THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
Foreshadowing is a literary device that can be used to create expectation with readers. It is a preparation tool. You let your reader know something is going to happen without giving the story away. You can create a sombre or ominous tone by foreshadowing.
As a writer, you can drop hints of what is going to happen. It is a great ‘show, don’t tell’ tool. Think of music in movies. It sets the scene and lets us know that something scary or good is going to happen.
Here are four examples that show how it has been used effectively in books:
- In White Oleander by Janet Fitch, Astrid describes her mother as a beautiful woman, but each description has an element of danger to it. She compares her mother’s beauty to ‘the edge of a very sharp knife’ and ‘her blonde hair, like a white flame’. She refers to the Oleanders with their ‘dagger green leaves’ and ‘delicate poisonous blooms’. Always combining beauty and danger as a metaphor for her mother, she foreshadows her mother’s actions.
- In The Fault in Our Stars, John Green tells us exactly what is going to happen to Gus: “Osteosarcoma sometimes takes a limb to check you out. Then, if it likes you, it takes the rest.” We, poor unsuspecting readers, think nothing of it at the time, but forward a few hundred pages and we learn how true that statement is. This happens on page 18 by the way.
- In the Dystopian YA novel, Way Down Dark by James P. Smythe, we learn about life aboard a spaceship. He uses the name of the ship to foreshadow the twist of the novel. The beauty is, even though he does this, we suspect nothing.
- In The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh starts the story by setting the protagonist’s bed on fire, which foreshadows the event that leads to the protagonist’s return to the foster care system.
7 Foreshadowing Tips That Work
- Only foreshadow the important stuff. When you have to choose what to foreshadow use a prompt like: I didn’t think it was such a big deal, as a brainstorming tool.
- Foreshadowing creates a sense of foreboding. It sets the tone and creates tension. It adds layers and depth to your story.
- Finding your theme will help you. Once you know what your theme is, you will know what to highlight.
- Use your three big surprises. Find ways to highlight them earlier in the story so that when the surprise is revealed it seems almost
obvious, without being obvious of course.
- It’s about the feelings. Do you want your reader to associate positive or negative emotions with a certain character or event? Once you know that you will be able to manipulate your word choice.
- Remember that this is second draft stuff. Chances are you will naturally do this as you write. When you rewrite you will go back and add or move the foreshadowing elements.
- Highlight examples of foreshadowing as you read novels. This is, as always, the best way to learn. Study poems and movies. Poets and filmmakers are masters at foreshadowing. Learn from them.
Good foreshadowing isn’t immediately obvious. It’s a delayed ah-ha moment. Think of the movie Sixth Sense. When you watch it the second time you can’t believe you missed it. It is that obvious, but that is why it is brilliant.
by Mia Botha
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