Literary Irony

There are three main types of literary irony. These forms of irony are great tools for a writer to improve their story.

Verbal irony is a statement in which the meaning that a speaker uses is sharply different from the meaning that is seemingly portrayed.

      • Examples of verbal irony, often expressed as sarcasm:
        • Listening to a very long-winded speech and saying when it finally ends (while rolling your eyes), “Well that was short and to-the-point, wasn’t it?”
        • Sitting in a traffic jam and exclaiming, “This will really help us make our connections in a timely manner today.”
        • Being frustrated about an app locking up on your phone and stating, “Ugh! I’m going to throw my phone out the window!”

Situational irony is when the result of an action is the opposite of the desired or expected effect.

    • Examples of situational irony:
      • A fire station burning down.
      • Looking everywhere for your glasses when they’re on your head.
      • Waking up late and rushing to get ready, only to realize it’s the weekend.

Dramatic irony is when words or actions hold a significance that the listener or audience understands, but the speaker or character does not.

    • Here are some well-known examples of dramatic irony:
      • Romeo and Juliet might have the most famous examples of dramatic irony (you’ll be reading this play in a few weeks). In the play, the most popular example of dramatic irony is when the audience knows that Juliet isn’t dead, but Romeo believes that she is.
      • Think of superheroes with a secret identity. The audience knows that Clark Kent is Superman, but somehow, because of some glasses, no one else does.
      • In the first Toy Story movie, the audience knows that Buzz Lightyear is a toy, but he’s sure he’s a space ranger.
      • (Notice the above examples are a Shakespearean play, the Justice League, and a Pixar movie. Clearly dramatic irony is useful across all genres.)

Here are 5 ways irony can enhance your writing:

  1. You can make your writing tenser by allowing your character to make mistakes that wouldn’t be made if they could see the full picture (like Romeo and Juliet).
  2. You can make your character speak their mind to someone they don’t recognize and reveal feelings they wouldn’t otherwise have expressed (like Superman).
  3. You can make a character vulnerable by putting them in a circumstance they don’t understand (like Buzz).
  4. You can use irony to add humor.
  5. Irony can help keep your reader engaged. They want to keep reading until the characters’ knowledge catches up with their own as the reader.

Things to avoid with irony in your writing:

    • Avoid making your irony so obvious that it makes your character look oblivious. This kind of character can become uninteresting to follow.
    • Avoid making your character do illogical things that turn into unintended humor. Humor is great, but you don’t want people laughing when they’re supposed to be scared or sad.