Basic Plot Structure – Tragedy

Basic Plot Structure – Tragedy

Christopher Booker’s book The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories outlines seven plots. One of these seven is ‘Tragedy.’ Opposite of ‘Overcoming the Monster,’ the hero does not reach his goal. The inner conflict is not solved. The story ends unhappily.

To begin with, the hero is part of a community. He has connections and relationships. This may be friendships, family, or marriage. A fatal flaw in the hero’s nature causes good intentions to fail. The hero breaks the bonds of loyalty with others. He makes a great mistake. Step by step the hero is separated from others. When the hero becomes aware of the mistake, his life is basically destroyed. This results in a fall of a good character. The final result is frequently death.

The plots of Booker’s ‘Tragedy’ are similar to classic Greek, Roman, and Shakespearean tragedies.

Tragedy Mini Lesson with Organizers


Students create a staggered flip organizer that explains Booker’s plot “Tragedy.” The organizer also contains a page for students to list examples from literature or pop culture. Next students answer a ‘Digging Deeper” question. For this lesson, the question asks students about the reason readers enjoy tragedies. Finally, three outline pages provide practice.

Get the printable here.

Tragedy Plot Description

All of Booker’s Plots

This video provides a short overview of each of the seven-story plots. After the first minute and a half, Lego scenes illustrate each plot type. Be ready to pause the film after each short scene for discussion.

Tragedy Plot Structure - Archetypes

The Greek Tragedy

Many Greek, Roman, and Shakespearean tragedies aren’t appropriate for upper elementary students. The story of “Ajax” by Sophocles can be shown in class. This illustrated version, created by a high school student, is excellent. The summary of the story goes into enough detail for students to complete the ‘Tragedy Outline’ assignment found in the printable.

Tragedy Plot - Ajax

Tragedy Examples 

Many of Shakespeare’s plays

    • Anthony and Cleopatra
    • Hamlet
    • Julius Caesar
    • King Lear
    • Macbeth
    • Othello
    • Romeo and Juliet

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein:

This book portrays a selfless tree that gives everything she has to a boy throughout his life until she is reduced to a stump.

Bonnie and Clyde:

This story is based on two real people who embark on a crime spree in the 1930s, but their story ends tragically as law enforcement pursues them and ultimately guns them down.

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson:

The book tells the story of a boy and his dog in the Old West. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes when the dog contracts rabies and the boy must put him down.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls:

The story of a boy and his two dogs who go on a hunting adventure together, but the dogs tragically die at the end, leaving the boy to come to terms with their loss.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt:

This book follows a family who has discovered the secret to eternal life, and the consequences that come with it.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams:

This book tells the story of a stuffed rabbit who longs to become real, but eventually wears out and is thrown away.

West Side Story:

This modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet features rival gangs who clash violently, leading to the tragic deaths of several main characters.


The classic story of the Titanic depicts two star-crossed lovers aboard a doomed ship. However, their love is ultimately cut short by the tragedy of the ship’s sinking.

Peter Parker ‘Spiderman’ and Gwen Stacy:

In the comic book storyline of Peter Parker ‘Spiderman’ and Gwen Stacy, the villain Green Goblin throws Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s girlfriend, from a bridge. Despite Spiderman’s efforts, he is unable to save her, and she meets a tragic end.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson:

The story of a friendship between two children, Jess and Leslie, who create an imaginary world called Terabithia. However, Leslie tragically dies in an accident, leaving Jess to come to terms with her death and the end of their friendship.

In all of these examples, the characters experience a tragic end, whether due to their own actions or circumstances beyond their control, making them fitting examples of the Tragedy plot structure.

If you missed the link above for the handouts, here it is again:

Get the printable here.


Jump to the plot you are interested in using these links.

Gay Miller

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