Continuing Series on Story Structure
NOTE: This is part of a series on story structure. I will be collecting them all up and putting them into a book once I’m finished, as part of my Business for Breakfast series.
Last but not least, there’s the classic story plot of tragedy. I also found it appropriate to publish this article as the last of my articles for 2021.
I’m going to be using a more modern definition of tragedy. Does the main character die in the end? Or, if they live, are they significantly worse off than when the story started, perhaps better off dead? Also, is the cause of their downfall somehow irrevocably tied up with flaws in the main character themselves or decisions they make?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then what you’re writing is a tragedy. If things just happen to the main character, that really aren’t their fault, it becomes a sad story, not a tragedy.
Classical tragedies generally involved royalty or gentry. Today, tragedies are usually written about the common man, struggling to make good. In classical tragedies, the main character was usually a good person. In modern tragedies, the main character could be good, morally ambiguous, or even tainted with evil.
Tragedies have a different story structure, inverted compared to a lot of the other structures. Normally, the main character starts out living their daily life, things go downhill, then there’s a battle or the climax, and they end up on top.
In a tragedy, the main character might start out normal, then things begin to get better. People don’t tend to want to read stories where things start bad and just get progressively worse. No, there has to be hope. There’s a chance that the character can come out of the horrible situation they’re in. They might be able to leave the gang, or save their robot companion, or even escape with their soul intact. For a time in the second act, the main character has hope. It’s all going to turn out all right, or at least better than it was.
In the third act, there’s always a twist. Something happens to the main character or to their circumstances that screw everything up. Perhaps the person coming to testify on their account is murdered because the main character trusted the wrong person (as they have all along)…