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13 Ironic Situations for Short Stories

Updated on June 5, 2014
O Henry – Master of Irony in the Short Story
O Henry – Master of Irony in the Short Story | Source

Short Story Course Lesson 7 - Irony in Events

When events seem to be arranged by a mischievous or malicious being, they are said to have an irony. This kind of sequence in events possesses a potent appeal for readers. There are 13 types of irony in events that can take place ad each type has potential for a story.

Types of Irony Found in Short Stories

Type 1: Someone who intends to do something good for someone ends up harming him in some way.

Miss Meacham had a baker’s shop from which a customer had been buying stale loaves. She thought him to be a poverty-stricken struggling artist and wanted to help him out. One day when he came for his stale loaf, she secretly cut the crust and put in some butter.

This man had been working on a plan for a new theatre in the city and had finally inked the drawing. He would use breadcrumbs to erase the pencil marks. Miss Meacham ruined his plans and his chances by trying to be kind.

O Henry is the author of ‘Witches’ Loaves’ the story outlined above.

Type 2: A person who wants to harm someone, ends up benefiting him.

Imagine that a man owns country house which he is afraid to rent, fearing weak foundations. An enemy, who is not aware of this, burns the house down. The owner is able to obtain compensation through his fire insurance. The familiar phrase –“A blessing in disguise” befits this situation.

As you can see, unhappy endings are not the norm in stories which have irony.

Type 3: Someone who wants to do something good for himself, does something good for another instead – especially if the beneficiary is an enemy.

Type 4: A person who wants to harm another, harms himself instead.

In the “Book of Esther”, we find type 3.

The projected reward which Haman, grand vizier of the realm and uneasy favourite of a capricious caliph, grossly inflates, thinking that it is coming to him, goes instead to his enemy, Mordecai. The lofty gallows which Haman had erected for the hanging of Mordecai becomes the place of his own execution.

Type 4 is found in Walter Scott’s “Quentin Durward”.

Cardinal La Balue is said to have invented a torture cage in which the victim could neither stand upright nor lie stretched out. The inventor was himself imprisoned in one for eleven years and was released only during his last illness by Louis XI.

Type 5: A person who behaves correctly does himself a disservice.

Stacy Aumonier’s short story ‘A Good Action’, Mr. Pothecary sets out one morning to do humanitarian acts, but on the bus, when he drops some money into a poor woman’s handbag, he is accused for attempting to rob her. Many such frustrating incidents happen to him in the story. So that buy the end of the evening, he decides to do something wicked and lets out the hens from his hated neighbour’s hen roost. In the night, the hen roost is burnt and the hens are saved.

This is an example of two types of irony – Type 5 and Type 2 working together.

Type 6: A person behaving badly does himself a service.

A young man in a Government ministry wants to impress his girlfriend with his diplomatic status and removes some top secret documents from the office safe. In the night the ministry is raided by spies and the authorities assume that the young man somehow knew about the raid and had removed the documents to safeguard them. He is undeservedly congratulated.

Type 7: A person who makes a great sacrifice finds it to be futile.

In the famous story ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by the master of irony, O Henry, a poor couple wish to give each other Christmas gifts. The loving wife cuts off her long hair to buy her husband chain for his watch. The husband sells his watch to buy her tortoiseshell combs for her hair.

Type 8: A person, having made a great effort, discovers that it is useless.

In Violet Hunt’s story ‘Tales of the Uneasy’, a girl pretends to be recklessly decadent in order to please a recklessly decadent man. But her effort is futile because he falls in love with an innocent, simple girl.

Type 9: A person having achieved a much desired object, no longer desires it.

A hobo decides to get into prison as the winter chill has set in. During the day he does various things that could get him arrested, but in vain. Towards evening, he comes to a cathedral where organ music is being played. The music stirs in him boyhood ideals and aspirations and he decides to give up the hobo life for a more constructively purposeful one and at that moment, a policeman arrests him for loitering.

Type 10: A person who finally gets a much desired object cannot enjoy it.

An example of this plot is a mountaineer who desires the panoramic view from a mountain peak, scales it only to find mist obscuring the view.

