How to Write Contrast
- Show, don’t tell. Instead of saying: “Tim was a kind man, while Martha was mean,” show the contrast! Otherwise, the contrast is too obvious for your reader. Describe a scene that demonstrates Tim’s kindness and Martha’s meanness. Use subtle details to bring your contrast to life.
- Don’t be overly simplistic. This is especially important in essays. While a contrast can be useful in an essay, you don’t want to reduce everything to some simplistic image: for example, in a history essay it’s never a good idea to draw a contrast between “good guys” and “bad guys,” because the real world just isn’t that simple.
- Consider making a table. In this article, several of the examples have tables that clearly lay out the contrasts between characters. You can consider doing this as part of your writing process as well. Say you want to describe a contrast between two settings, a farmhouse in Norway and a bustling city in Mexico. Draw up a table and put down all the details of each setting. This will help you see the contrasts more clearly for yourself, and then you can carefully pick and choose details to insert into your story.
When to Use Contrast
Contrast appears everywhere in writing. But it serves different purposes in creative writing vs. in formal essays. In creative writing, your characters should have some contrast with each other so that they stand out. For example, the more your hero contrasts with the villain, the more the heroic and evil traits of each character will jump off the page. Similarly, you can create contrast in settings (e.g. crowded city vs. open country), moods, etc.
In a formal essay, “compare and contrast” is often a good starting place. You can begin to understand the American Civil War, for example, by contrasting the Confederacy with the Union. Similarly, you can understand chemistry by thinking about the contrasts between different elements – between hydrogen and gold, say.
However, in formal essays the risk of oversimplifying is much greater. You have to be very careful not to draw hasty or inaccurate contrasts. For example, what’s the first thing you think of in the contrast between Union and Confederacy? It’s probably that the Confederacy was made up of slaves states while the Union had no slavery. But that’s only partly true – a few slave states actually fought for the Union, so this contrast is overly simplistic. Always be careful when drawing historical contrasts!