The Karmic Twist . . . Or Is It Ironic Twist?

Morticia Addams

In reality, I don’t entirely believe in karma. At the very least, I think it misses most of the time.  That’s not what this post is about, but it is a big reason why I have trouble putting it into stories.  How do I think it’s supposed to work?

I tend to put karma and irony in the same bucket.  Not only because I have a terrible grasp of each one.  It’s because I see both as having a character get their comeuppance in some fashion.  A character receives a reward or punishment, usually the latter, that is connected to their actions.  For example, the villain who is abusive to their pet cat and they end up getting eaten by a tiger.  I guess that’s irony, but it’s also supposed to be how karma has finally caught up to them.

People do seem to enjoy these twists.  Although, I find it hard to call these story events twists.  If something is a twist, I’d like to think it’s a surprise.  A lot of times karma is used, people can see it coming from a mile away.  This is because it tends to be used as the final punishment for a villain and combined with irony.  Audiences will start planning out how they would make a disliked character suffer from karma catching up to them, which tends to be giving them a taste of their own medicine.  So, they’ll be looking for the signs when they realize it’s reaching the conflict resolution stage.

You might think that not doing a karmic twist is the way to go.  It can, but then you’ll have people annoyed that the villains didn’t suffer the right way.  That or the villains get away, which has people saying that the story shows reality where the bad guys win without karma even sneezing in their direction.  It’s kind of funny how karma/irony is barely understood by most people, but so many expect it to be used in every story that they read or watch.

Thinking about it, I can’t remember if I ever used karmic twists in my stories.  I’m going to assume that it was a big thing for villains in Bedlam.  That series really did have the vibe of bad guys practically announcing how they were going to die.  The thing is that I don’t believe I would have planned it with karma in mind.  All I did was write my stories and noted when the villain would be defeated or die.  Same goes for any heroes who might have been struck by karma.  It was all spur of the moment decisions that my brain told me felt right.  Maybe that’s how these kind of story twists should go?  Let them be natural, organic, and a surprise to the author.

On the other hand, I can see how some preparation is needed.  For the irony version of karma to strike, you need to set it up.  That way, people know there’s some kind of cosmic influence over what they’re seeing.  Keep in mind that many karmic/ironic twists in action-focused stories will go the route of bizarre coincidence.  Without some early hint, the twist can be seen as random and closer to a Looney Tune episode.  If that’s not the tone you’re going for then it’s going to have a negative effect.  For example, take the villain mentioned earlier who abuses their cat and gets eaten by a lion.  If that fate is simply unleashed without warning then you get this:

(Yes, I know OJ Simpson is in it.  My love for Leslie Nielsen gets me through watching these movies again.  Comic gold.)

Anyway, karma really does need some kind of foundation.  Otherwise, it’s a random fate for a villain.  Closer to a shock event than a karmic one.  Both have their uses, but they aren’t interchangeable.

So, what do you think about karmic twists in fiction?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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8 Responses to The Karmic Twist . . . Or Is It Ironic Twist?

  1. L. Marie says:

    You mean like what happened to Dennis Nedry (played by Wayne Knight) in Jurassic Park? I’ve never used one, but the Batman Animated Series had many such moments. As you mentioned they need good setup.


  2. Love Leslie Nielson’s movies. I love twists but haven’t tried a karmic. I can see where set up would be important.


  3. The thing with karma is, it’s actually part of a religious belief system (Buddhist and Hindu). It probably shouldn’t be called karma outside of that framework. The other thing with karma is that it can encompass both positive and negative, where irony would strictly be negative. If you’re talking about someone getting some kind of payback for evil deeds, I think you’re right to say ironic most of the time.

    I recall a Chinese-based fantasy, back in the ’80s or ’90s, where the protagonists interacted with a heavenly accounting department that kept track of everyone’s karma. The were trying to help a ghost who had long ago made a heroic sacrifice and began accruing positive karma. Because it was a ghost who didn’t die, the karma built up for hundreds of years. The ghost was able to “spend” their karma and experience a miracle.


    • Karma actually has the non-religious and informal definition of being ‘fate following as effect from cause’. This makes sense considering how often karma has been used to explain comeuppance. We do seem to see it primarily as a bad thing though. Yet, I’ve heard people talk about karma too. Sounds like it’s just an evolution of language with the way it’s been used. People might understand it better than irony. I remember irony being taught in school and it was overly confusing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. In my mind, it works better in comedy or some light hearted situations. Not saying it can’t be used anywhere else. Setup would have to occur at some point.


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