The Irony of It All

What makes parts of your story more memorable is when you make it ironic. Irony occurs when one or more events occur and they relate to each other in a way that further highlights that particular activity. For example, suppose your story has a character who seems fearless and courageous no matter what happens around him. Then suddenly make him afraid of water because he can’t swim, and suddenly all his courage seems ironic when faced with a seemingly simple obstacle facing him.

In the Woody Allen film “Match Point,” the hero is married but having an affair. His wife desperately wants to get pregnant but no matter how many times they try, she fails to conceive. Yet the hero’s mistress accidentally gets pregnant first. Having the mistress get pregnant is bad enough, but because the hero’s trying to get his wife pregnant and she fails, that ironic twist of fate further highlights both activities.

In “Harold and Maude,” the hero keeps faking suicides. The irony occurs when he finally finds a woman he loves (Maude) and she commits suicide for real.

In “A Clockwork Orange,” the hero rampages through the countryside, terrorizing a beggar and a random homeowner. Later when the hero gets released from prison, these same people turn around and terrorize him. Instead of the hero terrorizing people that we never see again, the irony brings those same people back into the hero’s life again so he suffers the torment that he created for them. Now the initial action of terrorizing people gets emphasized a second time as they take their anger out on the hero.

What if a completely different set of people terrorized the hero after he got out of prison? The actions might be the same, but the lack of irony means there would be little emotional impact behind seeing people terrorize and torment the hero. Irony creates greater emotional impact of your story.

Think of “Little Miss Sunshine” where the little girl dreams nothing more than to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. When she does, she innocently winds up doing a strip tease that her porn-loving, drug-snorting grandfather taught her. Not only does this bring the memory of the grandfather’s character back to the forefront, but it also infuses the final scene with extra emotional laughs as we understand how the little girl came up with this idea in her innocence.

Irony is a powerful tool for creating emotional impact. Irony works best when you strive to reduce the total number of characters in your story to a bare minimum so characters play multiple roles in your hero’s life. This gives your other characters more depth but also creates a deeper emotional experience, which will create a stronger emotional experience for your audience as well.

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