Foreshadowing: The Art of Being A Ninja

Have you ever just had your jaw drop while reading a book when a plot twist was thrown at you? And then, as you continued to try and process it, things just clicked in your mind as you realize that the author actually had been leading up to this the whole time without you knowing?

That’s something glorious called foreshadowing.

It’s even better when you reread the book and can see the foreshadowing that you missed before hidden between the pages.

Have you ever wished that you could do that too?

Well, today I’m sitting down to help crack the code of good foreshadowing.

Before we really get going on the subject, make sure to check out this post here where I cover the basics of foreshadowing. I talk about good and bad foreshadowing in it, so make sure you know how to (and not to) foreshadow in general before we get into the nitty-gritty of this stuff. 😊

Examples of Foreshadowing

Without spoiling anything, I’m going to list off some esamples that had some really good foreshadowing in them. If you have read them before, keep them in mind during the rest of the post to see good examples of what I’m talking about. I include some specific examples from some of them, but try and see if you can spot what I’m talking about in the ones I don’t talk about. 😉

  • Harry Potter. (the entire series, from beginning to end)
  • 5 Kingdoms (the entire series)
  • Fawkes (stadalone)
  • Keeper of the Lost Cities (entire series)
  • Dark Knight Rises (the entire trilogy) Fun fact, this was what inspired me to write this post. (A movie, not a book. Scandalous, I know.)
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The Golden Rule of Foreshadowing

I was serious when I said in the title that foreshowing is the art of being a ninja. You have to be very sneaky if you want to pull it off.

If you’ve read many adventure books or seen movies, then you probably know of one of the number one ways for characters to sneak into places:

Holding a distraction.

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The worst kind of foreshadowing is when it blatantly stands out, making it easy for you to guess what happens next. To make sure it doesn’t stand out, you have to sneakily put it in while the reader is distracted. It’s there, but it blends in.

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Harry Potter and Dark Knight Rises are both superb examples of this. I swoon every time I so much as think about the way the Harry Potter series manages to foreshadow things even from the first book. These books contain some foreshadowing at its finest.

But, moving on to Batman, I was completely blown away by the third and final movie in this trilogy. My sisters and I sat on the couch, screeching our heads off (or, at least, I was) at how things were playing out. Afterwards, I talked with Mary probably way later than we should have instead of going to bed about the movie from a writer’s perspective. I was completely flabbergasted, and that was when I decided to write this post.

Hence the golden rule of foreshadowing.

Ways to Distract A Reader

Note: By distract, I mean that the information that the characters need – the foreshadowed information – is in there, but it isn’t the focus of the scene. If it’s the focus, as soon as the information is necessary for the character to figure something out, it will be extremely obvious to the reader, rather than being a cool plot twist that you set up real nicely.

During An Important Conversation

If the character is in the middle of having a conversation that is focused on something, then you can easily sneak something into it. As long as it’s on topic and not the most crucial information of the conversation, it won’t stand out.

For example, (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR 5 KINGDOMS) in book 3 of 5 Kingdoms, we learn about Hunter. However, if you go back over books 2 and 3, you find mentions of “an older friend” or “another guy” dropped into conversations casually. He is not at all the focus of the conversation itself, but is on topic, making it blend it easily. (SPOILERS END)

Make it The Most Important Thing Happening

The important thing to note about that statement is that it’s the most important thing happening. If you make it the most important thing in a conversation, then it’ll be blatantly obvious. However, if it’s an occurrence during the story, it could come to the reader’s mind – but make them feel smart. The character has yet to think of it, and they’ve figured it out! Or, if the reader never figures it out, they will still get that epic feeling of watching everything click into place in their mind.

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An example of this is (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE WHOLE HARRY POTTER SERIES) (also, how weird is it that the series is so famous that my computer is actually trying to autocorrect the name Harry Potter into being not all caps? 😂) is how Harry accidentally catches the golden snitch in his first Quidditch game in his mouth. It’s really important in that scene. But, come the last book in the series, and Harry is trying to figure out how to open it, and it won’t at his touch. It isn’t for quite a while until he remembers to put it in his mouth. It makes utter sense once you see it, but you don’t even suspect a thing for quite a while. (SPOILERS END)

Have it Appear to be A Random Occurrence

If the characters just happen to see something occur and don’t suspect that it means anything, then it won’t mean anything to the reader. It will fade into their memory – until the moment you reveal that it was actually important.

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For example, (SPOILERS FOR BOOK 6 OF HARRY POTTER) when Draco was in the Room of Requirement, he had his friends stand guard, disguised as a small girl using Pollyjuice potion. When Harry and his friends come along, his friend gave the warning – but to the trio, it appears that it’s just a small girl who was startled and dropped an item. Later, when the fact is brought back up, the reader can remember the occurrence. (SPOILERS END)

Be A Little Vague about the Exact Details

Now this one is pretty fun. If you imply something but don’t outright state it to be so, the reader will just take you at your word and come to the conclusion that was implied. In reality, you’ve pulled the wool over their eyes. When the reveal comes, they’ll be left reeling for the realization that they were tricked.

Readers getting hit by the reveal

The perfect example of this is (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR DARK KNIGHT RISES) is the child who escapes from The Pit. This was something that I was left gushing about after watching the movie. During the movie, this was a pretty big occurrence that viewers were told about multiple times. However, it’s always implied that it was a younger Bane who escaped. The actor for the child has short hair and generic clothing, fitting for a young boy in a prison. But when it’s revealed that it was actually Talia who climbed out, the actor also makes sense for a small girl as well. Another thing that I admired, personally, when they start to reveal this, is that it was done in small chunks. They kept referring to a friend who helped her out, and there were enough suspects to keep my mind busy – and off of the real answer of Bane. It was presented in such a fast-paced fashion that they left me guessing, on the edge of my seat, and still in the dark until they actually gave the answer. *slow applause* (SPOILERS END)

Have the Characters Dismiss it out of Hand

Another way to trick readers is to have the characters dismiss information as irrelevant or not important. The reader sees the story through the eyes of the character, so if they go through the thought process and come to the conclusion that it isn’t important, then readers will also assume the same. Bonus points if you hide it toward the beginning of the book and then bring it back at the end as an important piece of the puzzle that was literally under their noses the whole time.

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It can be really hard to hide things in stories. Readers are very alert, especially if they happen to also be writers. I know that, personally, I’ve learned to spot out foreshadowing from a mile away. By this point, I take everything that happens in a book with a critical eye.

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Don’t forget to save this post for later!

Foreshadowing can be crazy hard to pull off correctly. But once you know how (which you do, after reading this post 😜) it can become a lot easier. (Also, a final tip: plan where you want to plant your foreshadowing! Outlining your story is really handy, as you can just take note of where you’re going to drop in a hint or two during a scene. 😉)


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:

For Every Question, there’s an Answer (And Another Question) {How to Keep Readers Interested}

How to Avoid Info Dumping

How to Keep Your Novel Interesting With Dialogue: Foreshadowing


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Do you like to foreshadow?

What’s the best foreshadowing you’ve ever seen done?

Also, can I just ask, did you like all those GIFs I put in? 😆

-Julia

Photo by Unsplash on Unsplash

6 thoughts on “Foreshadowing: The Art of Being A Ninja

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