Monday, June 1, 2015

Irony, Sarcasm, Subtext, and Moral Outrage or Plain Old Sermon

Any given novel in any given genre does not begin to come to engaging life for you until two essential thematic elements are present.  When these issues appear, the narrative seems to pop the literary equivalent of a wheelie, grinding against the texture of the plot line until traction is achieved and escape velocity realized.

These two elements appear from time to time in the most plot-driven narratives, even in some of the specific subgenera of romance where reader expectations are so arduous in their classification.

You're speaking of irony and its close cousin, subtext, in brief, irony being matters of making fun of or criticizing a thing while appearing to commend it, and subtext becoming the effect of something said by a character as opposed to the evoked awareness of what that character really means.

Both elements require a certain amount of careful handling, reminiscent of the way some explosive such as TNT needs guarded husbandry.  The volatile element governing irony is sarcasm which, under most circumstances, puts the user at the extreme edge of being an unlikeable bully.The ironist may also run the risk of seeming self-piteous.  

Through careful control, the writer may inflict ironic circumstances on a character, preserving the notion that the universe has orchestrated the situation rather than the character's bumbling or airs of superiority bearing the responsibility.

We become aware of subtext in circumstances where we would spot the elephant attempting to hide in the living room, in exaggerated example a convention of strict vegans discovering they'd booked a dinner meeting at a steak house.

Novels without significant irony or subtext within their recipe have found their way into publication.  Although you cannot identify any such novels by name at the moment, the thing that impresses you about the ones you're aware of reading is the sense you had on staying to the final resolution that something was missing.  Only later were you able to understand why.

Charactrers?  Check; at least two or three with some potential for being outliers.  Conflicts?  Check; some nicely engineered collision of ideals with profitability or of altruism with selfishness.  Dialogue?  Check; some exchanges bordering on the scathing because there is a point where well-controlled senses of moral highground cause readers to take sides, root for the fortunes of some characters ovfer others.  Narrative?  Check; the writer has allowed the characters to duke it out and allowed us to discern the barbs and thrusts of the subtext-heavy personal jabs between the characters.

You could, if you wish, blame any problems with the lack of a compelling and well-articulated difference of opinion, but by then, you'd know what you were looking for.  Almost an irony that the weak spot in the story would be the kind of plot you heard writers referring to as a paper tiger when you were a kid. A plot with a minimal menace, one with its claws removed.

Moments of irony and subtext can come at any time, and should. You skim dialogue with an edge of impatience, alert for potential incidents where the masks of politeness are removed.  Now, let the story begin.




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