Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writer's Wednesday: Juxtaposition

I keep hearing this interview snippet on Sirius radio from the lead singer of Maroon Five.  He's talking about their new song, Misery, and how he loves the juxtaposition between the upbeat tempo and depressing lyrics.  If you haven't heard the song, you can check it out below...

As writers, we don't have the luxury of juxtaposing words with music. And we certainly don't have the luxury of powerful images -- like the ancient buildings against the modern high rise.  Our only medium is words.  How we create tension and conflict in our novels is in large part dependent on how we juxtapose ideas.  Take these examples from Shakespeare:
  • youth and old age;
  • servants and nobles;
  • love-sick Romeo and fiery Tybalt;
  • the noisy public feast and the private whispers of the lovers;
  • Romeo's infatuation and Juliet's wit;
  • the old nurse and young Juliet; and so on.
It's these opposing ideas or forces that give our stories a sense of balance.  Think about the action movie where every scene is intense and loud and the action is non-stop. No one scene is any more important than the others, and by the end, you're pretty much worn out.  As authors, we don't want to do that to our readers.

By juxtaposing ideas in unique ways, we can emphasize things that we want to highlight, give our readers rest, or simply add layers of detail.  Commonly juxtaposed ideas we see in YA literature include everything from the grand scale down to little details:  angel and demon; light and darkness; pretty and ugly; what characters do and what they say.  Just remember, by showing two dissimilar objects or characteristics next to each other, you'll inherently highlight the differences.

P.S. Some definitions of juxtaposition include: placing two ideas, words or images side by side so that their closeness creates an original, ironic or insightful meaning; side by side placement of sentences or ideas to bring about a desired effect.

What's your favorite juxtaposition in literature?

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