Sunday, July 06, 2014

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Differentiating the Many Types of Irony

When stories seem meaningless, it is usually because they lack irony. When stories are especially powerful, you can be certain the author has packed it full of many different types of irony. Learning to recognize and control irony in your story is the most important skill a writer can have.

I previously attempted to list the many different types of irony a writer can use here, but I’ve offered up many more since that, so here’s a new list, in the order of the seven skills that organize the checklist:
  1. Your story will be more meaningful if you present a fundamentally Ironic Concept (which will sometimes be encapsulated by an Ironic Title.)
  2. There are three big ways to have ironic characterization: A character’s past will be more meaningful if it features an Ironic Backstory, their present should feature both An Ironic Contrast Between Each Character’s Exterior and Interior, and A Great Flaw That’s the Ironic Flip Side of a Great Strength.
  3. One’s overall structure should not necessarily be ironic, because you want your structure to resonate in a straightforward way, but the theory of structure that I’ve put forward does center around a great irony: Though the hero might initially perceive this challenge as an unwelcome crisis, it will often prove to be A Crisis That Ironically Provides Just the Opportunity that the Hero Needs, directly or indirectly, to address his or her longstanding social problem and/or internal flaw.
  4. Each scene will be more meaningful if the hero encounters a turn of events that upsets some pre-established Ironic Presumptions. Likewise, the conclusion of each scene will be more meaningful if the characters’ actions result in an Ironic Scene Outcome, in which the events of the scene ironically flip the original intention.
  5. There are several types of ironic dialogue: On the one hand, there’s Intentionally Ironic Dialogue, such as sarcasm. On the other hand, there’s unintentionally ironic dialogue, such as when there’s An Ironic Contrast Between Word and Deed or An Ironic Contrast Between What the Character Says (or Does) and What We Know.
  6. The one type of irony that most stories shouldn’t have is an Ironic Tone, although it can be a useful tool for certain very specific types of stories.
  7. Finally, we’ll look at three more ironies that every story should have: The story’s Ironic Thematic Dilemma, in which the movie’s overall dilemma comes down to a choice of good vs. good (or bad vs. bad) as well as several Smaller Ironic Dilemmas along the way, in which your characters must consistently choose between goods, or between evils throughout your story. This will culminates in an Ironic Final Outcome, separate from the ironic concept and the thematic dilemma.
If you can control your audience’s expectations, then you can upset them, and that’s how meaning is created.

Next time, we’ll look at a brand-new checklist question…


j.s. said...

In advance of your thinking that an absence of comments might mean that nobody's reading or appreciating what you have to say: For me, at least, this is another one of those amazing definitive posts so dense, thoughtful and useful that if I do ever have anything to ask or add it won't be until I've lived with this for a while.

Parker said...

Haha. Like j. s. I've been quietly studying this post since you put it up...