What is a tragedy?

So, one of the biggest things that I have learned through my writing class is what makes a tragedy.

In the past, I always assumed that the main character failed in his/her mission, or died, or some other kind of tragic ending.  My teacher has pointed out to me that that is wrong.

For starters, the moving feature of any story is the major flaw that your main character possesses.  It is through understanding that flaw and working to overcome that flaw that the story takes action.  Everything that occurs in a story is centered around that character’s flaw.

I know, I know, it’s a weird concept, but if you analyze any book that you have read, you will notice that the main character has a major flaw, and that that flaw is what drives that character through to the end.

The instructor gave us a list of common flaws that are used:

  • lack of self-confidence
  • lack of self worth / low self-esteem
  • insecurity
  • naivety
  • inability to put the past behind
  • inability to face the past
  • inability to trust others
  • inability to make a commitment
  • stubbornness
  • rashness
  • prejudice
  • selfishness
  • arrogance / smugness / hubris / pride
  • greed
  • envy

Notice that fear is not on here.  That is because fear is an emotional that is caused by an underlying flaw.  Learn your character’s flaw, and you will learn what drives your character to act or react the way that he/she does.

So, what makes a story a tragedy?

Well, normally, the end result would be that the main character would overcome his/her flaw, defeat the antagonist and solve the problem.  Happy ending, right?

The reverse of this would be what happens if the main character isn’t able to overcome his/her flaw.  Whether the main character solves their problem or defeats the antagonist is irrelevant (though normally they wouldn’t be able to do either without first overcoming their flaw).  All that matters is that the main character was not able to recognize or overcome their flaw, just making for a tragic ending to the story.

An example:  Romeo and Juliet.  I always that is was the death of the main characters that made this story a tragedy, but that is not the case.  The reason that this story is so tragic is because neither of them were able to overcome their flaw: rashness.  Their inability to recognize their rash actions for what they were is what inevitably caused their deaths.

Any questions?  I found this entire idea very interesting, and so have been focusing a lot of time on researching this.  With every tragedy that I have seen/read, the end result was caused by the main character’s inability to either recognize or overcome their own major flaw.

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