A writer friend and I have been discussing how far we can take the drama in our books before it becomes melodrama. When does a story go from touching to overly sentimental? And how much can a character be forced to endure before he (she) moves from being a sympathetic character we want to cheer on into a pathetic creature we no longer wish to hear about?
In a way the answer is like the famous Supreme Court decision on what is obscene: We know it when we see it.
For instance, there was a great deal of drama (a created, exaggerated situation, but still real drama) in the first three Twilight movies. Friends who have seen it (I haven't yet) tell me the fourth film (yes, the much-awaited Breaking Dawn, Part I) is shot in soap opera style with every line of dialogue getting extra time for pauses and long camera shots at the characters' eyes. The differences seemed so huge to one friend that she asked if the fourth film had a different director -- and she's a musician, not usually given to noticing such things in film.
In some other respects, it's a matter of personal taste. I can usually go through half a box of tissues before I find something "overly" sentimental. My son John is ready to leave the theater the first time someone on the screen or anywhere in the theater sniffles.
Mostly we know what we like, we know what makes us comfortable or un-, excited or not, fulfilled in our reading experience or wishing we could get back not only the money we spent, but the time it took us to read as well.
Still it's a worthwhile question to explore. For the coming days, I'm going to spend time in this blog exploring it. I invite your comments as well.