Foreshadowing — What It Is And How To Use It
Foreshadowing is a literary device used to hint at what’s to come without revealing the story. It shows the reader that your story is not a set of random events. Instead, they will see it as a series of circumstances in which the actions of your characters have consequences. It’s a subtle way to add a level of realism and foreboding to your story that the reader won’t notice until the big reveal, but when they do, they’ll thank you for it.
Think about the second time you read your favourite book. You already knew the outcome so the ending wasn’t a surprise. Except, you still discovered new elements to the story and it made you fall in love all over again. It made you aware of the subtle hints and connections you didn’t know to look for the first time around. These nuances are what makes a story memorable.
So, the real question is, how can I make my own story memorable?
How To Use Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing comes in two parts.
First comes ‘the plant’, in which you plant the idea of what’s to come into your reader’s mind. This can either be done with subtlety or by telling the reader outright that something bad is going to happen. The subtle route has the biggest payoff for the reader but it’s also slightly harder to achieve. You have to ensure your hints are subtle enough not to give away the story but memorable enough for the reader to realise what you’ve done when all is revealed.
Second is ‘the payoff’. This is where everything you’ve hinted at finally happens. When done right, this will be the moment of realisation for the reader. They will finally notice what you’ve done and wonder why they didn’t see it before. After all, the clues were right there.
The Tips And Tricks Of Foreshadowing
Don’t foreshadow everything just because you can. Take the big twist, the final struggle, or the untimely death and focus primarily on that. Sure, you can drop in small hints to other important events but if it won’t add to the readers moment of realisation, don’t do it.
Subtlety is key
You could tell the reader “Little did he realise that the worst was yet to come” but where’s the fun in that? The more subtle you are, the greater the joy your reader will have when they finally realise what’s going on. Your clues shouldn’t be noticeable on the first read through until the big reveal. They should, however, be obvious on the second read.
Every part of your story should be relevant. If it’s not, why add it in? Think about it this way, if you describe the protagonist’s bedroom in the first scene and tell the reader that there’s a gun mounted on the wall but never mention it again because your story has nothing to do with guns, what’s the point? Mentioning the gun will make the reader think it has some relevance to the story. You’ve given them a false promise by including it in your description. So with that in mind, if you bring a metaphorical gun to the party, give the reader the payoff they deserve by firing it.
Outline it in
So, you’ve got your outline and you’ve started writing but when do you foreshadow? Do you include it in this part? Or maybe that part? Or would it be better to leave it until the second draft? The correct answer is none of the above. Ideally, once you’ve got an outline, you should go back over it and plan how and when you intend to foreshadow.
Start at the beginning
The opening scene should be the part where you begin to lay the groundwork for what’s to come, so make sure you drop a big juicy hint right from the get-go. The earlier you start foreshadowing, the more cohesive your story will appear.
Revision is important
Stories evolve when you write them. That means the foreshadowing you’ve done throughout may not fit by the time you reach the finale. So, when you’re going over your first draft, fixing the plot holes and checking your grammar, be sure to check the foreshadowed events fit the tone of the hints you’ve been dropping. If not, you’ll either have to begrudgingly change the event, or more than likely, adjust your hints to fit the new and improved reveal.
Some of our other articles
If you’re looking to add more depth to your story, check out this article.
If it’s an increase in tension your after, then check out this article.
Or perhaps you’re just looking for some writing prompts, in which case, click here.
Originally published at www.cult-fiction.net on August 8, 2018.