ABC’s of Writing: J for Juxtaposition

Posted by on Sep 25, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

photo(22)Juxtaposition is a tool of both contrast and comparison. The definition of the term is to place two elements side by side, often meaning things that wouldn’t typically be paired together. When a writer places unexpected descriptors side by side, it adds depth to the imagery. Juxtaposition adds a unique slant to your voice; each person draws parallels and contradictions in their own way. When and how can you use juxtaposition?

Character

Adding juxtaposing traits to your characters makes them more believable and dynamic. When creating character, you always want to avoid clichés and stereotypes, and this writing tool can be used to break the mold. Let’s look at some common stock characters: the villain, the superhero, the sidekick. The villain is evil, yes. He often has some kind of vendetta, some master plan to destroy the world. But what is underneath the surface? What can you tell us about him that made him the way he is? What is his vulnerability? The superhero is ever-noble and self-less. Does anything ever give him pause before he saves someone? Does he ever want to give up and why? The sidekick is loyal and dependable. But does he ever want more? Does he ever want to take over? The story becomes more complex when the lines are blurred and the reader is allowed to feel empathy for conflicting characters.

Setting

Juxtaposition can add tension to the setting. The writer can present a place that they reader is familiar with – a surburbia, a crowded city neighborhood – and manipulate to create a vibrant space. What is off or eerie about the surroundings? What is surprising? What can this difference tell the reader about what is happening in the narrative? The juxtaposition, or what makes this place different, can clue the reader into why the setting is important. You can also drop a character into a setting that they typically wouldn’t belong in, and let them fight to exist in their divergent world.

Imagery

One of the easiest ways to add juxtaposition is to create simple, contrasting images that catch the reader off guard or give insight to how a character is feeling. In my novella, one of my characters goes on a first date. I wanted to explore the feelings of anxiety and adrenaline that body puts us through in a moment like that in an unexpected way. It is the first day of fall, and the young girl wears her brand new coat to stay warm in windy weather. However, her hands hold all her nerves: My hands sweated in the lined pockets as I walked to Johnny B’s, so I shook them out in the cold to dry them. It was some kind of body miracle that my fingertips stayed frozen while my palms felt the electric red of stovetop coils. Use juxtaposition to keep your imagery fresh and engaging.

Don’t ever let your reader get comfortable. Used deliberately, juxtaposition can challenge the reader in the right way. Highlight the contrasts in these parts of your narrative and allow it to lead to deeper connections that make the story resonate.


Jamie Moore received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles and is an English teacher at a community college in Central California. She is the author of Our Small Faces (ELJ Publications, 2013), a book coach through Antioch’s Inspiration to Publication program, and a big sister to six younger siblings.

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