Type 11: A person who has a much desired object within reach, cannot reach it.

Passengers from a wrecked liner are dying of thirst. Their boat enters a river estuary, but they don’t realise that it is fresh river water that they can drink.

Type 12: A person having overcome major obstacles is undone by something trivial.

The explorer who has braved lions and leopards, swamps and jungles succumbs to an infected wasp sting in his back garden. Many detective stories follow this type of plot. The murderer who hoists his victim onto a chandelier to make it appear that she hanged herself, forgets to place a chair beneath it.


Write a story of up to 4000 words, which may, but need not involve Dramatic Irony.

Short Story inspired by legends of the pink river dolphins of the Amazon
Short Story inspired by legends of the pink river dolphins of the Amazon | Source

Short Story Course - Exercise for Lesson 7

Dear Mrs. Johnson,

I have great news. I have just been informed that I have won the second prize for ‘Undersea’ in the Nehru Children Book Trust Competition! I’m ecstatic! First and second prize winners automatically get published by the Trust but how I wish I had time to edit it. I had just two months to write it.

Another piece of good news. The Chief Editor of Penguin India was here and since I've been writing to him about my work, he organised a meeting with me. He says I should go ahead with my funny fantasy novel 'Circe' and if it's interesting, he'll publish it. That is truly motivating and I'm hard at work on it.

I am sending you a short story ‘Dolphin Girl’. It was inspired by an article in the Omni magazine about a little-known tribe in the Amazon Forest, the Matses. These people tell stories of pink river dolphins turning into beautiful women in the nights, lightning eels that cause storms and giant anacondas that attract their prey through their magical magnetic powers. I thought it deserved a story. And I like it. What I didn’t foresee is that it would turn out to be about creativity and sexuality.

I found a collection of Brian O’ Nolan’s articles. Very light-hearted and vividly written. I hope to find ‘At Swim, Two Birds.’

Warm Regards


Dolphin Girl

Deep in the Amazonian Forest, the Ucayali river boiled beneath the lightning storm. Elohi watched the blinding flashes of lightning tear through the tumultuous clouds and thought, "Tumi has taught the Lightning Eels well." His lips were lined with blue, red streaked across his eyes and forehead. Needle-like splinters stuck out from the flesh above his lips like Jaguar's whiskers.

Jaguar, waiting out the storm inside a cave, was not flattered by the mimicry of the Matses Tribe. He did not understand why they brought him offerings of still warm beating hearts. But their faith made him all powerful.

Elohi stood almost naked in the heavy rain, shielding his eyes when the lightning crackled, and the boom of the thunder reverberated through him. In the river, the eels danced, coiling sinuously about each other, and as the dancing rose to a crescendo, lightning tore through the sky. His eyes searched for Tumi. There she stood in the water, slender, glistening wet body blinding white in the lightning flashes, her fingers fluttering too in a dance. It was as though the eels drew their energy from her fingers. "She is beautiful," thought Elohi, “and strange too, a mysterious goddess who communes with electric eels.”

He could see the pink river dolphin skin sloughing off her glistening limbs. Her long hair was a silver shower. The Lightning Eels writhed about her as she sang to them with her hands. Blue lightning streaked the sky. And then, as the rain ceased, her fingers ceased their dance and the frenzied eels grew languid.

Elohi called out to her from the banks of the Ucayali without words. And her mind reached out to his like a warm embrace. The sound of his heartbeats pulsed in his ears.

"The dance means everything to you, does it not, Tumi?" he said.

"Yes, and to them too, the dance is everything...when they dance, the lightning is born. I wish father were still alive! He had always believed in the dance!"

"Surely you know other men who believe in the dance?"

asked Elohi, saddened.

