Want to Level Up Your Fiction? Take the “Dramatic Irony” Challenge!

Want to Level Up Your Fiction? Take the “Dramatic Irony” Challenge!

There’s good fiction and there’s good fiction. There are stories that get the job done and entertain readers. And then there are stories that take everything to a new level. Naturally, we’d all like our own stories to be part of that second category! And how do we do that? One of the subtlest ways is by applying a little dramatic irony.

Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park remains one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s one of those special blends of thrills-and-chills genre nerdom—and amazing storytelling and artistic sensibilities. In honor of the major revival the series is having this summer (with the fun, but can’t-touch-the-original Jurassic World), we’re going to spend a couple weeks exploring some of the great lessons Jurassic Park has the ability to teach us.

Want to Level Up Your Fiction? Take the “Dramatic Irony” Challenge!

First lesson? You guessed it: dramatic irony.

Dramatic irony is the presentation of something incongruous. It’s a juxtaposition between what is presented on the surface of a story and what is really occurring under the surface. The dichotomy within this contrast functions on several levels:

1. It add layers of meaning to your story.

2. It offers deeper insight into the thematic principles.

3. It show readers something the characters themselves are missing.

The classic play Oedipus Rex is a frequently used example, in that the title character “meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” He sought to avoid fulfilling the prophecy that said he would kill his father and marry his mother, and yet ended up doing that very thing because of his attempt to do just the opposite.

Jurassic Park gives another great—and even more subtle example. One of the catchphrases throughout the movie is park founder John Hammond’s gleeful insistence:

We spared no expense!

With everything from the opulent visitors’ center, to Alejandro the chef to the state-of-the art defensive fences and cages for the dinosaurs, he quite literally did just that.

Want to Level Up Your Fiction? Take the “Dramatic Irony” Challenge!

That’s the truth we see on the surface of this story. The irony, however, is that the entire crux of the story rests on the fact that Hammond did indeed spare expense: with his disgruntled computer technician Dennis Nedry. The brilliant slob Nedry sells his services to Hammond on the cheap and then resents the deal so much he ends up shutting down the entire park in an attempt to steal Hammond’s research.

Want to Level Up Your Fiction? Take the “Dramatic Irony” Challenge!

This irony is present in the story’s very foundation, but the clever repetition of the “spared no expense” catchphrase hammers it home in a delightfully subtle way. It also manages to emphasize the ironic dichotomy of Hammond’s simultaneous innocence and culpability for the tragedies that ensue.

Consider your work-in-progress. What are the inherent ironies in your main plot situation and in your character’s motives and actions? Are there ways you can strengthen those ironies to allow them to play a more prominent role in your readers’ experience? Dramatic irony is a tremendous artistic tool in the hand of a knowing storyteller. Wield it with confidence, and your story will be effortlessly levelled up!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How have you (or might you) use dramatic irony to create a subtle but powerful dichotomy of truth within your story? Tell me in the comments!

Want to Level Up Your Fiction? Take the “Dramatic Irony” Challenge!

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland's monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.
Email:
About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Ah Katie, you know what I’m going to say here. A young Englishman is sent by his father to Germany to study. For Eric, Germany is an escape from his father. He falls in love with a young German aristocrat, buys a commission in an elite German cavalry regiment so that he can marry her, marries her… Just in time for the Great War.
    Now he is truly at war with his father.
    At the end of the war, urged by his mother to come home to England… he cannot leave Germany because his young wife will not go with him… and he cannot leave her because he loves her.
    Ironies abound throughout several sub-plots.
    I love dramatic irony. Always try to end a novel with an ironic twist.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yep, that irony in your story is one of the main things that originally drew me to it!

  2. You know, I never caught that bit of irony in Jurassic Park. Obvious now that you point it out. Thanks.

  3. I’m sure many of us only ‘saw’ the irony on the subconscious level. I never thought of that angle.

    I thought of the irony of spending so much on automated safety systems that still rely so much on the honesty, integrity, or competence of men.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’ve only seen the movie a gazillion times, and I never consciously processed it myself until this most recent viewing.

  4. I’ve never seen “Jurassic Park” from that viewpoint. I’ve always considered it as a lesson in hubris. You think you can control nature and have it at your beck and call … but nature finds a way to circumvent it.

    Very interesting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    • I think of the hubris in Jurassic Park as just another level of irony – in which hubris is shattered by the very thing that hubris had built.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The great thing about this film is how beautifully layered it is. There is so much to be found under its surface.

  5. Terry Vogelaar says:

    My story has some dramatic irony, but could use a bit more of it. It is about someone who doesn’t trust the economy and starts his own super-secure economic system, but it backfires on him because it is not reliable.

  6. Gary Stephens says:

    I have to say, I’m one that did catch this long ago but moved on. I LOVE Jurassic Park. I know this hasn’t a thing to do with writing a novel, but I so fondly remember my sister and brother in law taking my mom and myself to see the movie when it first came out. I thought it was a cartoon, I hadn’t heard of the movie yet. When we saw it, my eyes were swollen as big as baseballs! As I see it again and again I see the layering that you mention. What a movie! What a story! P.S. just finished your Outlining book Katie. I was always one for outlining although your book certainly help me polish that up!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah, yes, I was feeling very clever for having finally picked up on this little aspect of the movie–only to google for “spared no expense” pix and discover there are only a gazillion memes out there about it. So you were way ahead of me!

      So glad you enjoyed Outlining Your Novel!

  7. JSchuler says:

    I dunno. That example actually bugged me enough about JP that I considered it a borderline plot hole at the time when it was in theaters.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Really? I don’t see it that way at all.

