Writing With Irony

Today I taught a lesson in my Advanced Placement class about using irony in writing, and so I thought I would “teach” it on the blog today.

There are, as most people understand, three types of irony:

  1. Dramatic – A type of irony where the audience or reader knows something about the characters that the characters do not.
  2. Situational – A situation that happens differently than expected, often with humorous results.
  3. Verbal – A statement made by a character that is different from what is expected, often with humorous results.

There are also three main ironic tones, as illustrated by these headlines from The Onion:

  1. Playful – “Simple Task of Going to Post Office Feels Like Weight of 10,000 Boulders”
  2. Satiric – “KFC No Longer Permitted to Use Word ‘Eat’ in Advertisements”
  3. Sarcastic – “Teenage Rebels Seize Control of Food Court’s Corner Table”

There are at least five ways to create an ironic tone in your text:

  • Use Hyperbole – A use of an exaggeration can have an ironic effect, especially if the exaggeration is absolutely impossible.
  • Use Understatement – the opposite of hyperbole, this ironic device can be used to create an ironic tone.  The best example:

  • Use Juxtaposition – This is where you place two ideas or words side by side to emphasize their incongruity.  Oscar Wilde was famous for juxtaposing important philosophical ideas with trivial ones.  All one needs to do is to check out The Importance of Being Ernest.
    • Algernon asks Lane “And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?”
  • Use Wordplay or Puns – An important way to weave a humorous text is to use puns or wordplay in dialogue especially.  Don’t go overboard with it, however, but if you can sprinkle a few puns in here and there, the result will be artfully ironic.  Pun Of The Day has the best puns if you need to find one using a specific word.
  • Use a Non Sequitur – Some of the best irony comes from discussing something or asking a pointed question and then following it up with some type of non-sensical answer.   It is where a person lists a group of non-related facts for humorous and ironic effect


Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

4 thoughts on “Writing With Irony

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  2. another question about Scrivener, its really grabbed my attention as it sounds like I need it like yesterday!
    Can you start using it with a half finished msc? (without having to enter everything a bit at a time I mean?)

    1. Surely. You can import most .doc files. Just click on File, import, then select your file. If not, then just open the file, select all, open a fresh Scrivener file and cut and paste the text into it. You can divide it up however you wish once it is into Scrivener.

  3. I blogged once about how many writers confuse coincidence with irony. Especially sports writers. It’s as if they get paid a bonus every time they describe a coincidence as ironic. “Smith had surgery to repair a torn MCL in his left knee in 2009. Ironically, he suffered the same injury to his right knee three years later.” or, you know, he has weak MCLs. Or he plays carelessly. Or something else not the least bit ironic.

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