"Not one. It has always been like this, Elohi. They are bodies without souls. They do not want my soul... and you, do you seek body or soul, Elohi?" She brushed silver hair away from her cheek and emerged from the water to stand beside him. Elohi was silent for a while. Then he said,

"I do not know, Tumi. Looking at you brings up painful yet joyous memories. No one else can do that to me.” He did not wish to admit to his desire for her. She was too young. Like his daughter. “My daughter was young and beautiful like you when she went to Jaguar." His voice broke on the last word. He had tried to feel proud of his daughter’s sacrifice, because she had, but had turned away when the priest had torn out her living heart. She had not screamed, and he never mentioned her to Jaguar. He was a proud father, and Jaguar, a willing deity, for did not his people believe that their god demanded blood?

"Oh Elohi, will you love me?" Tumi cried suddenly. Then she hid her burning face in her hands. "Forget I said that," she said, for Elohi had her father’s patient brow.

"You're a child, Tumi, a beautiful child, and I am old enough to be your father." He felt glad and confused.

Blushing, she clasped his hand, and kissed it. He felt the soft warmth of her lips, the silk of her hair. Something unbidden rose in him. He swallowed it. It tasted of bile. She dropped his hand, her eyes wild, then reached for his hand again.

"Don't do that, little Tumi. I too am a man."

She smiled and slipped into the water, and at once was surrounded by the weaving bodies of the Lightning Eels.

The scent of vegetation assaulted Elohi's nostrils as he made his way to his hut through the swamp. He was thankful the swarms of stinging insects had been lulled by the rain. He stopped to lean against a tree, resting his naked brown back against the rough, wet bark. Mangrove roots clawed at the earth.

Then the owls began to hoot and he could hear the plaintive howls of a distant band of monkeys as the moon appeared from behind a gilt-edged cloud. Bats swooped, silhouetted against the silver orb. The sounds of the jungle made the intervals of silence deeper. He looked up at the notches on the tree stuffed with animal skin and hair, and remembered that he was hungry. He had made those notches himself with his bloody machete after a successful hunt. He never forgot to pay an animal this tribute for satin his hunger.

Inside his hut, as he ate a supper of cold roasted sloth meat, he let his mind wander to the days when his daughter had been alive. He wanted to recapture all that she had awakened in him. He wanted to forget what Tumi made him feel. She was too young and he, too old to be her lover. He felt purified when he thought of his daughter. He was more soul than body then.

Tumi thought of her lover who was far away, as dark as she was pale. Her skin burned in the nights. She dreamed about him. She imagined the touch of his hands. It would be the same all over again. When the flame of their desire for each other died, there would be nothing. Nothing except the dance. Only the taste of ashes in her mouth. She was herself, like Elohi, torn between body and soul. She tried not to think of her distant lover, and turned her thoughts to Elohi instead. He was honest and kind, and although his hair was streaked with silver, she found him attractive, exciting. Yet, she was not without guilt, for he reminded her of her father. She wondered, did he think of her as dolphin or woman?

Then one night she failed to find her Lightning Eels. She felt empty. She searched up and down the Ucayali in the light of the full moon. She could not bear to wait till the morning when her returning dolphinhood would make her acutely sensitive to her surroundings, and she would know then their whereabouts. She grew restless. Panic made her body ache. The dance had filled the void her father had left behind in her. There was nothing now. Nothing at all. She was nothing without the dance. She desperately wanted to speak to Elohi.

"It must be the Spirits," he told her, when she came to him, breathless from her run through the jungle.

"But why must they punish me?"

"They punish us all, Tumi, for our foolishness." He was thinking of the desire that plagued him. Her hair cascaded over his bare thighs as she leaned towards him. He brushed it away.

"The Spirits want to teach me something Elohi. They want to show me that I'm living in a dream. I am empty within, yet I believe the dance of the Lightning Eels is enough. There was nothing there, there never was!"

He watched a tear roll down her cheek. Her words wrenched at his insides. "Hush Tumi. I think it has more to do with me. Perhaps the Spirits are testing me. I must find the Lightning Eels for you."

"You can't swim in the river. There are -"

"I know. There are crocodiles that can swallow whole canoes. But I will go."

"Can't I come along with you, Elohi?"

"No, little Tumi. This I must do alone. The Spirits will it."

She turned and walked into the trees, her hair a beacon in the forest gloom. "Why does he hold back from me?" she thought. "I'd like him to touch me."

