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Writing: Tragedy, Irony, Satire

Author: Rebecca Oberg

What is a Tragedy?

A tragedy is a story about a hero or heroine who is destroyed by a personal weakness or character flaw such as envy, greed, dishonesty, selfishness etc.

How to Write a Tragedy (While Reviewing the Writing Process)

1. Read and Gather. Read some of your favorite classic tragedies. Shakespeare, Euripides, and other classic authors will get you started--do not attempt without them! Get the feel of tragedy, instead of writing out of the blue. Take notes. Most tragedies follow a basic outline, and according to Aristotle, have the same basic principles. Most importantly:

* Unity of Time: Everything should happen within the same amount of time it would really take. For example, don't skip five years in the middle.

* Unity of Place: Things should all happen around the same setting or few settings, and not skip all around the country.

* Unity of Action: Each thing a character does should not be random; it should effect something that happens later. Any coincidences should lead to something else. The plot should flow, and not be episodic.

2. Think and Plan. First decide whether you're going to write a classic tragedy, as a script for a play, or a tragic novel. Write an Outline of your plot. Write out a list of all characters (including a paragraph about their personalities, looks, and especially motives), including those who will be present even in only one chapter, act or scene. Set the stage: where will it be? In what time period? What is happening in the country, the government, the main character's town or family?
3. Write. Normally novels or plays take a long time to write. Don't rush, or you may get frustrated and tired. Set a goal to write a certain amount a day, maybe between a page and three pages. When inspiration hits you may write much more, and when writer's block hits, you may end up writing nothing at all. But remember, this is normal. Set a time where you sit down at the computer and write, every day.

4. Rewrite. Revision can take a long time. As you go through, don't think about how you wrote it. Instead, pretend you just bought this book from a store because it looked interesting and tragic. Read it like you never have. If you think, "That isn't right!", take a pen and cross whatever it is that isn't very good. Don't correct it yet! After reading the novel, go back through each page and correct what was wrong. If you can't remember what it was you wanted to replace/add, write notes as you read.

5. Check and Polish. If you are serious about this tragedy, you need outside opinions. Get friends or professional editors to give opinions and corrections. But remember, the final decisions are up to you!

6. Share your results!

* You may decide you don't want to write a tragedy. In a real tragedy, such as "Romeo and Juliet," "Medea" or "King Lear," the main character will almost always die, along with almost all the other characters that are dear to him/her. This character MUST be pitiable, but have a tragic flaw that leads to their downfall, such as anger or pride. They are the "Tragic Hero." The tragic hero must go from a pretty good position in life to a bad position which usually ends in their death. Tragedies are, just as they are called, tragic. A good tragedy will make the audience cry, but achieve catharsis at the end. This might not be the sort of book/play you want to write.

The Elements of Greek Tragedy

One of the most famous forms of writing within the tragedy genre is Greek Tragedy. This video clip offers a quick history of Greek Tragedies as well as the 6 characteristics of Greek Tragedy. Try these elements in your own writing!

Source: YouTube

How to Write Using Irony (Essays and Beyond)

1. Irony can take on many forms, but Richard Abcarian and Marvin Klotz of California State University define irony "as figurative language in which the intended meaning differs from the literal meaning". There are basically two forms of irony used in writing: dramatic irony and verbal irony. Dramatic irony is most commonly found in plays or movies, and this occurs when the audience knows something that the character(s) do not since they were not present for certain events. Verbal irony, on the other hand, is a play on words used to overstate, understate, or to imply the opposite meaning of something.

2. Verbal irony is easy to incorporate into virtually any form of writing. The easiest way to do this is by using a bit of sarcasm: "A dog with a note in his mouth could pull in more money than the store did last month". Being a little sarcastic can be a great way to let your personality come through in your writing, but make sure you remember whom your audience is and use it with some restraint. There are certain situations where sarcastic humor is simply inappropriate.

