I wasn't sure if the hoops I made these characters jump through was too much and they were just a show for the freakish mind. I mean, is there a point where you might be putting a character through so much it's unbelievable? Am I just a sadistic puppeteer? Should I be a villain?
In my opinion, the answer is: yes and no.
While I do think there is a point that a character can get to encounters so extreme where so much stuff has happened to them that they probably should have keeled over or ascended to some kind of godhood, I do think that a character can suffer a lot of hardships and come out of it a better (or worse) person. To me this is the creme de le creme of a characters life span. Their gooey center. Their zen. What makes them truly unique or even truly horrible.
In real life, people face hardships all the time. Humans are actually very incredibly strong creatures. We can suffer through years of abuse and pain and still come out of it alive. We can walk away from tough ordeals that are traumatic and continue to get up, eat, breathe, and try to live. It can either break us or make us as individuals. This is what builds character. It makes us human.
So, I ask myself, when is it too little and when is it too much? I've learned that too little can make a character incredibly boring while too much can make them look like some kind of super mutant that can take a bus to the face. (Which might work if I were writing superheroes.) I had to find a medium ground that made watching a character be tortured make a reader cringe but still believable enough that they could walk through it alive.
It's a happy medium but there still has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. There has to be something worth fighting for. Hope, greed, sex, revenge, chocolate pudding, anything! Something that makes it enough to get to the other side of the ordeal. I say, torture your characters and make them eat dirt, only to come out a beautiful beacon of hope (or darkness) on the other side.
The deep end of the pool is always more exciting. Staggering your way in from the shallow end can be fun but you anticipate the deep end. You know it's coming, it can be suspenseful, but jumping straight into the deep end teaches you more about the thrill of survival. Take a plunge and find ways to destroy and uplift characters. It will make them and break them. Rising from the ashes is a much better story, don't you think?