Fatally Flawed: How to Write Tragic Heroes

Writersdontcry Tragic and trapped, compassionate and ironically self-centered, tragic heroes make fantastic complicated heroes--and terrible boyfriends. Despite being nearly the definition of tall, dark, and handsome.

Tragic heroes are just like us, only better. They are who we wish we were. Attractive, well-off, intelligent, respected, socially fluent... but not too perfect, either. Maybe they have a bit too-wide a smile and laugh a little too loud. Maybe they're just a little too curious and eavesdrop when they should politely announce their presence, or maybe they really want others to like them and will do almost anything to achieve that. And because of their perfect imperfection, we identify with them--and so when that all-too-relatable flaw is their downfall, we feel it so much sharper than we would if they were simply sinful or saintly.TragicHero

Tragic heroes are defined by their flaws, as are the stories you'll tell with them, so you'll want to pick your flaw carefully. A tragic hero's flaw is almost always a "sexy" flaw--a flaw we can identify with, and don't see as being all that bad. After all, being human and imperfect, chances are we share that flaw, and we're not all that bad. It's practically a virtue. It's the hero's "edge," and it's their downfall.

Of course, like shoes, the sexiness of flaws goes in and out of fashion with the seasons. Yesterday's hot hero is today's old fashioned fogie. Medea's passion. Oedipus's pride. Brutus's naiveté. Hamlet's indecision. Othello's insecurity. Too often today, they're seen as yesterday's heroes--how many modern heroes of this type can you name?--but I don't think their types are gone. I think they've just changed with the times. Shed their togas for polo shirts and taken on new flaws, and so, new stories. I also think that, unlike their forebearers, they tend not to die right away as a result of their flaws--that due to the serial nature of fiction these days, while their flaw tends to be the impetus for most of the trouble they get into, it is not always immediately fatal.

A Modern Tragic Hero

One of my favorite kinds of tragic heroes, which appears to be en vogue, is the savior. Prometheus is one of the first and strongest examples of the savior. His flaw is his sense of compassion and fairness, causing him to steal fire from the gods for man--and his punishment is to be ripped apart daily for it.

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