Great Endings: The Tragedy

The tragedy is unique. It’s one of those endings that not only classifies the ending itself as a tragedy, but also determines whether or not the story itself is one. In that way, it’s not an ending. It’s a tale built around sadness and misfortune, which culminates at the end where we see the point of it all.

The term “tragedy” is often misused. Just because one important character dies in the does does not make the story a tragedy. Sure, it makes the ending a tragedy, but a true tragic ending requires the entire story to support the end, like how premises prove the conclusion. (Which is why the pic above is a tragedy in the former sense and not the latter)

Properly said, tragedies litter our literary past. One obvious example is Shakespeare: Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, and so on. The entire story tends to be gloomy and fraught with danger, not just the ending itself. The facts support the conclusion, which results in an overall sad ending.

This ending is trickier than the others. In order to create a proper tragedy, you need to center the story around the fact that a bunch of people whom the reader may be very attached to are going to die. You need to begin, continue, and end the story with people dead or going to die.

In that way, it’s not just an ending: it’s an entire genre of story. But it always ends on a note that is tragic. Not usually is the play fraught with death and terror only for the good guys to get out alive (and unscathed, I might add). The end is only a result, the inevitability of the story’s sadness and grief.

Any fool can make a “tragic” ending where they just kill off a random member of the company in a gruesome way. That’s not subtle or artistic. Creating a proper tragedy means careful planning. You have to know who you’re going to kill and when (Is it amoral to kill your characters? Interesting…)

But who to kill? When? This is pretty important. In a few words: kill those who the reader has grown most attached to. The likable guy, the dependable person, the martyr, the comic relief, or the hero’s parents. Those who seem weak and helpless. (I sound so sadistic…)

Now, the only reason to do this is to tug the reader’s heartstrings. You don’t kill someone because they’re more of a flat character, unless the reader is attached to him or her in some way. The point of death in your story (this way, I mean) is to invoke sorrow for your characters, so this isn’t an excuse to go and kill everyone on a bloody rampage.

And it’s not just death, either; simply killing off people, random or no, is not enough. They have to die poetically or heroically. Don’t let them just die in a random car crash. Let them die in a battle with their worst adversary. Let them die fulfilling their dream. You can add triumph or discouragement to their deaths, but they must go out with a bang.

This means you have to work a little harder about making likable characters. You don’t necessarily have to predestinate characters to die, but pick characters that would make sense for them to do so. Don’t let it be the draw-straws-out-of-the-baseball-cap decision. Let it be purposeful and make sense.

One common mistake some writers make is to leave the story on a tragic note, but don’t actually resolve the story. Death is a great way to resolve the story, because it is regarded as the ultimate end. However, if there are some threads that need tying off, don’t turn it into a tragic cliffhanger and leave your reader completely out to dry.

Good luck, and happy writing!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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