How to Write a Paradox
To write a literary paradox, you need a character or situation that combines disparate elements. This is hard to do in the abstract! So it’s usually better to try to observe paradoxes first. Find people or situations in history, in literature, or in real life to act as inspiration for your original literary paradox. Some examples of real-life literary paradoxes include:
- President Woodrow Wilson
- The Russian Revolution
Each of these people/events contains disparate and seemingly contradictory attributes (it shouldn’t take much research to see what contradictions each one contains). But this is only a short list. If you look hard enough, almost everyone is a paradox in one way or another!
You wouldn’t generally need to write a logical paradox. It can be helpful in formal essays to observe paradoxes (self-contradictions) in another person’s argument, because the presence of such paradoxes, when unacknowledged, usually indicates that the argument is somehow flawed. However, in formal essays the logical paradox is generally something to be avoided, not written!
When to use paradox
Literary paradoxes can be very helpful in creative writing, especially when you’re building a main character. If you’re writing a short story about a hero, for example, you don’t want that hero to be too simplistic – simplistic characters tend not to be very interesting. So combine the heroic attributes with other qualities that seem contradictory. If your hero is brave, for example, give him or her a phobia of some kind (e.g. Indiana Jones is terrified of snakes); or if your hero is the leader of a close-knit group, make him or her seem somehow lonely and isolated despite their presence (e.g. Mal Reynols from Firefly). It’s a great way to make the hero seem complex and relatable, and it also helps draw readers into the story by making them curious – when we see paradoxical characters like this, we’re more likely to keep reading so we can “figure them out.”