How to Write Dramatic Irony
- Decide what information you want the audience to have. It should be a pretty specific piece of information, e.g. “there’s a body in the cabinet” or “that drug dealer is really an undercover cop.” The information might come from outside the story or inside the story: outside information would be things like “this is a horror movie” or “the Titannic sank”; inside information would be things that happened earlier in this
- For inside information, show; don’t tell. You want the information to appear naturally as the story unfolds. So, for example, if you want the audience to know that Jamie is an undercover cop, don’t just say “Jamie was an undercover cop.” Show us. You might create a whole scene, for example, where Jamie is at the precinct discussing the mission with his sergeant. Or it might just be a quick detail that clues the audience in, e.g.: “Jamie nervously ran his fingers over the badge hidden in his secret pocket.”
- Craft some dialogue that reveals the characters’ ignorance of what’s really going on. For example, when Jamie meets up with the drug boss, have the boss say something he would never say if he knew the truth about Jamie. Something like: “I need more men like you. Loyal men.” Or it could be something more ominous, like: “There’s a spy somewhere, Jamie. Somewhere close. And I tell ya, I can’t wait to get my hands on him.”
When to Use Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony is a versatile trick that can be useful in all sorts of stories, depending on how you use it. It’s particularly useful in thrillers and suspense stories when you want your reader to be one step ahead of the characters. (Sometimes it’s better to put the audience in the same position as the main character, but in other stories you want them to know a little more — it’s all a question of syle.) You can also use it in comedy stories, especially when the comedy comes from characters embarrassing themselves because of what they don’t know.
Obviously, dramatic irony is a feature of stories and shouldn’t be used in most formal essays. However, it might be an inevitable feature of biographical or historical essays when the reader already knows the ending. For example, if you are writing a biography of Abraham Lincoln you know that your reader will know that he gets murdered in the end. So if you’re writing history or biography and you want to amp up the tension for dramatic effect, you can include some dramatic irony. However, the focus should always be on your argument and research, not the irony or other literary devices.