What type of irony do you have in mind?
Verbal irony is when the author or a character says one thing, but means something else.
- Sarcasm is a type of verbal irony, but not all sarcasm is verbal irony and not all verbal irony is sarcasm.
Dramatic irony is when the audience is aware of something that the characters are not aware of.
- Tragic irony is a type of dramatic irony in which the character does or says something which has significant meaning to the audience based on what the audience already knows. This is called tragic irony because it often leads to tragedy from a result of the character’s actions or because it is used in the tragic genre.
Situational irony is what most people think of when they think of irony. This is when the opposite of what is expected to happen happens.
If you want an excellent example of a story that uses all three major types of irony, read The Story of an Hour (it’s a short read). I’ll be using this story to show you how to write ironic deaths.
If you want this death to be verbally ironic, you need to be good with what your characters say. The example of verbal irony in “The Story of an Hour” comes at the last line:
When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease—of the joy that kills.
To understand why this line is verbal irony, you must read the entire story. It is verbal irony because the start of the story mentions that the protagonist, Louise Mallard, has a heart condition. Therefore, when her husband is believed to be dead, those around her are careful to break the news so that she does not suffer heart trouble from the tragedy.
The characters and the audience expected Louise to fall ill, but the opposite happened (situational irony). Instead of falling ill, Louise became elated at her new freedom and she felt her heart flutter not in grief, but in happiness. But then her husband is actually alive and when she sees him (or supposedly sees him), her heart fails and she dies. The characters believe that Louise died from joy of seeing her husband. The readers can believe one of two things:
- Louise was so happy that she died before she ever saw her husband.
- Louise did see her husband, but she did not die of happiness. She died of sadness because her short-lived freedom is now gone.
If you believe the first theory, her death would be both situational and dramatic irony. The reader knows Louise died of happiness and the characters know she died of happiness, but for different reasons. If you believe the second theory, her death is still both situational and dramatic irony for similar reasons.
No matter which theory you believe, Louise’s death is situational because the reader and the characters believe that her husband is the one who died, but it really turns out to be the other way around. Her not dying or falling ill in the beginning is also situational because the reader is told from the beginning that she has heart trouble, but the opposite happens and her heart gets stronger from the news.
So how is her death verbally ironic? You have to look at the first line as well:
Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband’s death.
The first and last lines are verbally ironic because the author is referring to her soul and her spirit (as you’ll see if you read the entire story) rather than her physical organ (which is what the characters are worried about). Therefore, her death becomes verbally ironic because the author says she died of heart disease and right after says that what killed her was joy, meaning the failure of her spirit and happiness killed her.
It was also verbal irony in another way. It was verbal irony in relation to the second theory of her death because in that situation, the author writes that the joy of seeing her husband was what killed her when really it was the sadness of leaving her freedom behind.
Read the story and take notes from it. You can make ironic deaths extremely complex and layered if you try.
If you want to write a verbally ironic death, what you write or what your characters say must have another meaning. Here is a simple example of a verbally ironic death:
Character A promises to free character B from some kind of prison (physical, psychological, or other), but kills them. The meaning of “free” to character B (and the audience) was used in a way that implied escape and hope while to A it was used in a way that implied ending all suffering for good.
If you want to write a death that is dramatic irony, the audience must know something that the characters do not. This doesn’t mean some characters can’t know. Here is an example of a death that is dramatic irony:
Polonius hides in Gertrude’s bedroom as a way to eavesdrop on Hamlet. Gertrude is aware that Polonius is there and so is the audience. Hamlet, in alarm, unknowingly kills Polonius thus making this death dramatic.
If you want to write a death that is situational irony, you really have to make it wow the audience or make a character’s actions backfire in an unexpected way. For examples of these types of deaths, look here. You can also look at the TV Tropes page for Death by Irony in which the picture there is a perfect example of situational irony. Common ways that this type of death occurs are when someone is killed by their own weapon.
To make this type of death fantastic, look at how to write plot twists and how to foreshadow.