QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Lighter Side of Writing: Irony is not the Same Thing as Fate

I’m filling in for Adriana Mather, who apparently thinks starring in a film being screened at the Cannes Film Festival is an adequate justification for skipping out on her QueryTracker Blog duties. [Here’s the trailer btw] That, or readying her debut novel, How to Hang a Witch, for publication by Knopf/Random House. Or getting to work on her second novel, now that her proposal has been accepted by said Big Four publisher. If pressed for lame excuses, I’m sure she has more.
Well, I’ve got news for you Adriana – you are NOT the only person with pressing and impressive matters to attend to. Sure, I’d love to star in movies and fly to the South of France – but Cannes happens to conflict with BOTH Family Fun Night AND the fifth grade sleepover graduation party. Plus, it’s not like my sourdough starter can feed itself. Some of us just have our priorities straight. Cannes and publishing deals are nice, but I have unlimited fresh eggs.
Am I a tad sarcastic and bitter? Naw. Sarcastic as hell but, as Adriana surely pieced together from the two dozen emails we’ve exchanged in the past week (some of which contain the electronic equivalent of me squealing like a twelve-year-old girl at a boy band concert) I’m not particularly bitter. I am so proud of Adriana that I’m basically using (abusing) the post I agreed to cover for her to brag about her. That and use her to demonstrate sarcasm, which I know she won’t mind because she’s such a sweetheart.
Although it’s FAR subtler in my fiction than the above example, sarcasm is a mainstay of my writing. There are not a lot of humorous devices that allow a narrator (particularly an omniscient narrator) to maintain the authoritative persona of Narrator, with a capital “N.” Sarcasm and irony, however, lean on that persona, using the god-like knowledge of the omni narrator as a straight line, with the contrasting description or commentary landing the punch line. I have little choice but to use these devices. That’s what they were made for.
Writing satire, it’s impossible for me to function without at least some sarcasm (which is a source of humor) and a lot of irony (which may or may not be humorous, but turns otherwise innocuous story elements into satire). By way of very quick and very dirty (and therefore not completely accurate) definitions:
Sarcasm is saying one thing and meaning the opposite,
Irony is expecting one thing and getting the opposite.
The difference between what is or is expected and the intent is deciphered by you.
Neither device is inherently funny. The “kiss of death” in Mafia lore and, notably, Puzo’s The Godfather is the ultimate sarcasm, and irony is as often tragic as humorous – just ask Oedipus. But, while they aren’t inherently humorous, each starts out with one of the two elements of humor present: incongruity. The real meaning is not on the page, it’s in the reader’s own thinking.
In my first post on this topic, I discussed the basic neurobiological response that is “humor;” what the brainiacs call “the juxtaposition of mental sets.” “Funny” comes from incongruity. The gap between the normal or expected and the actual outcome is where the punch line for every joke ever told lands. While not every unexpected plot twist is funny, and tragedy relies on irony as heavily as comedy does, both devices still start with everything you need to make a joke out of.
What you do from there is up to you.

No comments: