If you’re not already using IRONY to transform your story from familiar to irresistible, let me tell you why you should be.
Irony is “an action which has the opposite, or different effect to the one initially desired.” Let's use THE HUNGER GAMES as an example. Katniss did everything to ensure she'd be picked ahead of her sister. And yet Prim is chosen, so Katniss must volunteer as tribute.
On the surface, that might seem silly. Maybe it's ironic, but isn't it also kind of redundant for her to end up in the same place as if she'd been picked?
Well, no, because irony is at play. Katniss only volunteered because her sister was selected, and that grabs the attention of the public. Who else would volunteer for this horror show?!
It's also, as Plutarch notes later on, why people are inspired by her. When given an out, she didn't take it. She sacrificed everything to save Prim.
Suzanne Collins creates an even deeper irony later when Katniss sacrificing herself makes her the perfect person to lead the rebellion. More on that later. First, let’s contrast Katniss with Gale.
Gale would arguably be a better hero to inspire everyone. He's young, handsome, driven by rage against the Capitol, and has already sacrificed so much to protect his family.
He's certainly more willing to fight than Katniss, but notice what’s missing from his arc. There’s no irony. Everything about his arc is straightforward and thus by its nature far less interesting.
Who would he volunteer as tribute to save? He can’t volunteer to save Katniss (conveniently against the rules, though that could have made a fantastic alternate story). Who else would he volunteer to save? Peeta?!
So already, Katniss is in a unique position to volunteer as tribute, and it’s the weight (and irony) of her sacrifice that inspires people and ultimately saves her.
If she’d simply been selected in the Reaping, no one would have cared. She’d have been one more sad face from District 12 destined to die.
And yet it’s the irony of her sacrifice that makes the public love her. This is a most unexpected plot twist, and they’re eager to see how it plays out. This is horrific, and yet as the actual audience, some would say we're oddly (ironically?) just as complicit.
The irony not only saves her life in her first Hunger Game, it also makes her perfect as the face of the rebellion.
It’s her very reluctance to be the symbol of the rebellion that inspires people. Gale is certainly more ready to fight (and die) than she is, but that's in part why he doesn't inspire people to the same degree as Katniss.
NOW ABOUT YOU
Now let's turn to YOU. It’s this kind of irony that will make your character and your story stand out. It’s what hooks your readers.
Think of straightforward premises that are fine but aren’t interesting. Look at all of the romance BCCs that end with something like, “But before the story is over, their love will be tested.” That hooks no one. We’ve seen that a million times.
The hook comes from irony like what we discussed above in The Hunger Games. The one person who’s ready to die is the one person we need to survive. The girl who just wants to live in peace must decide whether to be the face of a rebellion.
I want you to go back to your story and take a look at what separates (or could separate) your story from anything similar. Just a normal day in the life of your protagonist, until... *insert ironic inciting incident*
There’s a lesson there, too, about embracing what makes YOU different. Those very things you’re terrified make you unlovable might, ironically, be what make you irresistible.
If you want to discuss more storytelling tips from THE HUNGER GAMES, click or tap here for a previous article on building anticipation.
If you like THE HUNGER GAMES in general, you 100% need to check out the new audiobook special edition narrated by Tatiana Maslany, the insanely talented actress who played the lead in ORPHAN BLACK.