One of the key points in Blake Snyder’s guide to writing is that a compelling storyline has something ironic about it. CS Lakin says the same thing – she demands that a story has a kicker, an ironic aspect that turns an interesting idea into a must-read one. But how do you develop situations full of irony? Here are some starting points.
- Play a game called World’s Worst. Use an online job-generator and then think of the worst possible person for that job. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gruff cop having to care for tiny children in Kindergarten Cop. Or a teenage girl obliged to slay vampires…
- Imagine a phobia that would prevent your hero from solving your story’s problem. Use caution and respect though. Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes adds drama to an already terrifying situation in Raiders, but the audience is not invited to mock his fear.
- What is your character’s greatest dislike? Put them in a situation which involves it. Maybe she has a deep dislike of society events, but is obliged to host a charity fundraiser. Or maybe he hates wealthy people but inherits a fortune.
- Channel your inner Alanis Morrisette. Remember, though, that rain on your wedding day is only ironic if the wedding is outdoors in a desert which hasn’t had precipitation for twenty years.
- Think up the worst possible place and time for your story. When would it be worst to win the lottery? Where would be the worst place to fight the bad guy? -Probably on a narrow bridge over a yawning abyss, right after you learn that he’s your father.
- Get your but in gear. ‘I love you but you’re undead/my sworn enemy/a werewolf/ in another dimension.’ I think Joss Whedon checked all these boxes with Buffy and Angel.
- One last job/graduation/retirement day – lots of opportunities here for the wrong people to get involved in the action. Think of all those cops who have to fight crime right before collecting their carriage clock, or the criminal about to go straight but blackmailed into one more theft. Clarice Starling was totally green when she had to work alongside Hannibal Lecter, and this gave her character a horrifying vulnerability which Lecter tried to prey on.
- Mistaken identity can land the wrong person nicely in the middle of things. The Doctor has no medical qualifications but goes to help regardless because he can’t resist a challenge. Or what about North by Northwest?
- Lies. This is linked to mistaken identity, except on purpose. Think Mr and Mrs Smith, or Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies.
I hope these give some starting points for stories containing the irony Snyder and Lakin recommend. Once I started looking, I was amazed at how bestselling books and movies focus on a character who is the least qualified person to tackle the problem presented in the story. My eyes have been opened! Let me know how you come up with kickers for your stories.
Random job generator for contemporary occupations
You can also procrastinate for ages by googling World’s Worst… Be astounded at just how bad some places/things/people are.
PS: The statue in my picture is Mannequin Pis in Brussels, where I was last week. And yes, he is doing what the name suggests.