TW: Mentions of gore and suicide.
Read the first part of this series here.
Mistakes. There is no plot without them, right? When writing, I used to think it was a simple cause and consequence process, but the Ancient Greeks seem to differ. Once again, they explained literature through a three-part sequence full of elegant words that sound more complex than they are. In contrast to the Mirroring Process, the Mistake Process does not happen to the reader. Instead, it shapes the character, and it is important to consider it when writing character arcs. Take any hero in literature, and they likely went through it too.
During this article, I will use the example of Oedipus Rex, which might just be the most tragic production of the Hellenic period. During the play, Oedipus goes to the oracle and learns that he is destined to kill his father and marry his mother. To avoid his fate, he leaves his hometown and goes to a new Polis. On his way, he engages in a fight with a man and kills him. Furthermore, to enter Thebes, he solves the riddle of the Sphinx. In doing so, he frees a town named Thebes from the monster. As a reward, the people proclaim him king. He marries Queen Jocasta, who was recently widowed, and has kids with her. Years later, he discovers that the man he had killed on the way to Thebes was his father, and Jocasta, his mother. In madness and desperation, Oedipus takes his own eyes out, and Jocasta commits suicide. It can’t get any more tragic.
Note: This is a summarized version of the play, so it misses many details. If you want to read the complete piece, you could search for Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.
Ate – It’s hard to choose (but not really)
Ate, the goddess of delusion. The first part of the process occurs when our main character gets confused. Which way to go? What to say? Who to trust? They don’t know what to do. Oedipus has two moments of Ate. The first one happens when he visits the Oracle. Alright, he receives the awful news. “This is horrible,” he thinks “I can’t fight it, so I might as well run away.” Clever plan, isn’t it? He gets confused and thinks that he can escape fate. His second Ate happens when he encounters a man on the road. He thinks himself better, more worthy than his opponent. His pride whispers, “who are they to tell me what to do?”
Hybris – It seemed like a good idea at the time…
In Greek mythology, Hybris was the goddess of violence and imprudence. This part of the process encompasses the mistake itself. Hybris is closely related to the term hubris (if you’re a Percy Jackson fan, I guess you already know), as it shows an excess of pride. First, Oedipus runs away from his childhood town, rejecting his destiny. Then, he kills the man on the road mercilessly, without stopping to think twice, without regretting it. The human, impulsed by the deity, takes the path of error.
Nemesis – Well, you’re grounded
And finally, Nemesis, the personification of justice. The character was confused and chose to make a mistake. Now, they must face the vengeance of those they have wronged or the consequence of their outrage. During Nemesis, order and balance are somehow restored. In many cases, there is even a sort of poetic justice. Oedipus can’t bear to see what he has done, and in an attack of lunacy, he blinds himself, using his mother’s golden pins. When guilt becomes unbearable and he realizes he went through both Ate and Hybris, he penalizes himself.
The backbone of the Mistake Process is similar for every character. Ate, Hybris, Nemesis. Confusion, mistake, punishment. It even resembles real life. Now, it’s up to the writer to choose how to execute it. As seen with Oedipus, it is likely that a character has more than one error. Plus, there are cases in which the character will recover and learn from their nemesis. Or do it all over again.
Which will you choose?
is a young planster with too much passion and too little time on a day. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, whether they are thoroughly researched flash fiction pieces or improvised bedtime stories.