We need more tragedies. 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.
But hiding away this large space of possibility is bad for our story diversity, and 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 story without a triumphant ending. (I did write 7 chapters of what was going to be a tragedy when I was 19 that I hosted here until I abandoned it because I got too disillusioned, and my other works all explore tragedy at least in a partial way or via multiple endings.) 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:
When we talk about tragedies, we usually think of the heroes losing. I definitely do want to see this more (and will probably do it in my next work).
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.
There's a sort of middle ground where the goodguys technically win, but their victory comes at such a cost that they might question whether it was even worth it. Maybe if they have to "win", you can make almost all of them die in the process.
Rogue One did this, and it was by far the best thing about the movie.
The fall from grace.
The protagonist may or may not succeed in stopping the villain, but becomes the new one. Actually the Star Wars prequel trilogy does this (and does it pretty well if you ask me). Star Wars preemptively softens this tragedy by having him redeem himself in the original trilogy, but it's a good example to look to.
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!
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