How to Write a Hamartia
In order to use hamartia,
- Think of a character flaw.
- Apply it to a character with tragic, negative results.
For example, consider the common character flaw of dishonesty.
Becca has the tendency to lie.
Becca’s lies build one on top of the other. First, she tells her sister she will be meeting friends when she is really meeting a boyfriend. Next, she tells her friends she’ll be meeting her sister. When her sister and friends bump into one another, the truth is revealed. Both her friends and sister feel betrayed, angered, and upset due to Becca’s lying.
In this example, the hamartia is Becca’s penchant for lying. Tragically, she loses the trust of both her friends and her sister.
For a second example, imagine a child who enjoys stealing.
Henry enjoys stealing; it gives him a rush and thrill.
Henry is caught with a large amount of merchandise from a store. His parents are ashamed and he is forced to go to juvenile detention.
Oftentimes, the hamartia is an overblown and exaggerated trait: Henry’s drive to steal becomes so extreme that he is, of course, eventually caught and punished.
When to use Hamartia
Hamartia is an element of a tragic plot. Although character flaws are an element of character development in both comedies and tragedies, hamartia is specifically a character flaw which leads to the downfall of the protagonist in a tragedy. Hamartia can be used in tragic plays, poems, stories, songs, and films. Hamartia develops throughout the entire plot, as the tragic flaw often gradually worsens or affects more of the protagonist’s life. In the most climactic moment of the piece, hamartia causes the plot to reverse from a positive destiny to a negative destiny for the doomed protagonist.