3. Oftentimes, you can add some color to your essay by overstating the situation: "James took to the streets like a rabid beast in search of his next meal". In writing, this type of exaggeration is sometimes referred to as hyperbole. Conversely, irony can also be used to understate the importance of something: "Plenty of people have had heart surgery before." Ideally, your use of irony will blend in seamlessly with whatever your topic is.

4. Many classic authors have used irony in their essays to make a point about critical social issues. In "Bessie Would Assist Providence" by Mark Twain, he uses a conversation between a 2-year-girl and her mother to pose the question of God's role in all the suffering taking in place in the world. In "A Modest Proposal," Jonathan Swift suggests that the best way to end starvation and overcrowding in Ireland is to start eating babies. Swift is not really supporting cannibalism, but attempting to draw attention to how ludicrous he thinks some of proposed solutions are. If you want to improve your writing the best thing you can do is read other people's work and analyze what they did well (or did not do so well).

What is Dramatic Irony?

Dramatic irony is one of the most commonly found kinds of irony in writing, and it is one of the easiest to incorporate into your own writing. In short, dramatic irony occurs when the audience or reader knows something that the character (or characters) does not. This brief clip offers a memorable example of dramatic irony.

Source: YouTube

How To Write Successful Satire

Many professional comedians and comedy writers consider satire to be the highest, most sophisticated form of humor. This is because satire is not only humor for humor's sake; it is actually a comment on the current social or political landscape of its particular era. For many centuries, talented humorists have used satire to point out the faults or problems with society. In fact, satire can be highly influential, so much so that many changes and improvements have been made to society as a result of well-written satire.

What Is Satire?

Satire is a work of literature or other art form that blends criticism with humor in order to bring attention to a certain fault, problem, or shortcoming. Satire uses humor to highlight these problems with the hope that they will be improved upon. Well-written satire will not only entertain, it will also cause the audience to consider problems that they otherwise might not have been aware of, and may inspire them to actively seek changes that can answer these problems. There are many different forms of satire, but they all have this specific concept in common.

What You Should Know When Writing Satire

Know what you want to accomplish: Despite what some writers may claim, good satire is always written with a specific goal in mind. In order for your satire to be successful, you must be able to identify what particular problem or shortcoming you would like to see changed before you start writing. This specific goal may change as you write and discover knew information, but nevertheless there must be a goal in mind before the writing begins.

    * Know your audience: A general description of the type of people that are going to be reading your work is an extremely important aspect of successful satire. Obviously, what an audience of widowed retirees thinks is funny is going to differ from what an audience of rowdy young college students considers humorous. The differences do not have to be so exaggerated, either. For example, material that married couples consider funny can differ from what makes single people laugh. You must write your satire according to these differences in order for the material to be successful. As the saying goes, "the customer is always right." This applies to writing satire as well. Your satire is only funny if the people who read it happen to think it is.

    * Know the limits of good taste: This is a problem encountered far too frequently in the world of satire. Satire that crosses the line of good taste is not simply bad writing, it is an object that can actually cause damage. For example, many people labeled the notorious Belgian cartoons that depicted the Muslim prophet Mohammed to be a form of satire. While the reactions of militant Muslims can never be excused, it must also be pointed out that these problems would never have occurred were it not for satire that had crossed the line of sensibility and good taste. Of course, these cartoons were pictures, not writing, but the point remains the same - do not cross the line of bad taste when creating satire. The line that separates good taste from bad taste can often be difficult to see. In such situations, it is better to write conservatively, to ensure that the line is not unintentionally crossed.

A Final Reminder for Satire Writers

Satire can be a very powerful tool for bringing about change. Well-written satire can often create positive changes within society that couldn't have been made with the use of guns or violence. But conversely, satire can also bring about negative changes and cause a great deal of damage and even the loss of life. Therefore, please use satire wisely.

How to Write Satire: Current Events

This brief video clip offers a definition of satire, as well as tips for writing satire about current events.

Source: YouTube

More Information: The Writing Process

For more information about the writing process overall, visit Sophia's learning packet for Creative Writing:


Source: Rebecca Oberg