How to Use Dramatic Irony in your Story

Statues of monkeys: see no eveil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Not in the Know

Dramatic irony typically occurs when the reader, audience, and perhaps, some, but not all of the characters in a story are privy to important information that the protagonist is unaware of, or presumes an opposite situation to be true.

Structuring Dramatic Irony

In order to create dramatic Irony in your story, do the following:

1. Show the reader or audience the kind of misunderstanding or deception that is being perpetrated. This could be intended or unintended.

2. Place the protagonist in that situation without revealing to her the information necessary for her to know she is being deceived.

3. Play the scene out, step by step, allowing the reader or audience to observe the protagonist suffering the consequences of events and actions, whilst thinking the situation to be precisely the opposite of what is actually happening.

In Moulin Rouge, Satin (Nichole Kidman) pretends she doesn’t love Christian (Ewan McGregor) so that he will leave her and so save his life—only he can’t know the real reason, for this to work. She pretends that she wants to stay with the Maharaja at Moulin Rouge. In other words, she has to hurt Christian in order to save him, precisely because she loves him, by pretending she doesn’t. The dramatic irony in the scene in which she reveals this to him is tragic and heart-rendering.

Satin: I can never see you again.
Christian: What are you talking about? What about last night?
Satin: I don’t expect you to understand. You don’t belong here. But this is my home: Moulin Rouge.

Christian stares at Satin in horror. Satin smiles weakly; hurries to the door.

Christian: What’s going on? Satin! There’s something wrong…

Satin battles to control her breathing.

Christian: You’re sick. Tell me the truth!

Satin gathers her last remaining strength and turns to him with cold lifeless eyes.

Satin: The truth…the truth is, I am the Hindi Courtesan Christian, and I choose the Maharaja. That’s how the story ends.

And with that, she turns and goes.

It is important to understand that in this superlative example of dramatic irony, we are made privy not only to Christian’s pain, but Satin’s as well, through our understanding that her actions are a sacrificial show of love. We get meaning and emotion from both sides, and this heightens the power of the scene.

Summary

Dramatic irony typically occurs when the audience, and one or more party is aware of the true nature of a situation while the protagonist presumes the opposite to be true. The effect on the reader and audience is one of heightened emotion.

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3 thoughts on “How to Use Dramatic Irony in your Story

  1. Christina Carson (@CarsonCanada)

    It’s strange, but I have always had trouble employing dramatic irony as I so dislike deceit, but I do believe I must make it more my friend in writing for it is, as you have so clearly reminded us, a very powerful tool of plot.

    Reply

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