      • JSchuler says:

        It’s because I don’t believe the decision is ever explained. As you say, on everything else, Hammond really does spare no expense. The computer system itself is no exception; it’s not as if Hammond doesn’t value Nedry’s job. To me, it came off as Hammond acting out of character to pick up the idiot ball.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Which is a good point, although I always took it to be a good example of how Hammond was willing to spare no expense on the *show* of it all, but wasn’t responsible enough to lay out the money where it really mattered. Because when you think about it, his hiring of Nedry really isn’t inconsistent. His command crew consists of a total of three people: hardly a monetary outlay.

          • JSchuler says:

            Hmm. I’m not really sure how much can be taken from the number of characters presented. JP is huge, and should require an army (not small) of maintenance crews to keep operational. We see a crowd of animal wranglers in the opening scene used to transfer a raptor. There is an entire team of technicians working in the hatchery. Yet, these people all disappear before the plot hits the fan (It might have something to do with the approaching storm, but then why keep the kids on?).

            And Hammond isn’t just a showman. He did coordinate a global DNA hunt. He did fund and assemble the team of geneticists necessary to bring back the dinosaurs. He got the right engineers to build pens for creatures the likes of which the world hadn’t seen for millions of years. In the book a great deal is made of the cutting-edge geothermal plants that power the island. The guy is no pretender. The number of accomplishments necessary to get where he got is already staggering. In the book, he even has a failsafe built in if it all goes wrong that the dinosaurs cannot synthesize a vital protein and will die without a properly managed diet provided by the handlers.

            It’s only Nedry where he falls down, and there’s no explanation for it.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment there. But if you’ll recall, there is an actual statement in the movie, by Nedry, about how he designed the system to be operated by minimal staff. As presented in the movie, I think Hammond *is* a bit of a pretender. He was a genius in many ways, but he was first and foremost the showman, as illustrated in his story about his invisible flea circus.

            Was the Nedry subplot the same as in the movie? Was he angry because Hammond hadn’t paid him more?

  8. In my current WIP, the MC doesn’t want to be anything like her mother and, of course she ends being exactly like her in the end.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Funny how that works, isn’t it? 😛

    • Lorna G. Poston says:

      This reminds me of a quote I saw a few years ago: “One day I opened my mouth, words came out, and I was shocked to find my mother standing there.” :p

  9. As much as I enjoyed Jurassic World, I barely remember Jurassic PArk. Seems I need to revisit it. This post was awesome and such a great advice! I think it fits perfectly into my WIP, even though it doesn´t include dinosaurs!
    Thank you!
    M.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      It’s been a while! Hard to believe it’s been more than twenty years since it came out.

  10. Lorna G. Poston says:

    I haven’t seen Jurassic Park in several years, but I found a copy at the thrift store for 25 cents. This afternoon, I plan to give it another view.

  11. Odd Guy says:

    Ooooh, I definitely have this dramatic irony you speak of. Until now, I didn’t know *it* was dramatic irony, so thanks for identifying it for me.

    It practically inserted itself into my story, considering the theme.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Cool beans! The best of irony–like the best of symbolism–usually is very natural to the story.

  12. ShennonDoah Helms says:

    My main character was offered a scholarship to Middlebury College in French. She snubs the college and disappoints her parents by attending Middlebury, but by declaring her major to be Italian. After she commits to a program that can kick her out of college for speaking anything other than Italian, she meets some attractive French men, who she doesn’t realize are vampires. They tempt her to speak French with them, while she is plotting to get a French girl, also a vampire, kicked out of the Italian program.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m in the midst of learning French. Now you’ve got me wondering if I should be learning Italian instead. 😉

      • ShennonDoah Helms says:

        French is my second language, and Italian my fourth. Start with French. All of the other romance languages are easier after you learn French. 🙂

  13. John McGinley says:

    This is my first time ever writing in this sort of forum. I want to take the opportunity to thank Katie for the patient way she has answered my questions with great tolerance,helping me during my transition in converting the first of my film scripts into novels. I have 5 others crying out for my attention to complete, however, my nemeses is a musical Tribute Act to the American Everly Brothers, which is very demanding time-wise. however,I now find if I go more than 2 days without writing, or researching for writing part of me is incomplete. Thank you for your time in reading this and an amazing thank you Katie.

  14. Joshua Smith says:

    I’m late to this conversation but felt compelled to share another great example of dramatic irony. In Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card presents several layers of dramatic irony. First Ender has tried very hard to avoid becoming like his violence prone brother, Peter but unwittingly commits genocide. Also Ender learns from the Hive Queen that the buggers unknowingly attacked a sentient race–humans–when they thought they were stomping out a mindless species of varmints. Thirdly, the Star council took the fight to the buggers’ world, in a preemptive attack, using merciless force. In fact the buggers were contrite about their attacking Earth and intended to leave humans alone. This is one deliciously layered example of dramatic irony.

  15. I love the movie Jurassic Park as an example of so many great storytelling techniques, including using comedy in a drama – Jeff Goldblum delivers a lot of laughs (as do other characters), but we ted to forget there are funny moments in such an intense film!

Trackbacks

  1. […] 3. It show readers something the characters themselves …read more […]

  2. […] What to Level Up Your Fiction? Take the “Dramatic Irony” Challenge!, from Helping Writers Become Authors: I learned about dramatic irony back in high school… and […]

  3. Link Love says:

    […] than executing them, check out The Simple Dollar’s 10 Strategies for Becoming a Doer ♥ Dramatic irony in Jurassic Park. You heard me. ♥ Talk about hopeful and beautiful: Gail Simone’s Inspiring Tweet-Storm […]

  4. […] Want to Level Up Your Fiction? Take the “Dramatic Irony” Challenge! […]

Speak Your Mind

*