Juxtaposition: Create unease and highlight themes

Sometimes, life gives us contradiction and juxtaposition: when two things that shouldn’t go together are placed next to each other, heightening the contrast. For example, I distinctly remember that 9/11 happened on an absolutely gorgeous fall day. Bright sun, blue skies—the type of day that makes you want to stay home from work. And yet at the same time, the world seemed dark and clouded with smoke and debris. That such evil could happen on a day of such beauty struck me then and strikes me now.

On a different note, in my area the first day of spring brought 6 inches of snow and a snow day for my child. Very atypical, therefore bringing a sense of disorientation and unease to many of us in the area. Sure, we all laughed about it and dealt with it, but many were screaming “No more!” and meaning it. We couldn’t take one more snowflake—and still had a couple more snowfalls to weather beyond that date.

I experienced another jarring juxtaposition this past Easter Sunday. On the day Christians celebrate Christ rising from the dead, I attended a funeral. And, yes, Christians believe God raises the dead to everlasting life in Heaven, but the fact remained that the family grieved for the loss of their loved one here on Earth. One could look at the resurrection of family ties between people who had not seen each other in decades as thematically appropriate, but a funeral on Easter is discordant nonetheless.

We can use this use of contradiction and juxtaposition to great effect in writing. The Harry Potter character Dolores Umbrage comes to mind. A sweet exterior hid the evil inside making her far more appalling than if she had been overtly evil. Contradictions and juxtapositions can foster a subtle sense of unease or highlight something you want your reader to understand.

So when you are trying to raise a certain emotion in your reader, see if you can use opposites to enhance the feeling. Instead of a storm while your character’s inner turmoil is reaching its peak, how about a calm sunny day?

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