There Are Only Two Genres

Campbell’s world is one of black and white. There are no shades of grey. As such, heroic journeys can only be one of two genres: tragedy and comedy. These of course may not fit into your understanding of what a “tragedy” or “comedy” is, so of course, I’m here to help you out.


When considering “tragedy” we need to keep the “hero’s journey” in mind. We aren’t talking about humor here. A “comedy” in this sense isn’t something that will make you laugh. Rather, it’s something that will make you “feel good”. As we’ve already learned, a hero is someone who takes the journey. In a comedy, their journey is successful and everyone lives “happily ever after” (more on that below).


So what is a tragedy then? Well, what could be sadder than a hero who fails on their heroic quest? Imagine someone who seeks to save the world and fails. That’s a tragedy. However, I would also argue that a tragedy is a hero who refuses the call and never changes their mind. This is a hero who sees the world on fire and says “Nah” and puts on Netflix. While this is perhaps even more tragic than failing their quest, it doesn’t quite meet the requirements for the Heroic Writer’s Contest as you need at least the first three steps of the journey.

Happily Ever After?

While a comedy technically has a happy ending, Campbell leaves us with this not so “feel good” thought. In life, happy endings don’t exist. Cinderella marries the prince, but eventually he dies and she’s alone. Or worse, maybe she discovers that the prince isn’t so princely after all and they have a complicated marriage ripe with strife. The only true ending of a story ends in death according to Campbell.

However, there are exceptions to this rule of course. For example, if you believe in heaven, death is sad for those left behind, but is not really a tragedy when you know the person is going somewhere better. According to Campbell, a true comedy involves those who transcend the inevitable misery of this life. With this in mind, it’s totally possible for a “comedy” to end with the death of a main character provided their death is meaningful and the journey is still complete.

So are you writing a tragedy or a comedy? Perhaps you will offer your readers choices that can sway your story in either direction. Let me know what your plan is by leaving a comment. Also, to continue following along with this series be sure to subscribe using the form below. As always, happy writing!