Creating drama by adding the unexpected #amwriting

As writers, our job is to take a one-dimensional idea and give it depth. Our goal is to make the reader believe our narrative unfolds in a real, three-dimensional world.

WritingCraft_dramatic_ironyWe add depth and dimension to our work layer by layer. Some layers are more abstract than others, but each layer adds an element that gives a sense of reality to the fictional world.

When you add a layer of the unexpected to a scene, the reader becomes interested in discovering more. They keep turning the pages.

One literary device I enjoy when it’s done well in a novel is irony. Irony can be unexpected. Adding irony or satire gives a scene an element of surprise and the reader experiences a moment of “ah hah!” The mundane becomes special.

Wikipedia says this about irony:

Irony can be categorized into different types, including verbal ironydramatic irony, and situational irony. Verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are often used for emphasis in the assertion of a truth. The ironic form of simile, used in sarcasm, and some forms of litotes can emphasize one’s meaning by the deliberate use of language which states the opposite of the truth, denies the contrary of the truth, or drastically and obviously understates a factual connection.

I love authors who inject the different forms of irony and drama or both into their work without being heavy-handed.

Politics, even on a local level, offer plenty of opportunities for drama, which is why I don’t watch the evening news. But let’s plot the first quarter of a contemporary novel about a struggling marriage. We will make one spouse the mayor of their small town and the other a lawyer working for a large corporation. The corporation wants to establish more of a presence in the community, and it’s his job to lobby for that.

What_Is_a_Litote_LIRF04152023The mayor likes their community’s small-town feeling and ambiance and doesn’t want it to change. Her husband is trapped, as his job is to ensure his employer gets their foot in the door. He struggled for years to rise to his current position and can’t imagine giving it up.

This is the source of friction in their relationship.

Soon after we establish the domestic dynamics of the couple, let’s create a scene where the mayor is doing her job, overseeing a meeting involving a committee’s conversation about what to do with a plot of land.

A third group who has an interest in the property has been deliberately excluded from the discussion. They are demanding the land be turned into community gardens. Their aggressive dialogue and confrontational picketing have led to the meeting being closed to the public.

In itself, the topic of choosing whether to fund a senior center/boys and girls club or sell it to a corporation that will hire hundreds of local people would be boring.

But by closing the meeting to all but two parties, we imply that something shady may be going on.

In the scenes leading up to the meeting, we meet the other influential people in this town. Their private conversations before the meeting will offer snips of background information as they move the story toward the scene in the conference room.

Once the meeting has been called to order, arguments will ensue as both sides present their case. Outside, the picketers who want the community gardens make their voices heard.

These dynamics offer many opportunities for ratcheting up the tension. The conversations inside the meeting and outside will be full of information only those parties have but which the reader must know. Irony could be injected in the blatant ignorance of some characters on all three sides and the comments they naively (or arrogantly) make.

So let’s add some dramatic irony to this scene. This literary device gives the reader information that at least one of the characters in the narrative is unaware of. This puts the reader a step ahead but is also a hook because wanting to see how this plays out raises the tension.

In our scene, an unknown woman makes her first appearance. She enters the empty conference room ahead of the meeting and places a backpack under the table. She isn’t involved with any of the three concerned groups, so who is she? What is her agenda? She is a member of a hidden group of anarchists who intend to bring down the corporation, and this is their opening volley.

This is where dramatic irony comes into play: the reader watches as she adjusts the backpack’s contents, sets the timer to go off at 19:25 (7:25 pm), and then departs, careful to leave no fingerprints.

Dramatic irony – the reader knows a device has been planted in the room, but the players in the scene do not.

Now every second that the conversation drags on ratchets up the tension. Each time a committee member gets up to get a glass of water or make a phone call, and the clock on the wall ticks toward 7:25, you wonder: will they escape death or terrible injury?

MErcutio quoteAnd we, the readers, desperately want our protagonist, the mayor, to get up and go to the coffeemaker. We can’t rest until we know if she either gets up and steps away from the table or someone notices the abandoned backpack and clears the meeting room.

Drama works best when presented so the reader feels the emotion but hasn’t been told what to think. We want to experience the stories ourselves.

Satire, sarcasm, irony, and understatements in conversations can lend a lighter tone to a dark passage. These lighter moments make characters feel relatable, showing them as being self-aware.

Dramatic irony is knowing something the players don’t. We know the backpack is beneath the conference table and fear the outcome.

But will that outcome be what we expect? Another layer of dramatic irony is applied when the backpack is detonated by the bomb squad, spraying the room with glitter and red paint.


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8 responses to “Creating drama by adding the unexpected #amwriting

  1. I so enjoy stories that drag you into the next page LONG after you should have started getting ready for the day….but you have to find out what happens!!!! Next thing you know, you’re late for work, lol. 💞💞💞 Love the explosive ending 🙂

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