Situational Irony Can Be Funny, Tragic or Even Terrifying

Irony is one of those things that everybody seems know about but few seem able to precisely define. To make matters more complicated still, there are different kinds of irony (cosmic irony, dramatic irony, verbal irony and so forth).

Here, we'll be looking at situational irony, including its definition and how best to use it in your own writing.

What Is Situational Irony?

Situational irony involves a set of circumstances where the outcome is the opposite of what would normally be expected. You'll most commonly encounter it as a literary device, although you can definitely experience situational irony in reality as well.

Situational Irony: Uses and Effects

As a literary device, situational irony can serve a wide variety of functions, whether to further a plot, set up a story or create a mood. Situational irony gets a great deal of its effect as a literary technique by creating surprise in the mind of the audience. From there, you can go in almost any direction.

  • Narrative structure: Situational irony can be a great way to get a story going. For instance, a character who expects a massive inheritance learns that their benefactor actually died broke. Now, they must face a completely different set of prospects in life.

  • Humor: Situational irony abounds in comedy. Think of the long-honored tradition in the romantic comedy genre, where two characters who appear to be the exact opposite in terms of temperament eventually fall in love.

  • Horror and suspense: In the old hair-raising trope, the frightened characters discover that "the call is coming from inside the house!" This is scary precisely because it's the last place we'd expect a threatening figure to be calling from.

3 Everyday Examples of Situational Irony

Here are some examples of situational irony that could be encountered in everyday reality.

  1. A fire station burning down: This is probably one of the most famous examples of situational irony, though it may not be based on any real event. Here, the irony arises from the expectation that a fire station would be staffed by people who are trained to prevent such an outcome.

  2. A fitness guru dying of heart disease: You would probably expect an expert in health and fitness to live a long and healthy life, but in this example of situational irony, the guru falls victim to a common affliction often associated with disregard for one's health.

  3. A professional gambler losing all his money on a simple coin toss: This example of situational irony arises from the expectation that a professional gambler wouldn't make such a foolish bet.

Situational Irony in Literature

The history of storytelling abounds with examples of situational irony. Indeed, it's one of the most tried-and-true ways to get an audience invested in a story, and to keep them guessing through all the plot twists and world building.

  • "Julius Caesar": In Shakespeare's play, the protagonist Julius Caesar is betrayed by his closest confidante in a poignant example of situational irony.

  • "Oedipus Rex": In the classic play by Sophocles, King Oedipus learns that of the plague, which he has vowed to discover and reverse, is in fact a result of his own actions.

  • "The Story of an Hour": In this short story by Kate Chopin, a wife, after being erroneously informed of her husband's death, is surprised to feel a sense of newfound freedom. This turns to shock when the husband arrives at home, very much alive, and the wife dies from a heart attack.

How to Write Situational Irony

Good writers often develop a kind of sixth sense for situational irony. Indeed, the ironic perspective can be a major asset for storytelling.

Recall that our situational irony definition involved circumstances that appear to be the opposite of what the reader might have expected. Knowing when to anticipate the expectations of an audience — and exploiting the difference between what they assume will happen and what actually will happen — can make all the difference in storytelling.

As an exercise, see if you can recognize some common examples of situational irony in your own life. You'll probably be surprised at how often this occurs.

Then, try to extrapolate from this, starting at the level of a short story. When you are wondering where the plot should go next, consider what might be expected, then imagine what the opposite would be.

6 Other Types of Irony

Situational irony is the kind you're most likely to encounter, although it's far from the only variety available. There are plenty of options for the irony aficionado to choose from.

  1. Cosmic irony: In cosmic irony, the dimensions of the ironic situation are extended to include the entire universe, and usually a divine entity of some kind. Often, the entity will intrude upon the actions of the story, changing things in a surprising way.

  2. Dramatic irony: Dramatic irony arises from the audience knowing things about the characters or plot in a story that the characters themselves don't know.

  3. Historical irony: Historical irony occurs when the advantage of hindsight reveals something ironic about the past. This can pertain to the life of the main character, or even to an entire nation.

  4. Poetic irony: Poetic irony, more commonly known as poetic justice, refers to a literary convention where virtue is rewarded and vice is punished. This state of affairs is achieved at the end of a work (and not necessarily in poetry), usually via an unexpected twist, hence the "irony."

  5. Structural irony: Structural irony is like situational irony, but it usually exists throughout a work. A naive protagonist — at other times, an unreliable narrator — will consistently misinterpret events and actions in their own reality, establishing a theme of irony that pervades the work.

  6. Verbal irony: After situational irony, this is probably the most common form of irony you'll encounter. Verbal irony occurs when someone says something, but instead of the literal meaning of their words, they mean something different (often, the complete opposite). Sarcasm is an example of this kind of irony.

Original article: Situational Irony Can Be Funny, Tragic or Even Terrifying

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