How to Write an Ironic Story: 10 Types of Irony to Consider

Ironic moments in life can make us change our perspectives, laugh, or discover something we didn’t know before. When you’re trying to make them happen in a story, it can be more difficult than you first realized. You may need to learn how to write an ironic story before actually attempting one.

Don’t worry—I was in the same place too.

Here’s a quick guide to writing irony in your next story so you can think of those moments as a strategic writer.

What Is Irony?

“What? That’s so ironic.”

We’ve all said a similar line when reacting to something before. Do you remember what it was? Can you point out why it was ironic?

Definition 1: Irony is when something happens or someone says something other than what you expect.

Let’s imagine your protagonist walking outside. They’re in a good mood, but quickly realize it’s pouring rain. They were supposed to go on a walk, but they look up at the clouds and say, “What a beautiful day!”

As a reader, you’d expect that character to be frustrated that the rain ruined their plans to go walking. It’s ironic that they actually find the weather beautiful. It might even make your reader laugh in surprise.

Definition 2: Irony is when something happens or someone says something other than what you expect but in a sardonic way.

This might be the definition of irony that you naturally think of. It’s when something unexpected happens and you have a bitter laugh about it. Deep down, you likely suspected the truth all along. The reveal is negative in nature.

Imagine a politician pushing a bill to outlaw the color blue. They make speeches and go on news networks saying how the color blue is a danger to everyone, so it must be outlawed immediately. While pushing this narrative, a journalist discovers leaked photos of the politician’s interior decorating—their home is entirely blue. Additionally, news breaks that the politician had recently received a significant reelection donation from the We Hate the Color Blue corporation.

The reveal means that the politician didn’t believe what they were saying. They were only passing the law because they received money to do so, even though the color blue wasn’t harming anyone or causing a problem.

If you lived in this world, you’d likely read the headlines and roll your eyes. It’s a frustrating irony that isn’t altogether unexpected, but still a reveal.

Ironic Plot Devices

There are a few ways to use irony as a plot device. You can use them to reveal things to your characters, change your plot’s direction, or cause character growth. Check out a few examples to see how.

1. An Unforeseen Blessing

Definition: Something good happens by something bad happening.

A character is in desperate need of a new car. They don’t have the money to buy one and their current vehicle is so old, they won’t get more than a couple hundred dollars to trade it in.

One day while driving it, the car shuts down. The engine melts into the pavement while your character tries scooping it up with an old milkshake cup from their backseat.

Someone records the entire thing from a distance and posts it online. The video goes viral, prompting the milkshake restaurant chain to give the character a brand new car for free.

The loss of their old car and potential public embarrassment is terrible, but your character gets the car they need. Some would say the melting engine was a blessing in disguise. Others would call it irony.

2. Accidental Harm

Definition: Someone attends to hurt someone, but the wrong person gets hurt instead.

There are a few ways this irony could play out. Your protagonist could set a bucket of water over a door frame, hoping it pours onto their little brother when he gets home from school. However, the protagonist gets distracted during the day and walks through the door themselves. They get soaked and become the target of accidental harm.

Their grandfather could come home before their brother too. When the grandfather gets soaked by the bucket prank, they’re the victim of accidental harm. The irony in both situations is that the actual target—the brother—never has the chance to fall for the prank.

3. Good Actions Have Opposite Effects

Definition: Someone attempts to do something the right way, but it doesn’t work out in their favor.

Your protagonist studies through the night for a high school exam. They pour all of their efforts into staying up and retaining as much information as possible because they realize they need better grades to go to their dream college.

After taking the test and getting it back, your protagonist gets a perfect score. However, the teacher announces they graded everyone on a curve due to an issue with their previous lesson plan. Everyone gets an A and the protagonist gets frustrated because they lost sleep over studying that didn’t ultimately matter. It’s a classic storytelling tool that you can use confidently once you understand how to write an ironic story.

4. Selfish Actions That Backfire

Definition: Someone does something exclusively for their own benefit and anyone or anything else benefits instead.

A character decides to run in a community race to win the prize money for a vacation. Halfway through the race, they realize they’re out of shape and there’s a shortcut up ahead. They take the shortcut and win, but the judges quickly realize they cheated to reach the finish line.

Their prize money automatically goes to the second runner-up, which happens to be the character’s worst enemy. They watch their worst enemy spend the money on lottery tickets that don’t result in any winnings. 

5. Accidental Self-Harm (Physical or Non-Physical)

Definition: Someone attempts to hurt another person, but it hurts them instead.

When you picture this irony, imagine Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. The coyote always wants to capture or hurt Road Runner, but ends up running into his own traps instead.

Sometimes this irony can be a physical harm from a prank gone wrong or it might be an assassination that doesn’t work out. It could also be a character spreading a rumor to hurt another person, but the rumor affects their own reputation instead.

6. A Sacrifice Without Reward

Definition: Someone makes a major sacrifice that ultimately is meaningless.

Characters experiencing this irony give up something they care about and get nothing to show for it. It might be lighter in nature, like a sister giving up her spot as captain of the soccer team so her equally-talented sister can have the role. Ultimately, the coach cuts them both from the team for not jumping at the leadership role fast enough.

It can also carry a heavier theme. A character could sacrifice to keep their loved one from getting hurt, but they die and their loved one gets hurt in the process anyway. There are multiple ways for irony to serve your plot after you learn how to write an ironic story. You just have to give it a purpose in connection with your theme or message.

7. Great Things Happening to Terrible People

Definition: Someone looks forward to achieving a rare thing they want very badly, but it goes to the worst person they can think of instead.

Your protagonist’s character works hard to put themselves through school, buy a house, and even start a family. One day, they get a letter that a grandparent they never knew recently passed away and wants to give them a million-dollar inheritance. It would free them of their student loan and mortgage debt, but the cruel parental figure that shares your character’s name gets the money instead.

8. An Unwanted Achieved Goal

Definition: Someone finally achieves their long-term goal, but they realize it isn’t what they wanted.

Sometimes the idea of something is better than getting it. Your protagonist may finally move to the mountainside cabin of their dreams, but realize they hate living in an area that gets heavy snow after the first winter storm hits. It’s ironic and a bit depressing, but it shifts your character toward new goals that drive the plot in a fresh direction.

9. Trivial Events Undo a Character’s Work

Definition: Someone’s hard work or life’s work gets ruined by a tiny detail they didn’t see coming.

When someone’s ultimate goal gets undone by something minor, it’s devastating. It’s also something readers connect with because it happens in real life.

Your protagonist might work really hard to earn their pilot’s license, only to get up in their first test flight and realize they have an innate fear of heights. Their future career as a flight operator for a private space exploration company depended on getting that license, so they have to rethink everything.

10. Success Without Meaning

Definition: Someone achieves something at long last, but can’t enjoy it for whatever reason.

Your protagonist decides to become CEO of a major tech company so they can pay off their parent’s debt and provide for them forever. When they finally get that job after a lifetime of earning a college degree and climbing the company’s ladder, their parent doesn’t want their money. Now they’re stuck in a job they might not want for themselves because the purpose behind it will never exist.

Learn How to Write an Ironic Story

You can write an ironic story with any of these tricks and reach your readers’ hearts. Consider which storytelling tools serve your story’s theme or message to match your plot with the best plot device.

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