Whether we experience irony as suggestive, or blatantly, there is something delicious about observing, or exposing irony. We tend to feel particularly clever when we identify it, or understand it, and of course, if we are fully-functional rational beings, we are generally horrified when irony is used to expose personal hypocrisy.
Irony is a powerful tool in narratives because so much of it can be used implicitly – which is a far more effective way to position an audience without having to tell them what to think explicitly – after all, grown-ups avoid didactic narratives – we don’t like be told what to think directly. Irony, executed well, is really about persuading the audience to believe that they have arrived at a conclusion on their terms.
There are different types of irony, and for the writer, knowing these differences will be a great addition to your story-telling toolbox –
Irony – In the modern sense, it is used to dissemble a position, to expose what is actually, the case. It can be used to achieve rhetorical or narrative effects.
Verbal Irony – The ironic statement is the explicit expression of a position, but it relies upon a shared knowledge of the audience, to understand that the speaker intends a very different, or opposite position to what was stated.
Structural irony – Rather than employing verbal irony, the writer introduces a structural feature, which sustains a duplex meaning throughout the work.
Stable Irony – The writer makes available to the reader an assertion or position, either implied or explicit, as a way to qualify or subvert the surface meaning. Unstable Irony, has no fixed position – think of absurdist narratives such as the Monty Python sketches – which constantly juxtapose and use intertextual references to subvert and or expose ironies – but the narrative has no political or otherwise fixed meaning, rather its absurd for the sake being absurd.
Sarcasm – often described as the poor cousin of irony, its usually restricted to verbal parlance – with the intention to undermine or taunt – here, verbal expression, emphasis on how the words are delivered, is the hallmark of sarcasm.
Socratic irony – a clever tool, most famously used in modern times by the lovable, and ash-ridden detective, Colombo (I miss that guy) whereby the character assumes a position of ignorance, and eagerness to be instructed, seeking opinions and asking many questions to arrive at a truth – or to disprove a position. In cultural criticism its sometimes referred to as imminent critique – exposing a position by exploring inherent contradictions within the statement itself – such ironies, once exposed, tend to weaken the authority of a said position.
Dramatic irony – this is where the writer has shared information with the audience – yet the central character is ignorant of the information. Shakespeare was a master at using this technique.
Tragic irony – is where the intended assailant, or schemer, is encompassed by the very same ill-fate they had planned for another. Sometimes, this may also be referred to as poetic justice – or in Aussie vernacular, ‘serves yer right’.
Cosmic irony – is a narrative device where the writer engages an omnipotent-type figure, is used to manipulate a character to lead them on with hope, only to mock them and frustrate their cause.
Romantic irony – is where the author creates the illusion of representing reality, only to dismantle that illusion by revealing that the author is the creator or manipulator of the characters. This was achieved brilliantly in the 2014 Lego Movie with Jack Black.
There we go folks, irony in a nutshell. Use it with the gravitas it deserves. It’s powerful stuff.
Till next time,