A few weeks ago, my friends at Reedsy sent me a link to their blog post on irony and how to use it in our fiction.
Many of you are probably like me and think we know what irony is. Turns out I really did not have a good grasp on it. Further, I wasn’t aware that there are THREE types of irony used in literature.
Here’s the link that you should go read before I continue.
Did you take the quiz at the end? You probably did better than my abysmal score. Clearly I don’t yet understand the nuances of irony and the various types of it.
I love the clever illustrations in the article are. My favorite was the Romeo and Juliet one: 2B and NOT 2B.
It’s a great article, but the fact that I messed up the quiz also tells me that, in addition to my needing to read it again a couple of times, perhaps a few more examples would help.
Here’s another link to an article on irony that, while not nearly as good as the Reedsy one, will help to reinforce it and add a couple more examples.
Note this key summary from that article: “Irony inverts our expectations. It can create the unexpected twist at the end of a joke or a story that gets us laughing—or crying. Verbal irony tends to be funny; situational irony can be funny or tragic; and dramatic irony is often tragic.”
Here are some additional examples of SITUATIONAL IRONY—
—A marriage counselor files for divorce.
—Fahrenheit 451 is in the top 100 banned books in the US.
—A fire station burns down.
—In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’s father only fulfills the prophecy of him being killed by his own son after trying to avoid it and sending him away.
—Robbery at a police station.
—A fertility counselor struggles to get pregnant.
Keep in mind that while these represent situational irony, not all of them might yield a potentially ironic story. The Fahrenheit 451 one is merely an ironic statement of fact. Be sure that any irony you include in your writing is more than a simple statement and that the story revolves around the irony. Otherwise, you haven’t really included it in your story.
Verbal irony is a bit more difficult to discern because there’s a line between it and sarcasm. Here’s a link that will help determine the difference.
While one way to differentiate these is whether the remark is intended to hurt or mock someone. With verbal irony, the speaker is means the opposite what he says instead of merely a biting remark or an expression of contrast.
After wrecking your car, some asks “What happened?” and you answer “I won the lottery today.” (irony)
In Julius Caesar when Mark Antony states “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious and Brutus is an honorable man” (irony)
He’s as nice as a lion to his prey. (sarcasm because aimed at a person)
The server at the restaurant was as helpful as a feral cat. (sarcasm)
I like spending time with my co-workers as much as I enjoy digging my eye out with a dull spoon. (sarcasm)
Compare these with the examples in the article below to help understand the differences:
But… don’t get too hung up on whether a remark in your writing is irony or sarcasm. The purpose of this article and the featured one from Reedsy is to make you more aware of irony in its various forms in order to add more tools to your writing skills and to ensure that you use it properly and recognize when you have used it.
Do not feel that you must use irony in all of your writing just because you now understand it. Don’t try to force it into places it doesn’t belong or won’t fit. Let the story determine whether irony is appropriate in it.
Finally, if you’re interested in seeing irony in action, check out the latest issue (#20) of Fabula Argentea magazine. You might find some irony (more than one type) being used in more than one of those six stories.