How to Use Hubris
- Start with a character’s ambitions. Once you decide that your character is guilty of hubris, it’s important to come up with a specific ambition that drives their actions. Maybe it’s creating artificial life, like Dr. Frankenstein. Maybe it’s a thirst for power, like Adolph Hitler. Maybe it’s career ambition or a desire for endless popularity. The character has to be completely dedicated to the task, and completely assured of success.
- Figure out the consequences of the ambition. What negative results could come out of pursuing this character’s ambitions? In Hitler’s case, the answer is obvious: he loses the war and ultimately dies. Similarly, any other hubristic character must face serious consequences for their overconfidence.
- Bring the character down. In classical literature, characters had to die (usually in pretty nasty ways) to pay for their hubris. Modern readers, though, expect a more hopeful kind of story, so it’s more common these days to have the character suffer, but then ultimately bounce back and learn something from the experience. However you decide to do it, the character needs to undergo some type of suffering or loss.
When to Use Hubris
Hubris is a feature of literature, so it makes most sense in creative writing. It’s an especially useful concept here because it can give you the inspiration for an entire story: the concept clearly lends itself to a beginning-middle-end structure. In the beginning, you set up your character and hint at his or her hubristic ambition; in the middle, the hubris leads to conflict and problems for the character; and in the end, you show the consequences of that conflict (with either a happy ending or a tragic one). This is a very simple story structure, of course, but you can work up from here into a full-fledged short story or even a novel.
There’s also a place for hubris in formal essays, especially in analyzing historical figures and their behavior. We’ve already seen an example of this in §2: the idea of hubris goes a long way in helping us understand Hitler’s downfall. Similarly, many other historical figures are destroyed by overconfidence or overreaching ambition, and tracing out these stories can give you a great foundation for a historical or biographical essay.