A tragic hero may be my favourite type of character in all of the storytelling.
This kind of character can be a powerful source of emotions for your readers and it can offer you countless of storytelling opportunities.
But how do you actually write a tragic hero? What are all the positive effects a tragic hero can have in your story?
Well, let’s explore this subject together, my dear reader!
First of all, let’s go through the funcion of a tragic hero.
Aristotle defines a tragic hero as “a person who must evoke a sense of pity and fear in the audience. He is considered a man of misfortune that comes to him through error of judgment.” A tragic hero’s downfall evokes feelings of pity and fear among the audience.
The concept of a tragic hero is an old concept, used by great authors including William Shakespeare. Tragic hero evokes strong and sad emotions within the reader, which according to Aristotle, helps the reader to relieve themselves of their pent up emotions.
The flaws of the tragic hero, which leads him to his tragic end, offer guidance and wisdom to the reader. It basically helps us see what we should not do.
While we see our hero suffer and fall, we naturally feel pity towards him. We might wonder the injustice of the setting and how something this wrong could happen to a good character. This lifts up our spirits as human beings, which helps us on our paths of becoming a better person.
So as you can see, a tragic hero offers some real assistance for the readers. It’s not just a character trope you can smash together. It requires you to flesh out your character and make the audience really attached to him. After all, if we don’t care about the character, we won’t care about his tragic fall.
So, how do you actually start writing a tragic hero?
Well, the firsts steps are the same as with every other character.
My view on the subject is that a tragic hero needs a detailed backstory, even if you wouldn’t reveal it to the reader. He must have a past to contemplate about.
But the traits that really set the tragic heroes off from everyone else is their Hamartia and Hubris.
Hamartia is the tragic flaw of your hero. It can be a naive worldview, a strict moral code, or the burning desire to help all others before himself. These traits don’t have to be bad in nature, I’d say the more positive traits will have a bigger impact on the reader, for it helps to create that sense of injustice.
Hubris means excessive pride or disrespect for the natural order. It’s kind of a trait on itself, which can be used in creating a tragic hero.
These two things date back in the ancient Greece and they are indeed very helpful in this creative process, but I have a few things of my own that I highly suggest you think about.
In my current WIP, there’s a character called Sir. Jaroc Orvant. He’s one of many tragic heroes in my story.
He’s not a pure man or without sin. He has actually committed horrible crimes during his years and if you’d read his backstory, you wouldn’t believe he’s the same character.
But he changed when he faced death itself and vowed to defend the innocent and help others, even on the expense of himself.
He wasn’t a hero, but he grew to become one and this kind of “realism” helps to make his journey even more tragic. He’s constantly fighting his inner deamons while fighting to defend the people he loves.
His selflessness leads to his death.
These traits create a multilayered character with interesting motivations and hamartia.
So, my word of advice here would be to create a complex background for your character. Create strong motivations and deep history. Focus on inner conflict and emotions.
What comes to the actual arc of the tragic hero, it doesn’t have to end in death.
Sometimes the fact that the tragic hero lives is more tragic and sad than his death. Think about this scenario:
A selfless knight, haunted by his past crimes, vowes to defend the party of adventurers he joined up with. He has fallen in love with a woman and marries her during the story. But at the end of the story, all the other members of the party die, leaving him alone, haunted by the sense of failure in addition to his past crimes.
I’d say that’s a far sadder outcome than the knight just dying. My point is, there are many ways to build the arc for the tragic hero and it really just depends on your story and your preference.
These are my thoughts about the wonderful tragic hero. What do you think? Did you get inspired by my ideas?
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