In Defense of Tragedies

Posted October 9, 2014 by Stormy in Books / 13 Comments

I love a good tragedy.

I love a good tragedy not because I need stories to always end in angst and destruction and I’m allergic to happiness, but because sometimes life feels tragic. I actually do love happy stories with happy endings, and I would say most of the books I read have mostly happy endings, even if there are currents of bittersweet underneath it all(this seems to be the popular ending for science fiction and fantasy books, which makes sense). Sometimes, all I want is an adorable contemporary romance with banter and fluff and feelings(thank you, Kasie West books, for fulfilling that need in my life).

Sometimes, though, nothing else but a tragedy will do. Out of all the readers I know online and in real life, I think most would prefer a happy ending for a story than a sad one. And while I couldn’t read only tragedies and nothing but, sometimes I just need a story that doesn’t have a happily ever after.

And I think the most important reason is because sometimes I need heroes to fail. I need them to fail at saving the world, or finding their love requited, or picking up the pieces that have been scattered along the way. I *need* stories that aren’t afraid to have their heroes fail, and be no lest the hero of the story for it, because sometimes I fail too, in the story of my life. I think that’s why I love a good tragedy from time to time–I can relate to it, on some level, even if my tragedies of life aren’t as dire as the consequences a story might tell. I think that might be too why some people shy away from tragedies at the same time.

That being said, I think there are certain ways sad endings can be written to feel authentic and then other ways when they just feel gimmicky. For example, having the love interest die in a car crash at the end of the book after the “happily ever after” moment? I don’t think I would like a sad ending like that very much. I prefer tragic and sad endings when they come around as a result of the character’s actions, and not simply as a way to shock the reader into a case of mood whiplash.

Stories and fiction have always been about a lot of things to me, but I think when I read(or watch or listen) to a story, I’m mostly interested in the consequences, and that’s what a good sad ending is to me–a potential consequence of an action(even if it’s not directly the consequences of the main character’s actions). A well-written tragic ending often forces the consequences of multiple actions and multiple characters to come to some sort of culmination, and in a well-written sad ending, there’s this moment of utter something, whatever that something is. Everything gets stripped away and it’s often the result of a yarn ball of cause-and-effect.

Let’s chat: How do you feel about tragic/sad endings? Hate them? Love them? Tolerate them? Are there certain sad endings you can’t stand(the “gimmicky” ones?

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13 responses to “In Defense of Tragedies

  1. Stormy

    That totally makes sense. I thought about talking about that in my original post too(tragedy in the middle + better outcome by the end). I’d say 80% of the time, I like the see the getting back up phase, to at least make it to a semi-happy ending. But then there’s 20% of the time where the sad, tragic ending just feels right to me. Most of the time I love those getting back up moments too, though. Those are often my favorite books.

  2. I like realistic endings that show consequences, but I don’t like them if they end too darkly or feel too hopeless. And like you said, I definitely don’t like a gimmicky tragic ending. If it feels real and raw but also hopeful then I can usually find an appreciation for it.

    • Stormy

      Sometimes I like very dark endings, but a good portion of the time I definitely appreciate the raw but hopeful endings. The gimmicky endings are completely infuriating for sure. They mostly feel like such a cop-out.

  3. This is what I think is so interesting about stories – everyone likes different things for different reasons.

    Personally, I don’t love the tragedies. I’ve read them, and there are some that are sooo moving and are my favorites. But it’s rare that I crave these kinds of books. And when I read a sad book, I have to really get in the right frame of mind.

    I think, for similar reasons that you love tragedies, I love the lighter books. Because sometimes life just feels too much. And I not only need an escape, but I need to feel hopeful, and to see someone succeed. Not that I want everything to be perfect in that someone’s life, because that’s just boring.

    But I love that other people feel differently than I do about sad books. That’s what makes life (at least reading life) interesting.

    • Stormy

      I could spend hours talking to other readers why we’re so drawn to stories! I know a lot of the things that draw me to stories are not the same thing that draws others, and there’s really no end of potential reasons.

      Your points about lighter books are interesting. I do love lighter books sometimes, but I’m not drawn to them the same way I am to heavier books. When I want a lighter story, I think I’m more likely to pick up a movie or a comedy TV show than I am a book, and I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps I just prefer my happy stories in a visual medium? It’s interesting to think about. There are a few times I just want a happy story, though, and I have a few go-to authors for that(mainly Kasie West & Sarah Strohmeyer), whereas with heavier/sadder stories, I’m more likely to explore new authors than I am with happy/light stories.

  4. I like tragedy ok in the middle of the books – but not the ending.

    I can totally relate to that part of you that wants to see heroes fail and still be the hero – for everything to not work out perfectly – because that happens to us and I need to see that in fiction too. But I need it to go one step further. I need to see, after failing, that they get back up – they do something else – they find a different happy ending or the original one all along, it just took some missteps. Because that let’s me believe, when I’m in the middle of a failure, that there’s hope.

  5. I don’t have something against sad/tragic endings, but I don’t have anything with them either. As long as the ending makes sense and naturally flows from the story then I am okay with it. I don’t like it whe something happens at the very last second just to be a surprise or mess up a happily ever after. But when a sad or tragic ending makes sense for the book, then I don’t mind. I like to feel like the ending is right for the story. Although I general I think I have a preference for happy endings, but that might also be a result of the books I read.

    • Stormy

      That makes sense! Basically neutral as long as the ending fits the story. And I’m with you on the last second just to be a surprise thing, unless the story clearly called for it. I’m not a big fan of shock value just for the sake of it.

  6. Sometimes a good tragedy feels better to read than just a sappy happy book. Not all endings have to be happy, and sometimes a sad ending is fitting and satisfying.

    • Stormy

      Yup, as long as the sad ending is fitting I tend to prefer that to sappy books. . . but I’m not a very sappy person in general. There are always exceptions, though! Even I just need a feel-good read every once in a while.

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