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Tragic heroes and their tragic flaws

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Swordfry, Mar 22, 2015.

  1. Swordfry

    Swordfry Troubadour

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    I have always been interested in classic literature, especially ones that involve tragic heroes. I don't think all stories with tragic heroes have to necessarily be in the tragic genre, that is ending badly for the hero. I just think that this makes for more interesting characters. I've noticed that some modern authors seem to go the opposite route, and make almost over powered characters with perfect character and with the uncanny ability to handle every situation perfectly. It's honestly kind of boring.

    The hero of my WIP is indeed a tragic one. I know how this story ends, and it ends with his demise by his own hand. He is a pretty typical brash young warrior who loves to fight. However, he is arrogant, and very prideful. When he finds an opponent that is above his level of skill, he will relentlessly focus on that opponent, becoming obsessed with him.


    What does everyone here think on this matter? Do you like or use tragic heroes?
     
  2. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    You have to be careful with them. You always have to remember that there are limits to what people will tolerate of their heroes. How great a flaw they will accept. How bitter an ending.

    My gut rule for endings is that you always have to give the reader something they can cling to that will be uplifting. So the classic ending is something like the heroe wins through everything and lives happily ever after. Saccharin maybe but traditional. Now you can cut this back so that maybe the hero dies but still achieves his goals, or alternatively the hero fails but trie hard and didn't die so he has the hope of continuing. Either of these can work. If however you go the whole hog and have your hero die in abject failure, your readers are not going to be happy. In fact you will probably get hate mail.

    As for character flaws, if they are so great that the reader can't sort of identify with the hero to an extent, you've got problems. Consider Moby Dick, and ask yourself, what would have happened if Captain Ahab had been written as the MC instead of being observed by the narrator. Could readers have dealt with trying to get inside the head of a mad man? In the same vein think of Doctor Moreau. Again another mad man who is observed by the MC. These books work largely because the reader identifies with the observer / narrator who is a sort of everyman. Not with the principle character of the book.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  3. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I like to lay it out step by step, showing exactly how and why the character won't avoid doom. For instance, one of my characters is obsessed with helping people she sees as weak and vulnerable, but unwilling to trust anyone who's in enough of a position of strength to help her. She gets one opportunity after another to back off, back down, or accept support, and each time, her issues make it inevitable that she'll just push everyone away and sink deeper into despair. I think it's a lot more fair than tasking "fate" with ensuring the right course, or leaving the door open for a happy ending before slamming it shut in the end.

    Another point to be made is that a tragedy isn't necessarily the same as a shaggy dog story. I'll just quote a much older post of mine:

    Edit: actually, I'd like to add to that with a third example. Another monster, this time part of a whole society of monsters that take pride in hunting, and in contrast to them, another society that's at peace. The monster realizes that his society has lost its former glory, falling into savagery and killing for no reason, and views the peaceful society as something to be learned from. Then the other monsters slaughter all the peaceful people. Broken by grief, the hero monster decides to become the most glorious monster of all by slaughtering all of the other monsters, and he spends the rest of his life alone. This is a dark ending however you slice it, but I think it's successful, because again, something changed between the beginning and the end.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2015
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  4. cupiscent

    cupiscent Sage

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    I love it when a character is undone by their own innate nature, foiled in the pursuit of their goals by the very things that make them who they are. BUT I hate it when a character is plain stupid and fails because they just won't grow or change.

    It's a very delicate line to tread. I suspect the key lies in showing thoroughly who the character is, the quintessential elements of their personality, the core defining traits. How important it is to that character that this is who they are. And showing all that in circumstances that build up towards importance, so that then when they make a decision that is precisely, definitely them in the most important circumstances, we as readers lament, but know it couldn't have been any different.

    For me, the author who I've seen do this best is Daniel Abraham. His Long Price Quartet has some magnificent examples, especially in the second book, A Betrayal in Winter.
     
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  5. skrite

    skrite Scribe

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    I think this is an interesting angle. A character being arrogant does not stop us from rooting for him, especailly if there are other aspects of his personality that draw us to him.
     
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  6. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    Though it's anime, and not even fantasy, I consider Spike Spiegel to be one of my favorite tragic heroes if not #1 on my list. He's cocky, though not so perfect you can't stand him, and he's basically a good guy.

    When the final episode ended, I wasn't expected the tragic ending, but I was so blown away by how the entire battle played out I immediately watched the second half of the episode again.

    (I do that in books as well, even if the scene is tragic yet very well done. For those who read A Dance with Dragons, the final match in the pit battle scene was a scene I re-read immediately. I also found myself re-reading a few Brienne scenes in other books, my favorites being the time she singlehandedly wrecked a boat and her first-ever kills.)
     
  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    You shut up! Spike is FINE! *cries*


    Anyway, yes, I LOVE tragic heroes and anti-heroes. In fact, I think anti-heroes are best when they are tragic.
     
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  8. Stephyn Blackwood

    Stephyn Blackwood Minstrel

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    For a tragic character, I always like to think of most of the PoV characters from Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy. A good example of this would be Logen Ninefingers, an old warrior who is just trying to do the right thing, but cannot rid himself of his past demons.
     
  9. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

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    Spike is awesome. I was just mentioning cocky as a flaw. Reckless is the more prominent flaw, come to think of it. But it's worth mentioning that the flaws are enough to make him human. I never cared for the "perfect" hero. Also, Spike's not so flawed he leaves the viewer questioning his motives and decisions. He's likable.
     
  10. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I mean he's definitely alive and well. Yep. :p
     
  11. Swordfry

    Swordfry Troubadour

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    Thanks for all of the feedback. I am aware that working a tragic MC is risky, but I think I've got it.
     
  12. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

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    I love me some tragic heroes, especially if the tragic event actually has a valid plot point, and the tragic hero is not just emo. My favourite is in Mercedes Lackey's Last Herald Mage trilogy, and although Vanyel is really sappy and depressed a lot, his tragedy gets a point. And I am a sucker for melodrama, don't judge me . xD
     
  13. skrite

    skrite Scribe

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    When I was younger, I never thought that a tragic hero was even possible until I read Elric of Melniboné. Just awesome stuff there.
     
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