How to (and not to) Write Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing. It’s something we’ve all wondered how to pull off at some point.

It also is something that doesn’t seem to be written about very much.

So, I decided to write up a post on it. (the obvious choice)

When it comes to foreshadowing, the first thing we must tackle is: what is foreshadowing?

If you are a new writer, you may not know what it is. Foreshadowing is when you plant hints in your story for what is to come. That way, when you spring a plot twist, it won’t feel like some random idea you came up with to the reader. Instead, they’ll be able to see the trail you left for them to follow in an instant, and they’ll know that it was planned.

The tricky part about foreshadowing is doing this in a way that doesn’t instantly reveal what is coming. However, even if you can’t hide it, it’s still preferable to have some foreshadowing than none at all, because:

  1. The reader won’t think that your writing is dumb
  2. It makes the reader feel smart (meaning they’ll like your book more πŸ˜)

Just to be perfectly clear, you don’t want it to be too obvious. Then it’ll still seem dumb.

Source

That’s pretty confusing, I know. Foreshadowing is in general. It’s a fine line to walk, and as writers, it’s pretty much our job to toe that line.

Bad Foreshadowing

Just Because the Reader Doesn’t See It Coming Doesn’t Make It Good.

Back when I first started writing, I would sometimes talk with my older sister, Cecilia, about my writing. (thanks for putting up with my weirdness, Cecilia) (actually, you still are) Something that I lived by and tried to get her to understand as well was not planning a plot twist.

Weird, right?

By my understanding at the time, if I didn’t see it coming, then the readers wouldn’t either, meaning that I’d pull off an effective plot twist.

Ah, no.

As I said above, you do not want this to feel like something you randomly thought up, which is exactly what I was doing. Don’t listen to younger me. *shoos away my past self and her horrible advice*

An effective plot twist is one that makes you reel back in your chair and instantly see the dots connect and the stars align. Why? Because the author foreshadowed this. You just didn’t see how they foreshadowed it until now. That is what we want in a plot twist. If a writer can pull a plot twist that I don’t see coming, yet can see the hints of when I look back, I am impressed. Mostly because I now analyze everything in stories and can usually call out plot twists the instant they’re foreshadowed. I am, however, an exception to the case. Most writers don’t do this, and definitely not most readers. Chances are that you’ll be able to pull the wool over their eyes until you’re ready for them to see the light.

My metaphors just keep getting weirder and weirder in this post. πŸ˜‚

Don’t Foreshadow Every Little Thing

You’ve got to figure out what is important for you to foreshadow. If it’s something big to the story, you probably will need foreshadowing; but if it’s something unimportant to the plot, like what they’re going to eat for lunch, then you shouldn’t.

If your characters are in a fantasy and are going to come up with a plan on what to do next, you do not need to foreshadow that they’re going to come up with a plan. That just comes along with the story. You might end up foreshadowing a weakness that they’re going to exploit during this plan, but you don’t need to foreshadow the creating of the plan itself.

I’ve seen it on rare occurrences where authors foreshadow random tiny things that the reader/me would be just fine and dandy finding out as I go along. If the character starts randomly thinking of something they need to do, and it’s not that important, and they leave later to go do that, who cares? Again, it’s a rare thing for me to see, mostly because it’s so horrible. You probably aren’t doing this. But for future reference, don’t do it.

Good Foreshadowing

Give Necessary Information in Unsuspecting Places

Let’s go back to that example of characters creating a plan and you foreshadowing a weakness. This is a great example because it’s so hard to say, “Here’s this weakness of the place you need to invade,” without the reader instantly going, “Well now I know what they’re going to do, so I don’t need to finish this book.”

That is not what we want to happen.

The way to go about this is to give it in a roundabout way. When the character is busy with something else, maybe in the middle of action, throw it in. Action distracts the reader. The one thing you must do to make this effective is to make sure it’s relevant and flows with the dialogue or description. If it’s some random, out of the blue thing, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb and the reader will still instantly know what’s going to happen, or at least that it’s important to the story somehow.

