. Likewise, being a werewolf is not something these characters want to have. And let’s face it: being a werewolf wouldn’t make you “angsty,” it’d make you anxious.
Think about all that’d come with it. It’s a lot. The not wanting to be discovered, worrying about how people would treat you differently, wondering if people would want to kill you, worrying about people hunting you, wondering about the things you might’ve done… the list goes on and on and on.
This is, of course, assuming the werewolf in question is the kind that transforms against their will and loses control of themselves. That is what I’m referring to throughout this post.
Secondly, let’s think about some of the characters and stories where we see “werewolf angst.” In a good werewolf story, it shouldn’t be something referred to as “angst” simply because, again, by nature, it would not be something trivial.
Worrying about this, or complaining about it (via narration, dialogue, or whatever else) is something they would do because it is a very big deal. Any reasonable character would be worrying and complaining about it, vocally or to themselves. They’d be upset more than “complaining.” Stressing over it horribly. It’s a bad thing, a bad situation, and they don’t like it and wish it was different.
Angsting is something you do over getting zits when you hit puberty. Complaining is something you do when you didn’t get a pickle at the drive thru and can’t go back to ask for one. Werewolf characters shouldn’t “angst” or “complain” because what’s happening to them is a much, much bigger deal than that.
So how do we make it feel that way?
The necessary balance to doing that and making it believable is to make werewolves themselves a big deal: they need to be scary and taken seriously. In a world where werewolves are not remotely terrifying and everyone makes constant jokes about them, then yes, of course the person upset over being a werewolf is going to come across as a whiner.
A werewolf’s problems in a world where the protagonist is genuinely upset about it shouldn’t include “lol, you turn into a dog, bro” and “lol ur biggest problem is chasing the mailman and pissing on fire hydrants” and “omg ur shedding, u smell like wet dog!!”.
Their problems are actually killing and eating people. Killing families. Causing destruction. Death. Devouring flesh. Doing bad, terrible, horrible things that any sane and even remotely good-hearted person would be deeply upset to even imagine that they do, especially if they cannot remember even doing it or who or what they did it to.
Does this mean they should complain about it constantly? No, not at all. Does doing so make them a bit of a one-note character? Yes, absolutely.
A character shouldn’t exist solely to show us what werewolves are like in a setting, they shouldn’t exist just so their lycanthropy can be a one-off mystery plotline or subplot. They’ll never once be an interesting character if they’re created for that purpose, and when that story is over, they’ll just whine and flail constantly.
I won’t name names and upset people, as I know he is a popular character, but there is one character I know of in particular who existed to be “omg, you’re a werewolf!” and when that plotline was over, he served no purpose and had nothing else to offer as a character. None whatsoever.
When he showed up once everyone found out he was a werewolf, he’d just shout and smack and go nuts saying “oh my gosh, how could you even be friends with a werewolf!?” and then try to push everyone away constantly and never let anyone close. He was always mad and upset about something. We never got to see him be a person, just “that guy who is upset about being a werewolf.”
Sure, a character can have phases of that, but they have to get over it (even if it takes multiple books!), or they’re making no character progression at all.
Why was this character upset in the first place? We only saw the werewolf growl at some people and yeet away into some woods. And oh no, people arguably treat him poorly for it (even though we never actually see that). Werewolves in that setting aren’t hunted like animals. They aren’t considered monsters incapable of being human ever again. And if they’re treated all that differently then, again, we never actually see it to feel like his complaining is justified.
It’s found in making being a werewolf actually a bad thing that we can clearly see and making that character human and relatable enough to be upset about it – while also having a character of their own beyond “oh no, I’m so sad I’m a werewolf!” That should not be their only character trait. Show us they’re also human. Show us they’re like us, how upsetting this would be if it happened to us.
Make it real.
A werewolf is a person, too. They’re just like the rest of us. Imagine being put into this situation. It’d be terrifying.
Make a character who is a character first and a werewolf second. Make a character, make them a werewolf, and put them into this situation and see how they react. A good person will react naturally without the anxiety and upset going overboard.
They need to have things going on other than being a werewolf. Subplots, other character interactions, moments when the werewolf itself gets to shine. Moments when we build toward that character overcoming the werewolf anxiety. And intermittent in those moments, you can have the character being upset about it vocally, but the anxiety over it should be apparent in their thoughts and actions throughout. Anxiety lingers and flares. This would, too. But like anxiety, they’d also have moments when they overcome it – even if, like anxiety, it comes back to haunt them later.
Just put the reader into the character’s shoes and what people call “werewolf angst” becomes something much bigger, much scarier, much more upsetting, and much more real. It becomes werewolf anxiety. It becomes something they need to conquer, and I know there are a lot of us who can relate to trying to overcome anxieties… be they unreal, supernatural, and incredibly dangerous, or otherwise.
And we want to see the character conquer it somehow, and when they “complain,” they are justly upset and we feel sorry for them, because we see this and we see how terrible it is all the time throughout the story.
That is the difference.
The moment werewolves and being a werewolf becomes trivial, being upset about it is made trivial, too.