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Disciplines > Storytelling > Plots > Booker's Seven Basic Plots > Tragedy

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Booker's tragedy is a reversal of Overcoming the Monster, where the villain becomes more evil and must be destroyed by the hero. In the tragic form, the hero is justly destroyed.

A key part of tragedy occurs where the hero become corrupted. Initially, this may be in a small way, then gradually and inevitably they get sucked down into wrongness. Whether by direct temptation from the villain or by their own fatal flaw, this is their undoing and to redress the balance they become doomed to meet a terrible end.

Two other characters that often appear in tragedies are innocents and seducers. Innocence may also be played by maidens or children. Seducers may be devils or temptresses.

A paradox of tragedy is where the hero realizes their error too late and saves the day by sacrificing themself. Often, though, the hero just becomes a corrupted monster.

The basic structure of tragedy is:

  1. The hero has incomplete needs and focuses on some way of fulfilling these.
  2. A tempting course of action to achieve needs appears and the hero commits to this, perhaps encouraged by a shadowy figure. Things seem to go well, at least for a while.
  3. Things gradually start go frustratingly wrong as the the slippery slope begins. Grasping at straws, the hero may commit increasingly dark acts, perhaps encouraged by the shadowy figure.
  4. The situation gets out of control and despair sets in as the end seems nigh.
  5. The hero is destroyed through voluntary or external action.


Tragedies often show the darker side of our personalities as we succumb to temptation and forbidden fruit. Characters fall into vice, such as enacting deadly sins, and pay perhaps an unfair price for their wrongdoing.

One might ask why people would want to watch tragic drama. There can be several reasons including:

  • Rehearsal: Thinking though how we would handle such a situation.
  • Reassurance: Comfort in knowing others have a tough time too (it's not just me).
  • Perspective: Makes our petty worries seem insignificant.
  • Schadenfreude: Pleasure at the discomfort of others.
  • Arousal: Pleasure in any stimulating sensation, including sad ones.

In tragedies, the very human aspects of the hero may be explored, including the inner values conflict between their conscience and the desire to achieve their goals by any means. In this way it tests the character of all of us as we reflect on how we might choose.

A characteristic of tragedies is loss. This may be loss of youth, loss of a partner, loss of friends, loss of wealth or even loss of life. Characters may just lose their way in life and miss out on opportunities, leading to a meaningless waste. Loss is a deep human trouble, going back to separation from one's mother and the formation of identity.

Classic Greek tragedy includes: plot, characters, a chorus, thought, diction, music, and spectacle. The plot is usually about the downfall of a hero, through human frailty, simple fate or as a pawn of the gods. As with later tragedies, a key pattern is the inevitability link between failure and doom.

Examples of tragedy include: King Lear, Faust, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Bonnie and Clyde.

'Tragedy' is the sixth of Booker's Seven Basic Plots.

See also

Tragedy stories

Booker, C. (2004). The Seven Basic Plots, London: Continuum Books

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