Personally, when I read books, I get suspicious of deep description that isn’t 100% necessary. Like a random thing is being described? Suspicious. Maybe it’ll be important later. 9/10 times I right. Or maybe 8/10; I can be an over-suspicious reader. πŸ˜‚ But anyway, that’s where the problem of describing too much comes in. Make sure you have the characterΒ doing something while you’re foreshadowing. Motion creates a sense of the story moving, and the story moving makes the reader more likely to just take in your foreshadowing without noticing its importance. (if you want to know more about motion, I wrote an entire post about it here!)

Give Necessary Information Before It’s Necessary

This one makes it a bit easier on yourself. You still have to deliver the information in a way that won’t instantly stand out and tell the reader that it’ll be important later on, but once you’ve done that, things can get very fun.

When the character needs this information that you gave them earlier in the book, the reader may or may not remember it. But if they do, they’re going to sit up straight and yell, “That thing that was said earlier in the book! Use it!” I know I’ve done it before.

It’s okay that the reader realizes it before the character even uses this information. That can make it even better, honestly, because then the reader knows something the character doesn’t and is imperative to the plot. This can also amp up the tension as the reader waits on the edge of their seat; will the character remember in time?


This post honestly just scratches the surface. I could probably write a whole lot more, but we’re already over a thousand words. Maybe a post for another time? πŸ˜‰

Don’t forget to save this post for later!

Plant seeds in your story that will grow into something your character needs later. (I’m still using those metaphors, I see) It’s a blast for the readers. And don’t worry if you think you can’t do it; you’ve got this! πŸ˜ƒ


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

5 Ways to Get Rid of a Writing Slump

Things I’ve Learned from NaNoWriMo: Save

How to Avoid Info Dumping


If you want more awesome writing tips, make sure to subscribe! You’ll get a free 7-day course on how to defeat writer’s block butt, emails with exclusive insider info, and the monthly password to my Resources page! πŸ˜ƒ Can’t wait to see you on the inside!

Have you ever read some really well done foreshadowing before?

Are you going to be using foreshadowing in your story?

Do you want another post on foreshadowing?

-Julia

Photo by allison griffith on Unsplash

9 thoughts on “How to (and not to) Write Foreshadowing

  1. So currently I am stalking all of your posts to get knowledge up before actually writing my book. I always start books and never finish them, but I know now what i’m doing wrong. I just started writing without any outline, I just knew what I wanted to write about. Like, a royal spy. But I had no idea what the spy was doing, so I trashed it.
    Right now I’m writing an outline and it’s going okay, but I can tell it’ll be a decently long book. I think another one of my issues is that I came up with a title FIRST, when it should’ve been LAST.
    Any advice?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you find lots of good information, then. πŸ˜ƒ I know the feeling; I used to have lots of trouble writing stories and finishing them as well. For quite a while, I was a hardcore pantser. Outlining certainly helps, though. πŸ˜† Cool idea! Mmm yeah I’ve done the same before.

      Sometimes you just know the title to a story, which is really cool – and helpful. I’m not the best at coming up with titles. πŸ˜† I don’t think that knowing your title will affect your story too much, as long as you’re not attached to it. That way, you won’t let your book be dictated by what you decided the title to be. Question: how long do you want the book to be? Do you view it as a good or bad thing that the book will be decently long? Just to clarify πŸ™‚

      Decide who your character is. Then, give them something that they want. It should be a personal goal, not something very general that could apply to anyone. Then, put obstacles in their way of getting that thing. That will naturally generate internal and external conflict. Every choice the character makes should be influenced by what they want. How can they get that thing? During the story, the character should also make some bad choices, because they want that thing, instead of doing what might be right. I wrote a whole post on this, actually, and just posted it today. πŸ˜ƒ Here’s a link: https://juliascreativecorner.home.blog/2020/07/13/character-motive/

