Question 6: Foreshadowing

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Flaming_Rose_Bud  asks: "Foreshadowing... it can't be super easy to hint at something enough that readers pick up on it, but not SO much that its painfully obvious. Any tips?"

Some of the things we talked about in a previous chapter, Plot Twists, will resurface here. Because there's some foreshadowing involved when trying to create a plot twist.

At its most basic level, foreshadowing hints at events to come. It causes the reader to anticipate something, therefore building tension. There are two parts to it: evidence and execution.


Much like when you're trying to frame someone for murder (not that I have any personal experience in this, haha!), you need to plant evidence in a believable manner. However, unlike framing someone for murder, you need to make the evidence subtle rather than obvious. If someone is planning on robbing a bank, you don't want him sitting there reading a book called Bank-Robbing for Dummies. You want the main character to notice a crowbar sitting on the table, or a chunk of C4 explosives tucked under a newspaper. Little details that hint at things, but don't spell anything out.

Foreshadowing isn't necessarily clues to a mystery. It can be small phrases or images that hint at things to come. Here are a few examples:

- In the beginning of The Matrix movie, the computer tells him about going down a rabbit hole. This hints at nothing specific, but readers familiar with Alice in Wonderland will know that going down a rabbit hole led to an enormous adventure.

- In countless books and movies, a character saying, "What could possibly go wrong?" almost certainly means things are about to go south.

- In the very beginning of the movie, And Then There Were None (based on the book by Agatha Christie - I watch a lot of movies), the scene starts with a woman on a train and an image of a noose-shaped cord on the window shade. The viewer immediately thinks, "Ooh, she's in for a bad time."


When the big event finally comes, there's usually no need to reference the hints you dropped earlier. You don't have to make the main character say things like, "So that's why you had C4 in your house!" The reader will most likely piece together the puzzle once they know what the big picture is. There are some exceptions to this. If you are writing for children, like for example, the old Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, you may need to spell things out for the younger audience, who are still developing their powers of deduction.

Without foreshadowing, things seem to happen out of the blue. It's unexpected in a way that isn't pleasing, because it seems random. My early drafts tend to be this way, because I don't plan them out. Things seem to happen suddenly because that's how it appeared in my brain. I usually have to go back in later drafts add the foreshadowing in, so the events seem to build up rather than happen inexplicably. If you're a planner, you're in a better position to foreshadow events as you write. But all is not lost if you're a pantser like me. You can always go back and add details as needed, once you know what your big event is.

HardeeBurger offered a couple other great examples that were too good not to share:

One thing I would add is Coincidence -- Foreshadowing makes an unlikely coincidence more believable. Like, our Hero will at some point in your novel meet his True Love at a coffee shop where she's a barista.

Yeah. Sure.

But if you make our Hero good friends with another barista, or if you slip in that he once was a barista himself (before becoming a millionaire!) or if you add a scene where he makes pumpkin lattes for his guests at a Halloween party...

Well then. How could he NOT find his True Love at Starbucks?

Amazing Luck is another feat made more believable by a bit of Foreshadowing. Do you want our Hero to survive a thirty foot drop off a cliff? Have a scene where he describes or performs some Acapulco Cliff Diving, or how he once medaled on the Swim Team.

Then, off you go! AHHHH!!! :-o

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