7 types of stories: Tragedy

The tragedy mask.

The "Tragedy" plot is one of the classic story archetypes identified by British author Christopher Booker in his book "The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories." "Tragedy" stories focus on the protagonist's downfall due to their fatal flaw or a series of unfortunate events. These narratives often inspire sympathy and contemplation in the audience.

These plots have been used and explored in various ways throughout literature, from the ancient Greek tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides to the Elizabethan plays of William Shakespeare and into modern storytelling. They serve to underscore the fragility of human life, the complexity of human nature, and the profound effects of our actions and choices.

Common tropes and elements

  1. Tragic Hero: The central figure is typically a person of high rank or status who embodies noble qualities, but they also possess a tragic flaw (hamartia) that leads to their downfall.
  2. Hamartia: The tragic flaw or error in judgment that the hero makes, which is often tied to hubris (excessive pride or self-confidence).
  3. Hubris: Overbearing pride or presumption that leads the protagonist to break a moral law, attempt to defy fate, or scorn divine warning with catastrophic results.
  4. Peripeteia: A reversal of fortune, where the hero's situation shifts from stable and good to unstable and bad.
  5. Anagnorisis: The moment of critical discovery or recognition where the protagonist realizes the truth of their situation, often too late to avoid their doom.
  6. Nemesis: The inevitable fate or cosmic justice that befalls the protagonist because of their hubris.
  7. Catharsis: The purging of emotions of pity and fear which the audience should experience, what Aristotle called the intended effect of tragedy.
  8. The Unrelenting Universe: The setting of a tragedy often feels as though the universe itself is indifferent or even hostile to the protagonist.
  9. The Inevitability of Fate: Characters in a tragedy often struggle against fate, even though their destinies are, in many respects, predetermined and unchangeable.
  10. Pathos: Scenes of intense emotional suffering and sadness meant to appeal to the audience's emotions.
  11. Tragic Waste: The death or downfall of the tragic hero often results in a sense of waste, as their potential for greatness is squandered.
  12. Moral Lesson: Many tragedies contain a moral lesson about human nature, society, or the divine order.
  13. Tragic Irony: Situations where the audience is aware of the significance of a character’s actions or words, but the character is not, increasing the weight of the impending doom.
  14. Isolation of the Tragic Hero: The protagonist often finds themselves increasingly isolated from society or the other characters as the tragedy unfolds.
  15. Conflict: Whether it's internal conflict within the tragic hero or external conflict with other characters or the environment, conflict is the driving force of the narrative.

Example stories to draw inspiration from

This plot type is common in drama and romance genres.

  1. "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare: The story of two young lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families.
  2. "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare: A tale of the Prince of Denmark who seeks revenge against his uncle, leading to a series of events that end in multiple deaths, including his own.
  3. "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles: The classic Greek tragedy of King Oedipus who, in trying to avoid the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother, ends up fulfilling it.
  4. "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare: The story of the Scottish general Macbeth whose ambition leads him to tyranny, murder, and ultimately his own downfall.
  5. "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller: The tragic tale of Willy Loman, a salesman who is unable to accept change within himself and society, leading to his demise.
  6. "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Jay Gatsby's idealistic passion for Daisy Buchanan leads to his tragic end in the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties.
  7. "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy: The life of Anna Karenina falls apart when she embarks on a passionate affair, resulting in societal ostracization and her eventual tragic demise.
  8. "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley: Victor Frankenstein creates a creature who, rejected by society and his creator, sets out on a path of vengeance that leads to tragedy for both.