Tragedies are severely underrated. The goodguys win so often in our stories that we usually go into the climax fully expecting them to no matter how outmatched they are. Of course, it's a cherished legend that goodguys can always win if they try hard enough. Even though we all know that's not true, we have an innate desire to imagine it is. (And it's not hard to see why.)
We need stories about ultimate failure, though. Hiding away this large area of possibility space is not good for our story diversity, and not good for our psyches when we return to the real world, where everything is fucked and innocent people lose regularly.
And I confess, I'm guilty of contributing to this. I've yet to make a work without a triumphant ending. In my defense, Pillars of Life was conceived many years ago, when I was a lot less wise, and although you can't tell because it's abandoned, The Pygon Hybrid was going to end in total defeat. Anyway, in the hopes of giving you some inspiration to write tragedies, I thought we could talk about different kinds of them. It can be interesting to lay out the four ways of getting a failure:
Unwinnable from the start
Bad luck. With this one in particular, note that the quality of a story where the heroes get lucky is inversely proportional to the ratio of good to bad luck in stories.
Strategic mistakes. The heroes can have a way to win and mess it up.
Moral flaws. One of the members of Team Good can be less than fully devoted to righteousness, and their split loyalty can lead to a tragedy.
There are also three different kinds of tragedies, distinct from the causes of failure:
If they fail because of a strategic mistake, a good thing to explore is the hero's shame. Especially if the hero who made the mistake survives, how will they feel? If some of the other members of Team Good are alive too, how will they feel toward the responsible hero? I can't think of a single example of this potential being explored.
The pyrrhic victory.¶
Rogue One did this, and it was by far the best thing about the movie.
The fall from grace.¶
It doesn't even have to be a complete fall. I have some ideas for a future project that ends with the heroes turning away from their duty in a situation, and the forces of good pay heavily for it, but they're still ultimately on the side of good. The remainder of their lives will probably be spent trying to atone for their sin.
Well, I guess I'm out of stuff to say now. I hope I've inspired you to go write a tragedy!