Master Plot Series: Tragedy

Buckle up, squiders. This week we’re talking about the plot archetype of Tragedy, which is perhaps the largest and most encompassing of all the plot archetypes.

7 Plot: Tragedy
20 Plots: Forbidden Love, Wretched Excess, Descension
36 Plots: Involuntary Crimes of Love, Crimes of Love, Adultery, Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One, Disaster, Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune, Murderous Adultery, Madness, Mistaken Jealousy, Remorse, Fatal Imprudence, Slaying of a Kinsman Unrecognized, Erroneous Judgment, Loss of Loved Ones

(Man, some of those 36 plots are quite wordy. Also oddly specific. Doesn’t mean I can’t immediately think of some stories off the top of my head, though.)

Tragedy is generally about when things go wrong. Critical character flaws, overreach of egotism, fate gone bad, etc. Pretty much every cautionary tale falls into Tragedy. The exploration of our flaws, and where they can lead us, is the backbone of this archetype.

Or, if we want to be really simple, it’s the opposite of Comedy. Or we can say it’s any story where things end badly, or where the character fails to reach their goal.

Examples: Othello, Oedipus Rex, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet (lots of Shakespeare), Anna Karenina, Dr. Faustus, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Citizen Kane, Madame Bovary, etc., etc., et al.

Moving on to our 20 Plots, we have Forbidden Love up first, which we talked about a little bit last week. Forbidden Love stories have lovers from different cultures, circumstances, already being married, etc.–basically some structure of society keeping them apart. While you can have a happy ending for this sort of story, more often they end in disaster, ala Romeo and Juliet.

Wretched Excess is where the main character lives outside societal norms, normally in a hedonistic sort of way, which eventually leads to their downfall. I want to say Great Gatsby falls into this category. And Descension is related, where the main character begins the story in a good place and everything goes downhill over the course of the story (normally due to their own actions or faults).

Now, there’s a veritable mountain of 36 plots, so we’re going to run through them pretty quick for our own sanity. (14! Which is almost half, good lord.) Involuntary Crimes of Love is where one lover does something bad (accidentally) because of their love (killing a rival, accidentally marrying their mother, killing someone blocking their love, etc.) and then the story goes on to deal with the consequences. (Lots of death in these sorts of stories.) Crimes of Love is essentially the same as Forbidden Love, where some taboo is broken because of their love. Adultery is kind of a specific form of Forbidden Love, where one or both of the lovers are already in a relationship, and Murderous Adultery is much the same, with the added fun of trying to or actually killing the spouse/partner. Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One is the other side of this, where the protagonist discovers their loved one has done something bad, though this is not necessarily related to relationships (can be stealing something, killing someone, etc.).

Disaster is where someone or something in power falls from it. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune is where bad luck or fate causes something terrible to happen to the protagonist (can be used as an inciting incident in combination with other archetypes). Uh, where are we? Oh yeah. Madness is where the protagonist is facing someone/something who is acting without reason (not the protagonist descending into madness necessarily, though those stories can fall into this category). Horror stories often fall into this archetype. Mistaken Jealousy is where a character receives misinformation or interprets something wrong and makes terrible mistakes based on that.

Remorse is where someone has made a mistake and works to redeem themselves. Fatal Impudence is similar to Wretched Excess where arrogance causes the character to lose everything. Slaying of a Kinsmen Unrecognized is, as the name implies, where a character kills a family member or loved one without realizing it (Oedipus, etc.). Erroneous Judgment is where the protagonist has been wrongly accused of some sort of crime, or may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And, finally, Loss of Loved Ones is where the character witnesses the death of a loved one (or ones), often through said loved one(s) being murdered.

Whew. Did you make it through that okay, squiders? It’s a lot. A lot of awful, awful archetypes.

For the characters.

Next week we hit our last of the big 7 (Rebirth), but we’ll have three weeks past that, bwhahahaha.

Favorite tragedy archetypes and stories, squiders?

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