Authors who write tragic tales often feel conflicted about their craft. After all, their main goal is to cause their readers emotional upheaval, devastation and sorrow. If a reader reaches for a box of tissues while flipping pages, the goal is accomplished! Writing a great tragedy can be challenging.
It’s helpful to keep three key elements in mind as you bring a tragedy to life in a novel. Tragedies are tricky because on one hand, authors want their books to entertain and uplift their readers. On the other hand, if written well, a tragedy can somehow mysteriously fulfill those goals. Here’s how to write a great one:
Think the story through to the end before writing
There are two styles of tragedies in the fiction realm. With one style, most of the trauma or devastation occurs at the start or in the middle of the story. By the end, some type of resolution has occurred that leaves readers feeling better after having been struck by the terrible things that occurred earlier in the book. The other type of tragedy is to basically hit readers with it all at once at the end of the story. With this style, there is no happy ending, not even a sort-of-happy-ending—just tragedy, through and through.
To write a great tragedy, you’ll want to have your ending in mind from the start. Which type of story do you want to write? Imagine your readers closing the book after the last page. How do you want them to feel? Only after you have developed a clear idea of where you want the story to go should you start writing a tragedy.
Prepare for a cataclysmic event or allow the tragedy to unfold bit by bit
Another decision to make before writing a tragedy is whether your story will include a series of unfortunate events or one climactic scene where a tragic event takes place. The latter is the type of story that shocks readers, perhaps compelling them to exclaim, “Woah! I never saw that coming!” The other type of story features one unfortunate event after another, which are stitched together like a quilt of despair by the end of the book. If you want to write a great tragedy, choose one style over the other, and go from there.
Every great tragedy needs a hero
The best tragedies typically feature the traumatic events affecting the hero of the story. To pull at your readers’ heart strings, they must be able to relate to your characters, and there must be a protagonist. Your hero doesn’t necessarily have to be a human being. It might be a dog, a horse or even an alien. The point is there needs to be a character that readers love, so that they will feel devastated by the tragic events that occur.
Some of the most popular tragic stories of all time include “The Great Gatsby,” “Of Mice and Men,” “Old Yeller” and “Les Misérables.” Keep the key elements of a great tragedy in mind, and who knows? Perhaps you’ll write a bestseller someday!