Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Three Thoughts about Foreshadowing

Three Thoughts about Foreshadowing
Brad R. Cook

Foreshadowing… what could be coming in this article… we’ll have to find out.

Foreshadowing is defined as a warning or indication of a future event. A dramatic device used to inform the reader that an important plot-point will return later in the story, in a significant way.

In television it will be accompanied by rousing music like… dun, dun, duun

Foreshadowing is a wonderful way of teasing the reader. Arousing a sense of wonder, and making the reader ask questions, or develop their own theories of what is coming. Foreshadowing comes in two important parts, one scene or line that teases the future, and a scene or line later with the promised payoff. A false buildup can anger the reader, leaving them longing for a scene that will never come.  

Usually, foreshadowing will happen in the first act of a book, but it can happen in the second act, or even the beginning of a chapter. The important point is to leave the hints before the significant scene. On a personal note, I love when writers elude to something early on in a book and that gets paid off much later in the story, it builds a sense of having come full circle in the story.

Three thoughts about Foreshadowing:

1 – Elude to the Future:
The best foreshadowing drops hints as to what the important plot-point will be. Truly great writers will drop enough hints that the reader can’t figure out what is coming, but once the plot-point has happened the reader will remember the foreshadowing and all will become clear. A foreshadowing scene or line can come any time before the significant plot-point. From the beginning of the book all the way to right before the reveal.

2 – Don’t Give Too Many Details:
Tease the future to your audience. With too many details, the reader might figure out the plot-point before it arrives. Yes, most will continue reading to see if they are correct, but if the reader can figure out what is coming, if they figure out the big reveal before the writer unveils the scene, disappointment can ensue or worse, they could stop reading. A single line might be all it takes to foreshadow what is coming, maybe even something as simple as the weather. Keep the foreshadowing simple and the reader will appreciate not giving it away.

3 – Foreshadow the Big Moments:
Foreshadowing is a device that is best used sparingly. Overuse would be a tad ridiculous. Imagine a book where every little detail is foreshadowed. The writer would spend as much time eluding to what was coming, as they would be revealing the plot. Select the moments that create the most impact, like the climax, or a significant plot-point, but there is no need to foreshadow every event. You can even foreshadow the twist of the book. The important thing to remember is to not elude to every event in the book. Foreshadowing gives the important moments even more emphasis.

One of my favorite moments of foreshadowing came in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke sees his face in Vader’s mask on Dagobah and later finds out Vader is his father. Though as Anna Kendrick points out in Pitch Perfect, Vader means father.

What are you favorite foreshadowed moments in books or movies? Let us know in the comments.

Brad R. Cook, author of the YA steampunk series, The Iron Chronicles. Iron Horsemen - and Iron Zulu -  A member of SCBWI, he currently serves as Historian of St. Louis Writers Guild after three and half years as its President. Learn more at, on Twitter @bradrcook, or on his blog Thoughts from Midnight on tumblr

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