A “tragic” character
For this blog post a “tragic” character is one with a truly long, twisting, and awful life. Perhaps they make the most of what they’re given or they succumb to tragedy and despair. The important aspect is that the character suffers quite a lot of terrible events in their life. The majority of the events are likely to be discussed in the text of the book they are in, possibly the story is about their tragic lives. These characters suffer and are rarely given a reprieve, often dying in miserable conditions or living out a long misery.
Tragedy vs. Trauma
This line is one that many authors struggle with. What is the difference between the tragedy suited to a supremely tragic character, and unnecessary trauma? A lot of times, it comes down to what it is the character experiences. Grief, sadness, and emotional pain can be a potent combination to create a tragic character out of a series of events. Traumatizing that character with extreme violence, assault, abuse, and other themes can sometimes tip a character towards a darker end of the scale. Traumatized characters can be valuable to stories that focus on such pain, but in a story that wants to paint a tragedy these characters are often deeply unsettling and hurtful to the readers.
The glimmer of hope
Something that most tragic characters have is this slight glimmer of hope for them coming from the future. Sometimes this is the promise or possibility of their freedom or departure from the tragedy that haunts them, other times it is the promise of a completion of the terrible tasks they are set in the course of the novel. A traumatized character is usually despondent and believes there’s nothing more for them in the world. A tragic character still perseveres for some reason, and that’s what truly makes them tragic.
Ending their story
A tragic character, unlike a traumatized one, generally ends their story either with the end of the life or with the beginning of a new life, free from the tragedy that previously haunted them. Again, there should be some bare glimmer of hope for this tragic character if they are continuing in their lives. With a life ahead of them that, for whatever reason, is broken from their tragedies, the tragic character can begin to heal and grow. If the story ends when the character passes away, then it is generally accepted that their peace is better than the suffering they previously lived with.
I like a tragic character, and I’m not a fan of a traumatized one. A tragic character may not always receive a happy or a positive ending, but they also demonstrate a lot about humanity. A tragic character brings out our inner empathy, and also reveals the apathy so many people have. Their tragedies are often orchestrated by outside forces, and for many of us with limited control over our circumstances of birth they speak to that inescapable desperation for something outside of our grasp. A realistically tragic character continues to reach, and is thwarted by various machinations of Fate. They are also emotionally sound, reacting in understandable ways rather than always facing the world with optimism.
Let me know in the comments if you’re a fan of tragic characters, and if so, what are some examples you’ve enjoyed?