by Tegwyn Hughes, jaBlog! Blogger
You know that the killer is behind the door, waiting to jump on your character. You may know this, but Sally the Victim thinks that the room is empty. You almost want to throw your book against the wall, or jump into the story and warn Sally that she is about to meet her demise. You feel this way because the writer is creating dramatic irony–telling you what the characters don’t. In horror, dramatic irony is essential to create fear, strong emotions, and commitment to the story.
Make the Reader Scared
It is anticlimactic for your character to walk into a room and immediately be killed. Your reader will certainly be surprised, but they will not be afraid. Fear comes from knowing what will happen, or dreading what might happen, and the anxious buildup that comes from this fear.
This is a little bit like suspense, which I wrote about it my last article. You may get scared knowing you have to go to the doctor and get an injection, and this fear builds up during the time before your doctor’s appointment. On the other hand, if someone randomly pricked you with a needle when you weren’t looking, there wouldn’t be enough time for you to be scared. The same principles apply to dramatic irony and its ability to create fear. Knowing that the killer could emerge from the shadows at any moment makes you scared.
Make the Reader Passionate
There are countless examples of dramatic irony that I could use to show how it makes readers frustrated with the story or the characters. In Snow White, when you know the evil stepmother disguises herself as an old woman and poisons an apple, you might even get mad at Snow White for taking a bite. She doesn’t know that she is about to poison herself, and that is what makes you passionate about her actions. You want to somehow prevent what is about to occur, or at least yell at the top of your lungs in frustration.
In the horror genre, this is used when the reader knows who the killer is, but can’t warn the characters about it. It’s a great trick to use if you want to put your characters into tight situations. Simply have them in the same room as the killer, unsuspecting, and have them discuss who the killer might be. Your readers will get incredibly frustrated, trust me.
Make the Reader Committed
In mystery stories, you keep reading to find out whodunnit. In horror stories with dramatic irony, you keep reading to find out how the characters realize whodunnit. It’s like reading a mystery novel backwards, wanting to explore what the culprit did wrong in order to be caught, or how they choose to reveal themselves. The reader will commit to the story, even if the mystery is already solved for them, because it can be fun to see the characters solve the mystery for themselves.
Dramatic irony is a tricky skill to master, but by trying to include some aspects of it into your stories this Halloween season, you can make your reader feel a range of emotions, from fear to frustration to curiosity. Try it out by writing a spooky story of your own this week, and stay tuned for my third, and last, post about writing horror coming later this week.