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:
- The reader won’t think that your writing is dumb
- It makes the reader feel smart (meaning they’ll like your book more 😝)
Just to be perfectly clear, you don’t want it to be too obvious. Then it’ll still seem dumb.
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.
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.
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.
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. 😂
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.
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. 😂 But anyway, that’s where the problem of describing too much comes in. Make sure you have the character 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? 😉
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! 😃
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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?