Or rather, what makes something sad?
I’m presently working on writing a bit of tragedy and I’ve been thinking about what makes something sad. My first thought was that a sad story must do more than just be sad. It has to make you think, “Why did this happen? How could this be avoided?” The harder it would have been to avoid, the sadder it is.
Or: Outcomes aren’t sad. Fates are sad.
If something bad happens to a character, that’s a little sad. If a character makes an understandable mistake that causes something bad to happen to them, that’s a little more sad. If a character could not have not made that mistake, or they learn an important lesson from their mistake but it’s too late to do any good, or you wouldn’t like the character as much had they been someone who didn’t make that kind of mistake, or if no mistakes were made–that’s sad verging on tragedy.
A friend of mine brought up Greek tragedy, which is a perfect example, often of the “no mistakes were made” kind–characters are punished by the gods for doing the right thing. The tragedy is not just the tragedy of this one individual, but the tragedy of life, which is set up so unfairly. I brought up Antigone, who suffers for doing the right thing. I could have also mentioned Prometheus.