Monday, May 2, 2011


Osama bin Laden's death has resulted in a strange mix of news in my email inbox and status updates on facebook page today: claims of moral victory, condemnation of the war, talks of retribution, mourning over the millions of lives lost and millions more affected, and great deals on mother's day gifts.

Since this is a not a forum to discuss political and moral issues, not directly, anyway, I thought I'd focus on how such surreal juxtapositions of big news and life-as-usual can be applied to writing.

Perhaps, in writing about a funeral, a writer may focus on the highly-polished shoes worn by the widower. Did he, in the midst of making arrangements for the funeral, go out to buy new shoes? Or did he polish them himself, and what might have gone through his mind when he did that? Or maybe someone else polished them for him, someone who quietly made themselves helpful.

Or perhaps in a bridal shower, someone left the TV on to a program showcasing the husbands of Elizabeth Taylor.

Or perhaps rescuers, while looking through a tornado-ravished town, trigger a Tickled-Me-Elmo toy.

Have you read passages that include incongruous details? What about in your own writing: do you use this technique? Maybe some of you would dash off a short vignette in the comments section. Please do.


tanita davis said...

Ooh, excellent thoughts (you should totally teach a writing course). I find that I do include small instances of those juxtapositions in my writing, but I find that too many of them, or too large of a juxtaposition is actually disruptive, and pulls me out of the text.

I like the reminder to use them, though. They can be really affective and effective as well.

Domey Malasarn said...

Yat-Yee, this is a technique I rely on all the time because it does feel true to life to me. Here's the first paragraph of my short story "Red Man Blue Man":

Chisholm & Parcell had employed the red man and the blue man for almost two years. Though it took some getting used to, the other partners were no longer startled by the men’s short height, their ear hoops, or the pink insides of their lips that, in the beginning, had been a startling reminder that the men were indeed human. The furniture also seemed to have grown accustomed to the men, because their painted thighs—bare except for the bands that kept their phallocrypts in place—no longer left colored smudges on the plush leather chairs.

Yat-Yee said...

Tanita: Thanks. And I agree: something too big can definitely run the risk of detracting from the main story.

Domey: such intriguing details, because of the incongruity in the midst of something normal like employment and furniture. Thanks for sharing.

scott g.f.bailey said...

I can't come up with any specific examples from my own writing, but I know I do this sort of thing all the time and I think it's a great technique. You can use it for side-shadowing, for irony, for foreshadowing and to slyly comment on the action (a cheating way for authorial intrusion into the narrative). I think this technique works best when the author doesn't explain the details; they're just part of the narrative.