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Comedies, Tragedies, and Superheros, Oh My!

June 22, 2015

Different genres have different types of heroes. The heroes have different arcs. The three types of arcs I will cover in this blog will be comedy, tragedy, and superhero. I use the genre comedy in the same sense of Shakespeare’s comedy, meaning anything other than tragedy. Each of these genres has specific character arcs for the hero.

Let’s start with comedy. As I sated above this involves anything that is not a tragedy. A tragedy being a story in which the hero dies. The arc of the hero in a comedy spans that of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I briefly describe this in another blog. Initially your hero begins in his ordinary world. Then comes the inciting incident or, as Campbell calls it, The Call to Adventure. Occasionally your hero may refuse the call. Then there is the Meeting of the Mentor before Crossing the Threshold into the new world. Once in the new world your hero will face Tests, Allies, and Enemies. Next will come The Approach where your hero will prepare for the major challenge of the journey. At about midpoint your hero should face death (metaphorical or literal), and/or their biggest fear. This is called The Ordeal. When that challenge has been overcome the hero will get The Reward for defeating his fear or death. Next is the Road Back to the hero’s ordinary world with the reward. Finally, before crossing the threshold back to the ordinary world in which he Returns with the Elixir, the hero must face one last obstacle, the climax of the story, The Resurrection of the hero. This is the standard character arc of almost every basic story.

Next comes the arc of the hero in a tragedy. Typically the hero does not have an arc. In most stories the hero has a character flaw that he must overcome in order to grow. That growth is what gives the hero his arc. In a tragedy the hero does not recognize his flaw until it is too late. He does not learn and therefore his story ends tragically in either a literal or metaphoric death. This is not typical of Hollywood blockbusters. Generally people enjoy the “happy, feel good” endings, but there are great, popular films that end tragically with the hero’s death. Some that come to mind are I Am Legend, Gladiator, and 12 Monkeys.

Lastly we have the superhero character arc. This is another story that does not arc. It doesn’t end in tragedy though. Instead the hero realizes his flaw once he has gained some sort of ‘special power’ that helps him overcome it. However, his storyline plateaus rather than arcs. Once he reaches the top of the storyline he continues on an endless quest to right the wrongs in the world. Often times these wrongs tie closely to the (super)hero’s own flaw.

So there you have it, three very distinctive storylines depending on the type of story you choose to write. Comedy is the typical, overall Hollywood storyline and Tragedy and Superhero are stories that do not have an arc. A tragedy ending in the death of the hero and a superhero plateaus on a constant quest to fix the wrongs relating to his initial flaw. Choose wisely and until next week, happy writing.

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