F is for foreshadowing

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.


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    • Fiona Faith Maddock on April 7, 2011 at 09:35
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    It's a very difficult technique to use well. I love the cartoon.

    • Cheryl on April 7, 2011 at 09:36
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    Very educational Steve; and yes I see how foreshadowing is important in a novel. I try to do this in my work but never knew there was an actual term for it, so thank you! My novel starts with the line; "I left in May. No one saw me go, except, perhaps, my Mother." I think that kind of relates to your last paragraph.

    • Steven Chapman on April 7, 2011 at 09:45
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    Thanks guys, I do enjoy finding the pictures 😛 It's the least stressful part of compiling the posts 😀

    Have a quick research session, Cheryl you can go nuts with foreshadowing and there are sooo many different techniques. Dean Koontz is a legend at telling the readers what will happen to a character but still shocking them when it does!

    • Misha on April 7, 2011 at 14:30
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    lol love the cartoon. ^_^

    I also love foreshadowing if it's done well. Not so much when it gives away what happens early.

    Unfortunately, I'm gifted at figuring out what is being foreshadowed.

    • KarenG on April 7, 2011 at 14:40
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    I"m with you, I love foreshadowing as a literary device, esp when I write it in and don't even realize it til later!

    • Freya Morris on April 7, 2011 at 16:45
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    Hehe, that is a good picture.

    I didn't know either that this was the term for hinting at events. I do this especially in my book, as there is a twist at the end.

    I like to think that readers may read it again, and therefore will read and see much more than the first time. Something that I enjoy doing when I re-read a book with a twist. Or film – like the sixth sense.

    • baygirl32 on April 8, 2011 at 02:01
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    love the cartoon, and foreshadowing (when its done correctly)

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