1. Rafiki
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    Rafiki Active Member

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    Just a theory about tragedy

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Rafiki, Jul 29, 2012.

    Have you ever read a story in which you were absolutely certain that the protagonist was going to succeed? That they were going to live? If for no other reason than because there are still a couple hundred pages left in the book, and what kind of author would execute their main character before the conflict was resolved? Yeah me too, I hate those stories.

    The other day I was looking into hostage negotiation and I found that the most successful ones were the ones in which the the hostage takers executed one of their hostages publicly. It was proof, evidence, that they were willing to take it to the point of death. They were playing for keeps. It added an air of unpredictability to anything that the hostage takers did, making the police hesitate before taking any action.

    What does this have to do with writing? Simply this: if you want to keep your audience on the bridge of suspense you have to be able to pull the trigger. If you are dealing with a life or death situation it might be who of you to kill off a character in the middle. And it can't just be any character, it has to be a character that you have developed to the point in which the audience has a vested interest in seeing stay alive. An emotional tie that would cause the character to go "nah he won't kill them off, they're too important." A great example of this is (Spoilers) Sirius Black's death in Harry Potter. That was the first one, point in which Voldemort was elevated from cutesy villain to potential threat. Star Wars did it with the Death of Obi Wan. A Song of Ice and Fire, keeps doing it. Don't know if you guys saw Gurren Lagen, but Kamina's death was an excellent example. You notice that all of these deaths take place mid way through the story (Harry Potter in the middle of the series, Star Wars the middle of the movie) Because you need the early part to develop the audiences connection.

    It doesn't just have to be death, either. A good storyteller will turn the possibility of failure into something real, making the dramatic tension into something tangible. I think Katawa Shoujo did this the best (check it out its a good virtual novel, and its free) In the middle of one of the routes the main character throws up his arms and walks away. He spends the next week living his life as if he was done with her (In Katawa Shoujo failure is a real possibility, there are bad endings). This event happens even if you choose the right options, but it adds to the air of dramatic tension. The audience is shown the price of failure in a very real and vivid way. They live it. They live it for a week, a week of misery and self doubt.

    God that was a good game. The writers were terrific. Actually, you know what? This is now a Katawa Shoujo thread. Heres the link to download the game, read it, enjoy it, and get back to me. It's a terrific example of characterization and a wonderful lesson on dramatic tension. The world is simple but incredibly vivid.

    Now that I got that out of me, I am interested in hearing your guys thoughts on the matter.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First off, I think you mean it might behoove you. Tragedy need not involve death. It can also be a loss of reputation, or a betrayal of all that the character believes in. For example, the first David Tenant series of Doctor Who ended with the Doctor and Rose Tyler in separate universes, apparently forever. Later events not withstanding, that was a tragic turn.

    But death is the most common culmination of tragedy, so you aren't completely wrong.

    Tragedy has manifested differently over the ages, in ways that reflect the values of the culture. The ancient Greeks saw tragedy as the result of trying to defy one's Fate. The results were invariably worse than the outcome originally demanded by Fate. Targedy as a literary form was originated by the Greeks. The word itself translates from Greek as "goat song."

    Shakespeare constructed tragedies from unfortunate timing. In Romeo and Juliet, for example, mistimed events come one after another, inevitably leading to the deaths of both title characters.

    In most modern stories, tragedy originates in the flaws we all carry. For an example, study Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.
     
  3. Rafiki
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    Rafiki Active Member

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    You got me

    In my long rambling paragraphs I believe I mentioned that it didn't need to involve death. Just proving to the audience that you can and will, if necessary, bring about the bad end. I believe that it is necessary for establishing dramatic tension. It's not necessary for you to have a sad ending, but I think that the omnipresent threat of one is necessary for a good story.

    Now that I read through my previous post and this one I realize that it doesn't much room for discussion. So let me emphasize a point that might bring about some discourse: I feel that a good story teller should show that they are willing to pull the trigger. I'm saying dedicate an entire chapter, or section, to the bad outcome of the quest. Emphasizing so that it is on equal footing in importance with, say, the climax, or the build up.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The realization of the tragic event is a release from tension. The tension is the agony of tragedy, and I believe it figures more prominently than the realization. You could write a very effective tragedy in which all the circumstances of the tragedy build to inevitability, in essence the jaws closing on the character, but end the story at the point where the tragedy is assured, but not yet manifested.

    No release, and no escape. The tragedy is complete, and the reader does not even get to experience the relief of the final stroke.

    Consider Henry Bemis in the classic Twilight Zone episode Time Enough at Last. The last man on Earth after a nuclear attack, fter years with a nagging wife and an unsympathetic boss keeping him from fulfilling his love or reading. And the shattered spectacles in his hands mean he will live the remainder of his life unable to read the wealth of literature just beyond his grasp. No death, no release, and yet no hope.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Brilliantly played by Burgess Meredith.
     
  6. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    I personally like when the main protagonist lives. I spend hundreds of pages getting to know him/her. I would be devastated if they died.
     
  7. Thumpalumpacus
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    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

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    I'm benefiting one hell of a lot from this discussion. Thanks to the Rafiki and Cogito for taking the time to explore it.

    I haven't written a story where the protagonist dies, but I suppose my WiP is a tragedy of sorts; it features inexorable separation and loss. Some good points are churned here.
     

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