      Another thing I would say is to know how your book is going to end. Every scene in your book can then be tailored to that end. As long as each scene moves the story forward toward that ending, then your story will always be moving forward. It will likely meander less as well, and every scene will matter. A big problem I used to have was that I was making things up as I went; I never knew how the story was supposed to END. πŸ˜‚

      I would say as well to gather all the inspiration you’ve had for that book into one place. Write things down in a notebook, start a board for inspiration on Pinterest. These things will inspire you. Likely, you might have one or two scenes in your mind that you can see playing out. Make sure those are in your story. Brainstorm more things that you would like to happen before you work on making a plot line. When you work on the plot line, figure out where they land. That way, as you write your story, you’ll enjoy what you’re writing because you WANT to write those scenes. (this is something I’ll probably write a post on at some point; I’ve been working on making a new writing process for myself, and this is a big point in it, as I was constantly miserable while writing my stories. This way, I find the joy in it again πŸ™‚ )

      Those are just a few things I would say to start with. Writing a story can be difficult, but it’s great that you’re trying to figure out how. πŸ˜ƒ That alone makes you much better and dedicated than other writers. Good luck with your book! (also, if any of this didn’t make sense, just tell me and I’ll try to explain better πŸ™‚ Also, I’m open to answer any other questions you might have, so feel free to ask away! πŸ˜ƒ)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s so much I would like to say, so I’ll just start somewhere.
        My character’s motive is to free her name, because she was accused of something she didn’t do. She doesn’t like this, so she tries to set things straight. It was hard to find a motive, mostly because I really didn’t know where I was going with the story.
        As with scences, YES. I’ve started like, five stories with no plot, no ending, and no motive. Just stiff scenes. And I had no character to my characters. I already had the cover and name of the book though.
        I know a cute scene that I really want to do, but I still need the basis of where and how the scene started.
        Ahhh the obstacles for my character. I think I have that down, but it’s hard for me to do this, because I feel like I’ll just get bored with it. Like KotLC, where the lost EVERY battle. I hated that.
        I want my book to be long, because a short book is something that you’ll just be like, “Oh cool yeah that book was good.”
        But I don’t want my book to be just, ‘Good’. I want it to be, “Wow, that book was amazing! I’ll totally recommend to others!” I feel like long books will do that.
        Inspiration for me is danger, adventure, mystery, and suspense. I find inspiration in nature.
        Thank you so much Julia! I sure do hope I can stay dedicated long enough.
        Question: What do you do to make a scene feel scary and dramatic, and not just like,
        “Oh no theres a bear chasing me, run.” Because I feel like that’s what I struggle with the most.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s a pretty good motive. πŸ˜ƒ Definitely getting the royal-spy-vibes from it. Nicely done.
          I’ve done the same thing; at least we can tell now that it was the wrong way to do it, I guess? πŸ˜‚ (just me over here trying to convince myself… πŸ˜› )
          That’s a great place to start. Brainstorm ideas revolving around that scene; what will lead up to it? After it? How does it come about? Why does it happen? Everything has cause and effect, so what caused the effect of this scene?
          Obstacles don’t have to be big fight scenes; they just have to be something that gets in the way of the character and causes conflict during the story. The main character will probably have to change their plans because of it.
          Yeah! I totally get what you mean.
          Nice. πŸ˜ƒ
          Glad to help! I’m sure you can do it πŸ˜ƒ
          It’s all in the words you use to describe things. The laboured breathing of the main character, the thumping of their heart in their chest, the pounding of their feet on the ground as they run. Utilize every descriptive word; use dramatic ones – like laboured, thumping, and pounding. They convey a sense of movement and action, of panic and terror. Don’t go halfway when you’re describing things in a dramatic and scary scene. Another tip: pacing. Keep your sentences shorter if things are moving faster. Sentence length is kind of the book equivalent to a movie camera. The longer the sentence is, the more it will verge into that area of slow-motion. Faster sentences are very quick and fast paced, kind of giving it a staccato rhythm. (I hope that made sense πŸ˜› )

          Liked by 1 person

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