We encounter irony every day: in our favorite movies, TV shows, and in our own lives. Most people have a general understanding of irony but there are also a lot of misconceptions about it. For example, were you aware that there are 3 different types of irony?
In this article, we’re going to define irony in all its variations. Whether you’re writing a short story or a screenplay, irony can be a powerful storytelling tool. You’ll be able to recognize the different types of irony and understand how they work. The next step is to carry this understanding straight into your next writing project.
Irony is fundamental in storytelling
Irony is the opposite of expectation. When what we expect to happen doesn’t happen, it creates conflict.
When we know the truth about a dangerous situation and we watch someone else get close to that danger, it creates suspense.
When someone says one thing but means another, it creates complexity.
All of these elements (conflict, suspense, complexity) are fundamental building blocks in storytelling. You don’t need to be an expert on irony to be a good storyteller. But it sure helps. Let’s define irony before we move on to the various types of irony.
What is irony?
Irony is when perception or expectation is different than reality. This incongruity can be found in language (what we say vs. what we mean) or circumstances (what we expect to happen vs. what actually happens).
What are the three types of irony?
- Verbal irony
- Situational irony
- Dramatic irony
Irony can be sad and tragic, or it can funny and satirical. In other words, there are limitless ways you can wield irony in your stories.
There are 3 different types of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic. Each has a different definition and function in storytelling.
Let’s move on to some quick definitions of these main types along with a few subtypes or irony that provide even more complexity and depth to ironic storytelling.
Verbal Irony Definition
What is verbal irony?
Verbal irony is when someone says something, but means the opposite.
Ex. When you get an "F" on your term paper and say, "Wow, I did a really good job on my term paper!"
That is verbal irony.
This is not the same as sarcasm, which is slightly different. Sarcasm, stable verbal irony, unstable verbal irony, understatement, overstatement, and Socratic irony are all subtypes of verbal irony. We will cover all these subtypes in our main article on verbal irony.
SITUATIONAL IRONY Definition
What is situational irony?
Situational irony is when we expect one thing, but get the opposite.
Ex. When you buy a can of Coke but it has Pepsi inside.
That is situational irony.
Within this general definition, there are 4 subtypes of situational irony:
- cosmic irony
- poetic irony
- structural irony
- historical irony.
We will cover all these subtypes in our main article on situational irony.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF IRONY: Dramatic
What is dramatic irony?
Dramatic irony is when we have more information about the circumstances than a character.
Ex. When you know a trap has been set and watch someone walk into it.
That is dramatic irony.
Within dramatic irony, there is only one subtype: tragic irony. The difference between these two types of irony is slight but it’s an important distinction to make.
Benefits of Using Irony
Why use irony?
Irony is born when “what seems to be” is different from “what is.” This contrast between expectation and reality is what makes irony such a rich device to use in storytelling.
Irony adds a layer of complexity and richness to the conflict. Now there is depth to your story that might not have been there before.
Writers use conflict to tell stories.
Writers use irony to make better stories.
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