“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
In this famous opening line to Dickens’s classic, we find that he used a literary device called juxtaposition. For example: best of time/worst of times, wisdom/foolishness, belief/incredulity, etc.
Juxtaposition uses opposites, or near opposites, to create special effects and evoke emotions in readers. We find this technique not just in writing, but in other art forms as well. In writing, this technique can be used in both fiction and nonfiction, and poets use it a lot too.
How to Use Juxtaposition in Literature
Use it in sentences, such as Dickens used in the above example.
Use it with characters. For example, let one character be a constant worrier during a time of crisis and juxtapose him with a character who’s calm during this same crisis. In Mark Twain’s classic, The Prince and the Pauper, two lifestyles are contrasted—poor Tom Canty’s and wealthy Prince Edward’s. When we make our characters unique, it makes it easier to juxtapose them in different settings and situations.
Use it in settings. For maximum effect, don’t make the setting predictable. If Tom is in love with Carol and plans to propose to her, put them in an unpredictable place where he does this. Perhaps they’re attending a professional boxing match, and he proposes to Carol there. Fighting contrasted with romance. The boxing could be a metaphor, or foreshadowing, of future conflict in their marriage.
Using juxtapositions must be intentional, so they require some thought, but if used well, they’ll enhance your writing.