Elohi called on Jaguar as he waded into the muddy water. It was as though Jaguar led him, grinning at him through the leaves. He took a deep breath and plunged. If he failed, Tumi would become a bitter, lustreless girl, a stranger. He could not picture her like that.

He searched for almost an hour, keeping an eye out for the crocodiles. They circled him, but for some reason,did not close in. He whispered a prayer of thanks to Jaguar. Then he spotted something wriggling in the brown water: two small Lightning Eels. He called joyfully to Tumi and saw her coming through the trees, her body limp with hopelessness.

"I found these for you, little Tumi," he said, pointing at the writhing eels. "There must be more upriver."

She waded in, and stooped to look at the eels, her hands trembling in the water. In the moonlight, the Lightning Eels were silver like her hair.

"You do love me Elohi," she said softly, smiling.

"I do, Dolphin Girl," he said.

It was the first time he had called her that. She thought, “So he thinks of my dolphinhood. Why would he find me desirable?”

He thought he had done what Jaguar had wanted him to do. He had done for Tumi what a father would do for a beloved, impatient child, and the glimmerings of his desire for her vanished like the mist that lay over the Ucayali in the mornings.

Tumi too had found at last the love that had always eluded her. A love that was forever, for it was all soul.

Dr. Hilary Johnson of the Author's Advisory Service  UK
Dr. Hilary Johnson of the Author's Advisory Service UK

Assessment of my Short Story and More from Mrs. Johnson

May 31, 1991

Dear Miss Saran

Short Story Course, Lesson 7

Thank you for your letter of May 19 and for sending the story for your seventh lesson.

I hardly know upon which achievement I should congratulate you first! I guess the best news is the second prize for UNDERSEA. Well done!

I am very pleased to hear about the Penguin India editor’s visit. This is most encouraging.

With short stories for magazines, I guess you’ll just have trust the editors. FEAR, incidentally, has a maximum length of 4,000 words for short stories and you seldom find anybody publishing short stories of much above 5,000. Just be sure that you know exactly what you want. Do they have a tip sheet for authors?

Have I told you about the British Fantasy Society? Secretary Di Wathen, 15, Stanley Road, Morden, Surrey, SM4 5DE. I haven’t a clue what they do or offer, but you could enquire.

The Women’s Press here is very interested in material by third world women and I would suggest a preliminary letter. As well as telling them about the fiction – they do print collections of short stories – give them some information about your writing achievements to date and background. The address is 34, Great Sutton Street, London, EC1V ODX.

I have to say that DOLPHIN GIRL really isn’t my sort of story and I do find it very difficult to judge. The writing is beautiful, it is imaginative and evocative, but for my tastes, and certainly for most ordinary commercial purposes there is too little story and too much lovely writing.

This is probably unfair, though, if we are thinking of a very specialised fantasy market or, just possibly, the literary market. I am troubled by the fact that the setting is an Amazonian river and dolphins are not found in such a habitat – even though I realise that the dolphin image is used as a visual image. Somehow I would have been happier if the fish were in tune with the fauna of the region.

Sorry not to be more helpful on this, except to say that to succeed in the UK mainstream market you will need to strengthen your storylines – unless your work is to go out and be promoted as specifically Indian and that. I would think, is where your main chance must lie, at least with book-length material.

Anyway, let us hope that some of your projects bear fruit soon. Yu are putting a lot of energy both into writing and promoting yourself. Do send a Press Release about the prize to some local papers, anywhere which seems appropriate.

I look forward to some more good news soon,

Yours sincerely,

Hilary Johnson, M.A., Ph.D.


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    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 weeks ago from Bangalore, India

      Thanks for reading and the encouragement Lauren Flauding!

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 weeks ago from Bangalore, India

      Thanks for reading and the encouragement Lauren!

    • Lauren Flauding profile image

      Lauren Flauding 4 weeks ago from Sahuarita, AZ

      Thanks for outlining all the different types of ironies! I'm always looking for ways to add depth to my stories.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Thanks a ton Analiza!

    • profile image

      Analiza 3 years ago

      Thank you so much for your very informative page. I am very much delighted to know you won an award.