The Faces of Irony

Speaking of things that bring a lump to my throat, I thought I'd share this Reuter's photo by Goran Tomasevic working in Iraq. According to Yahoo News, it was one of this past week's most e-mailed photos, and no wonder.

This photo is a study in irony: the innocence of the sleeping puppy juxtaposed against the instruments of war. There is a sweetness in the fact that some GI, most likely a young person very far from home, would shelter this pup under such conditions; there is a tragedy in the bleak surroundings and the danger to both the GIs and the animal.

In that irony there is story. And in every good story, I believe, irony abounds.

There are three main types, you may recall from high school. Verbal is often synonymous with sarcasm. It's the contrast between what a character says and what he/she means.

Dramatic is often used to build suspense. It's when the reader knows something the character does not. Usually something having to do with a nasty surprise in store for our intrepid heroine.

Situational is when the reader expects one thing to happen and something else entirely occurs. (Surprise!) This one is often used to great effect in comedy.

Sounds relatively simple, but don't sell irony short. In addition to its use in plot and dialogue, irony can be used to deepen character by giving a person who appears to be a stock type totally unexpected, seemingly contradictory attributes. Irony can even be used to enhance setting, for example when writing of a rough-and-tumble frontier town's beloved opera house or a leather S&M bar in an Iowa City suburb. Irony adds complexity and hints in all those contradictions we find so captivating in real life.

So as you write today, think about how you might use this tool to add depth to your work. And if you're really interested, check out more on the many faces or irony.


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