Sin#5: Crap at foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is one of my favourite literary devices, which means it really pisses me off when people get it wrong. For those who don’t know, foreshadowing is the technique of hinting at events yet to unfold in order to make the story more enjoyable.
You will have seen many examples of foreshadowing even if you weren’t aware of it at the time. This technique is often used in movies as well.
Foreshadowing can not only make an ending (or event) seem more believable but can also heighten the tension of such an event occurring.
For instance indicating that a character has a bad heart will make the fact they pop their clogs at the worst possible moment in the storyline a lot more believable than just discovering the fatal heart condition seconds before they shuffle off this mortal coil.
Foreshadowing comes in various flavours and can include physical and intangible objects which appear throughout your story. These will help to plant a seed in your reader’s mind which will not fully bloom into realisation until the moment you want it too.
One of my favourite object placements is in ‘The Fifth Element’ (sorry for the film example, rather than a book reference) where the MC goes to light up a cigarette near the beginning of the film, he opens his matchbox to find only three matches left. He uses one to light the cigarette in his mouth but it doesn’t light…should he use a second…nah. Later on the film he uses a second match to light another cigarette…now at the end of the film, the pivotal moment where the world may actually end, he realises he needs fire to save the earth…and he has one match left…phew! But only if he’s careful with it! “Don’t breathe!”
Technically this is more of a Chekov’s gun, whereby an element is introduced early in the story, but its significance does not become clear until later in the narrative – but this is still a form of foreshadowing.
The most important factor when using foreshadowing is not to give too much away, you want to hint at things to come but leave things shrouded in enough mystery that the reader will want to read on.
However, saying this there are times when coming right out and saying what will happen at the end of the novel can be used successfully. Starting the story with “If only I hadn’t bloody started that pesky new job, I’d still have both my arms” gives away a major event that will occur in the story BUT the reader will be desperate to know HOW this happens.