Tips for Writers: The Power of Ironic Reversals

Ingrid 2

Dramatic tension is the key to an engaging storyline—or even an essay or blog post, for that matter. This takes the form of rising action, a series of reversals (escalating problems or crises) that must be resolved. These keep us, the readers, involved, making us root for and identify with the “hero,” whether fictional or non-fictional, dramatic or humorous. They make us worry about whether we will achieve our goal.

So even if you’re writing a “How to” post, include troubleshooting (avoiding or overcoming reversals) en route to, say, baking the world’s greatest lemon tart or building Thor-like abs. If you’re writing about depression or failure, the journey will include overcoming both external and internal conflicts (reversals), like those of Odysseus, Katniss Everdeen, and even Sherriff Woody.

The most powerful reversals are ironic, moments in which heroes directly or indirectly cause a reversal themselves. I came to realize this when I was writing the screenplay and novelization for Healing River.

“I killed him!”

“What?” her brother Peter asks.

“If I’d let him go and look for apartments, he would still be alive!”

“No!” Peter’s voice shakes the silence of the Grief Consultation Room. “You don’t know the future, Ingrid, only God knows.”

Realizing how deeply this ironic reversal knitted together my hero’s dramatic arc and my story’s rising action, I found myself almost unconsciously pushing most of the reversals in this direction. Result? People have said how much they identify with the Ingrid’s struggle. And now I think I know why. It’s because ironic reversals are the most devastating and powerful kind there are,

Both in stories and in real life.

If you haven’t seen the multi-award-winning movie Healing River (the novel isn’t out yet), you can watch or order it by clicking here.

Healing River Poster

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Books, Movies, Story Power, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Tips for Writers: The Power of Ironic Reversals

  1. gpavants says:

    Hi Mitch,

    Yes, good twists and turns make a story believable. I did see Healing River and it was great. Ingrid’s internal struggle had many layers which over the course of the film she had to face. Imperfect people function like this and isn’t that what we want to see? Then the Lord gets to work.



    Liked by 1 person

  2. pastorpete51 says:

    Thanks Mitch. Yeah I’m still learning that my vanilla pudding prose is sweet but often teetering on the edge of the cliffs of blah!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow this is such a technical aspect to the craft and I’m grateful that you’d shared it, Mitch. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love the movie and can’t wait to buy the book!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So interesting!
    Thank you for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Msdedeng says:

    Ah, I am going to have fun on your blog. Good stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mitch how am I supposed to get in contact with you? I have checked out your blog but can’t find a form – could you email me at if you are interested in appearing in my magazine as I would love an interview regarding your movie. A humble request and no offence taken if you’re not interested. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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