Friday, March 29
Oh, the Irony: Working With Dramatic Irony
One of my favorite techniques is dramatic irony, which itself is a little ironic since I've discovered I love first person. Harder to pull of dramatic irony when there's only one POV.
So what is dramatic irony?
Basically, it's when the reader knows more about what's going on than the characters, and they see the meaning or truth where the characters do not.
This is quite effective in multiple POV stories where events happening in one POV affect another. Readers can see two (or more) points racing toward each other and they just know the crash is gonna be good. You can play up the tension between the POVs as well as within them. This can also help combat the hanging problem we talked about a few weeks ago.
Some examples of this...
Say you have a three-person POV science fiction story. One POV is Jack, the captain of a local cargo ship that makes regular runs through the system. The other is Miranda, the second in command on a space station Jack often stops at (and they have a romantic thing going on). Third is Xitic, the alien cook on a warship headed right for the system Jack and Miranda live in.
We know Xitic is heading toward the station and something bad is going on, but not exactly what. Xitic is a cook after all, and not privy to what the command staff has planned. But she can overhear enough to know something big is up.
Jack is out there flying around, and he hears stuff. Random distress signals, problems with colonies or other stations. Maybe some debris from a ship or two. Is it Xitic's people?
Miranda has access a lot of information on the station, and she hears about space battles, missing transports, colonies crying for help. But it's spread out and not just where Xitic's ship is.
Now, here's where dramatic irony can be super fun. You can show issues going on in all three POVs, but since they each only get a piece of the puzzle, the reader can start to put the whole picture together before the characters know what's going on. Readers will see that Jack discovering there's a ship out there attacking folks is true, but it's not the ship he thinks it is. Miranda sees the overall span of the problem, so readers know it's not just Xitic and her ship. Xitic gets enough details to prove her ship is not the one doing the attacking.
Something is going on and it's big. You can show all kinds of things without ever giving away the secret because not every POV has all the information. But eventually, the reader is going figure out what all these pieces mean and see the real threat: An alien force Xitic's people are currently at war with. But readers will also see how on edge all three POVs are, and they'll know when they all meet up things are not going to go well. Half the fun will be seeing what goes wrong before they figure out the threat is bigger than all of them.
Playing one side against the other gives you a lot more opportunities for conflict, and even when the reader knows what's going on, you can still be unpredictable because the characters still are clueless enough to make mistakes and misunderstand true motives.
This is so much fun it makes me want to write something in third person multiple POV.