Karma can be a very satisfying element in storytelling and that’s exactly what poetic justice (aka poetic irony) can provide. There is a risk that the attempt at poetic irony might come across as trite or unrealistic but when it works, it works. What is poetic justice? Let’s define it with a couple of examples to give you an idea of how it can be done well with the satisfaction quota met.
A Brief Overview
Introducing poetic irony
When we see poetic irony, justice is served and our faith that the universe will reward the righteous and punish the wicked is restored. Real life doesn’t always deliver this type of satisfying harmony and resolution. It's not that realistic so we don’t see poetic irony all that often outside of films and television designed for kids.
Before we continue with poetic irony examples, we need a definition.
Poetic Irony DEFINITION
What is poetic irony?
Poetic irony (a.k.a. poetic justice) occurs when a crime or transgression is unexpectedly resolved positively, often due to a ‘twist of fate.’ In other words, karma — you get what you deserve. This is very closely related to cosmic irony because there is a sense that the Universe stepped in to balance the scales. But with poetic irony, that idea is much more subtle and completely up to interpretation.
Poetic Irony Example:
- When a murderer is found not guilty but haunted by the ghosts of his victims for the rest of his life.
A Satisfying Conclusion
Use poetic irony for a happy ending
In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne has been falsely imprisoned for decades, so when he finally breaks out and delivers some satisfying comeuppance to a truly wicked warden, we have a one-two punch of poetic irony.
Poetic irony: The Shawshank Redemption
Justice is Served
Let poetic irony pull double duty
In The Green Mile, we have a doozy of poetic irony. In this scene, two despicable characters are dealt a massive wallop of karma. You need to watch this film to see just how satisfying this resolution is but just imagine two characters you absolutely hate get everything that’s coming to them. Watch the film first because it's a good one!
Poetic irony x2
Dive deeper into irony
We've covered the basics of poetic irony but there is so much more to learn. If there is a particular form of irony you want to explore further, just follow the navigation below. Each one of these subtypes of irony belongs in every writer's toolkit.