Hello gentle reader,
Today I’d like to discuss a writing device that is both well-known and troublesome to use: foreshadowing.
What is foreshadowing?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is “a warning or indication of a future event”. In literature, it is a way to “prepare readers for what will happen later in the story” (K.M. Weiland) by planting a clue (an image, an idea, a character, an event) that will only turn out to be important or make sense later in the narrative.
Why should a writer use foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing gives depth to a story and helps make it plausible. When every part of your narrative falls into place at the end (as they should), the reader should have a “ha!” moment when he thinks: “I should have seen this coming!” And because he didn’t, he will marvel at your writing, and possibly re-read the book to find all the clues he missed the first time.
How to use foreshadowing?
This is the hard part. If your clues are too blatant, the reader will quickly put two and two together and all suspense will be ruined. If the clues are too subtle, the reader won’t even remember them when he reaches the end. So the key here is to find the right balance. As for anything else when it comes to writing a good story, critique partners and beta readers will help you in finding this balance. They’ll be able to tell you: “this was too obvious”, or “what do you mean, you left clues?!”
Any great examples of foreshadowing?
In literature, my favourite example of well-done foreshadowing is The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. But because only a few of you have read it, I’ll take my examples from Buffy instead. Joss Whedon is a MASTER at foreshadowing, and here is the proof…
Willow’s story arc: In season 3, Willow meets her vampire doppelgänger and says “I’m so evil and skanky. And I think I’m kinda gay.” In season 4 she will become openly gay and in season 6 she will turn evil and try to destroy the world.
Dawn’s arrival: from the beginning of season 4, there are clues in the dialogues to Dawn’s arrival in season 5.
Buffy’s death at the end of season 5 is predicted by Faith at the end of season 3 (two years in advance!) when she says: “Oh yeah. Miles to go. Little Miss Muffet counting down from seven three oh.” When she says this, Buffy will die in 730 days.
Do you use foreshadowing in your stories? How difficult are you finding it? Feel free to leave me a comment below!
And happy writing…