Foreshadowing is when you plant clues early in a story to give readers some idea what’s coming up. They can’t be certain the clues mean something because everything brought up early isn’t foreshadowing a future event.
Foreshadowing can be as vaporous as mentioning knives a lot early in a story and then having someone killed by a knife at the end. In more definite foreshadowing, you may only mention one particular knife and it becomes the one used in a murder.
Foreshadowing can also be heavy. Your novel could open with a serial killer at work on a seemingly random victim. As the novel progresses, the victims come closer and closer to the protagonist.
Foreshadowing doesn’t require that the reader gets any kind of clear idea that it was put there for them to see what’s coming.
Types of Foreshadowing
Directly reveal characters plans for the future or an upcoming event. “We’re heading to the camp this weekend.”
Mention the theme of the story in the first few sentences. “Belinda desperately wanted to find a way to start her own business and get away from mean bosses.”
Show that seemingly insignificant objects or events are important through characters’ reactions to them. “Jerry saw the roulette wheel, stopped, looked at Ned, and quickly left the bar.”
Show changes in the weather or characters’ emotions to imply what’s coming. “As they drove into town, it began to snow and Leonard stopped talking in the middle of a story.”
There is also false foreshadowing. Chekhov said that if there is a gun early in a story it must be fired by the end. There are other reasons a gun may appear. It could be to make a character appear more dangerous, even to imply they could be the antagonist when they are not. False foreshadowing is used a lot in mysteries. This is called planting a red herring. You don’t want to make it too obvious who-done-it unless you are writing a police procedural where the reader knows from the start.
On the other hand, beware of using false foreshadowing that covers many pages. It’s not moving your story along unless you give it a secondary purpose. That second purpose can be explaining something to the reader that isn’t common knowledge or a mini-story that develops a character.
Foreshadowing carries the risk of being missed in the cuts too. For example, a minor character’s back story may be told because it feeds into important events later in the novel. If those later events are cut during revision, the foreshadowing becomes a red herring and may also need to be cut.
Foreshadowing isn’t just a nice extra to add to your story. Good foreshadowing prepares your readers for what’s to come and helps them accept the story’s progress.
I hope you’re enjoying these blog posts. They come from my continuing studies on writing and from working on a novel. I’ve cut and added chapters in my third revision. Now I’m down to the final draft and need to give it some time so that I don’t know the story so well and will see what’s missing. At the same time, the idea for my next novel is starting to look like a novel, in my head at least.
I’ll leave you with a bonus writing tip. Having trouble with something in your writing? Research it and write an article about the solution.
Article by Ivan Izo.