Irony in Character

Many simple narratives, such as Lethal Weapon, take two characters with entirely different, opposing views and qualities and pair them up to create fireworks.  However, we can do better than that.  What if we combine those opposing qualities into one character?  Then we have internal conflict – and character irony.

Many of the most memorable characters have a deep vein of irony at their core.  This is a technique that comic book writers have been using for the best part of a century to create instantly recognizable characters with clear characteristics, who’ll stand out in the convoluted, soapy plotlines of a long-running story.

So, Superman, protector of the human race, is in fact an alien who feels emotionally distanced from humanity.  Batman is the face of justice who also happens to be borderline psychotic – and just for good measure, Bruce Wayne is the ultimate ‘poor little rich kid’, the man who has everything in the world except the one thing he needs, his tragically deceased parents.

You could write entire essays on the use of irony in The New X-Men.  HankBeast” McCoy, the sophisticated, erudite intellectual trapped in the body of a hairy ape.  Charles Xavier, a telepath so powerful that he can make contact with telepaths on other planets, yet has been confined to a wheelchair for much of his adult life.  And, perhaps one of the cruelest – and most realistic – ironies in fiction, Erik “Magneto” Lensherr, the concentration camp survivor who ends up embracing a policy of genetic purity and superiority that would have made Hitler proud.

So next time you’re thinking about using two opposing characters to illustrate the theme of your narrative, ask yourself – could I combine those opposing ideas into one character instead?

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