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How to write an well-written tragedy that breaks reader's hearts, makes them love to hate you & placing you way above the competition.
To begin, a “Tragedy” is defined as: “A serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (such as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror.” Likewise, more commonly seen in plays and classic literature. But you don’t need to write classic lit to write a well-written tragedy; you just need to understand why you’re writing one in the first place.
For example, you’re sitting at your computer eager to write your novel. Having an ending in mind is necessary to writing a novel. If you’re more of a “Panster” I’d at least recommend knowing your ending or in general how it’s going to end. Because you must deliver a clear message. Without knowing the ending it’s hard to drop those clues throughout the novel. You could do this in editing, but because “The Message” or “Theme” is such a crucial component, I’d recommend knowing your ending as much as you possibly can in the very beginning.
Search your own heart for a powerful theme and message you can explore in your tragedy
So then, why do people write tragedies? Sometimes it’s as simple as them wanting to be different. Writers don’t wanna do what everyone else is doing-so they make the ending sad, or bad, or whatever the norm isn’t. (However this isn’t the case in trilogies or book series where the “end” is just the end of one of those books. It isn’t the final end-the end of the series. So keep this distinction because it is a big one. We’re talking about either a stand-alone book ending or an ending to an entire series.)
Subverting expectations just for the sake of subverting them is a bad bad way to end a novel and an even worse way to write a tragedy.
Think of the ending to Game of Thrones (**SPOILERS AHEAD**). I don’t know of anybody who actually enjoyed that ending. BECAUSE IT HAD NO GOD DAMN POINT TO IT. *internally rages* Ehhheemmm…
Did You like the GOT ending? Leave a comment in the comments section as to why or why not. tell me why!
Jump to the very end where Daenerys goes bat shit crazy. As a result she destroys all of Kings Landing with her dragon, finally gets the throne for a whole 2 seconds when her lover and true king Jon Snow literally stabs her in the heart because…*rages*. Jon gets jailed, Bran randomly becomes King because that makes sense, and Jon goes back to The Wall. What in the fuck?? Exactly the WRONG WAY to do an unhappy ending. None of it made sense with where the plot was going. Daenerys always had this dark cloud of her familie’s insanity following her around, and she worked the entire damn show to prove everyone wrong. Hence her not being like them the entire show. Until BOOP-she was? None of it makes sense for her-the plot-the other characters or the audience.
The Mother Of Dragons...who, errm...uhhh, Yea!!!
Certainty her losing it at the very end over nothing in particular in that moment was pointless? Not because there wasn’t something dramatic or traumatic to push her overboard, but because it broke her out of character in a huge way. She went from relatively stable to completely nuts in .2 seconds. Just-why kill her? Spend the entire show getting her somewhere with her prime motivation strong and true through the whole show to then at the last minuet shit all over that?? Daenerys wanted to “break the wheel”, meaning she wanted things to be different. That was her thing. Having her ending be the way it was for her had absolutely no point to it. She didn’t learn anything, the audience didn’t learn anything. We know characters didn’t learn anything because they scoffed at the idea of an election. Even more so, the plot didn’t seem to progress or even conclude itself in a satisfying way.
BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T DELIVER ON THEIR PROMISE!
Seems like the promise of Daenerys’s story was simple. “Gain loyal followers who believe her in cause to take her rightful place on the throne. Get across the waters with a powerful and unstoppable army, take the throne, change shit up and become queen, and make a better world. The End.” LOL. That promise of the last bit never happened. All that lead-up to that ending happened, yes, but the very thing she and everyone else wanted for her was stolen away at the end without anything that made sense to replace or conclude it.
I call GOT a tragedy, and it may or may not be one, you can decide the legitimacy on that. But I use it as an example to show where these types of stories fall flat and why they do so. Most importantly, how YOU can get it right.
- One (minimum) major lesson learned (for the main character, secondary/ tertiary characters, or the audience. Someone somewhere needs to understand the theme, the lesson, or the Almighty truth. Someone please just learn a God damn lesson.
A DAMN THEME!
- Cause and effect for the plot (a God damn reason to happen). Consequences. Person A does something which causes Person B and Person C to have to go do something else to Person D and you get it. Give the story your writing purpose and realistic causation to your tragicyness.
We want to write a tragedy because it's reflective of real life. In life, we don't always get that happy ending...and fiction should always depict the real world.
In conclusion, tragedies are tricky (see what I did there?). Therefore, they either work really great, or they don’t at all. In the novel They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera, the tragedy is right out front. From the very beginning the audience understands where this story ends-and it doesn’t end in any form of happiness. But, where this book is much different than Game of Thrones is that the main character and the secondary main character both learn massive and extremely profound lessons before that tragic end. We, the readers, also learn that same lesson. The plot rides this lesson all the way through without missing a beat and that’s how it works. All of it makes sense for the plot and for it to end how it does-and therefore it’s a well written tragedy.
I hope you’re able to take all this information and run with it! Don’t let your tragedy become one