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Writing irony

How to write irony with impact

Irony is a powerful tool to use in your writing when approached well. It adds depth to stories, showing the contrast between how something is against how it seems

Irony also enhances readers’ engagement as they must read between the lines. That’s why many of the best novels have an element of irony within their pages.

There are three key types of irony: dramatic, situational, and verbal. 

Dramatic irony

Dramatic irony allows readers to know what is about to happen before the character does. This realisation adds to readers’ enjoyment and creates rising tension.

You can make all characters clueless or allow one of two of them to know the full story which can add to the suspense. 

In Romeo and Juliet, we are aware of the whole story and hope that both characters discover the truth that Juliet is not really dead. In Mulan, we know that the main character is a young girl disguised as a young soldier, but none of the other characters do.

You can add dramatic irony to your story in three steps: 

Situational irony

Strong situational irony is best seen in crime, thriller, and mystery novels. It’s particularly good for ensuring bad guys get what’s coming to them. In Harry Potter, for example, to destroy the final Horcrux, Harry must sacrifice himself. However, this backfires for Voldemort as Harry lives and he inadvertently kills the Horcrux and seals his own fate.

Situational irony can also create some powerful twists. In the film, The Dark Knight, the Joker offers Batman the exact locations of his kidnapping victims, Harvey and Rachel. We know the Joker is telling the truth, however, in a twist, we discover that he changed the addresses and Batman rescues Harvey instead of Rachel.  

Verbal irony

As the term suggests, verbal irony is limited to language. 

You can use understatements to create a contrast by undermining the impact of a scene. Overstatements offer you the opportunity to make something inconsequential seem much more significant. Sarcasm allows you to use the opposite meaning of an intended statement. 

In Pride and Prejudice, for example, Mr Darcy says the classic line: ‘She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me’ upon seeing Elizabeth Bennett for the first time.

Less is more

Experiment with dramatic, situational and verbal irony and see which adds greatest impact to your story. Be smart with it, however. If you overuse irony, it can lose its effect and, if you make things too complicated, you can lose your readers. Less certainly is more. 

Irony can also make a high impact ending to your story. Characters can end up happy only having made a great sacrifice. The world may be saved but forever altered. Imperfect endings feel real. How often in life are things ever perfect? It can leave your readers with questions and wondering about your characters lives long after they’ve finished the story. 

Embrace irony. It could be the secret to a memorable story. 

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About Shelley Wilson

Shelley Wilson is a British, genre-straddling author of sixteen books including motivational self-help books and young adult fantasy fiction. She has a crazy black cat called Luna and is obsessed with vampires, Tudor and Viking history as well as exploring castles


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