Writers often include a little warning or indication of future events within the story, so when they happen it doesn’t seem so out of the blue. These little tidbits are called foreshadowing.
What is foreshadowing and why is it important?
Foreshadowing is a literary device used to hint at future events in a stories. Foreshadowing can help create atmosphere and cohesion between different parts of the story, and give the reader expectations… Expectations you, the writer, are expected to deliver upon.
While foreshadowing is generally used to build anticipation by giving hints as to what might happen next, it also helps readers understand things that come later without the writer having to rely on force-feeding information via exposition.
In most fiction, foreshadowing is a necessary component to exceptional storytelling. But, like many parts of the writing process, well-crafted foreshadowing only comes after practice. It’s not something you’re likely to fully understand during your first attempts.
Different types of foreshadowing
Direct foreshadowing occurs when your promise is straight hinted at. It tantalizes your readers with information, making them hungry for more. Direct foreshadowing, like the prophecy or prologue, are more directly exposed to the reader.
Indirect foreshadowing is more like a subtle nod at promises later in the story. They’re more like Easter eggs, where they only dawn on the reader after the promise has already been fulfilled. Indirect forms of foreshadowing, like the innocuous statement or the symbol, are more subtle forms that arouse questions for the readers.
Learn how to foreshadow with this 2-step guide
Foreshadow themes that will be important later in the story by making promises
With the exception of info dumps, any and all information you can weave into the narrative of your story helps your reader stay engaged. You can either give the reader direct information about what’s to come or something more subtle, like placing clues to future themes within the story.
If your big reveal, promise or plot twist includes a specific person or object, offer something that hints toward that specific character being important later on in the story. Even if the protagonist is unaware of the character’s involvement, you can introduce the character and offer an innocuous statement or hint that gets the protagonist—and reader—guessing.
Deliver on what you’ve foreshadowed earlier in your book
The latter step isn’t simply about delivering the information promised earlier in the story; it’s about delivering something that’s earned. Make sure your protagonist earns their twist.
If you introduce something into the story early-on, make sure it’s used at some point. If it didn’t need to be there, why mention it at all? This principle is known as Chekhov’s Gun, which states that every element in a story should be necessary, otherwise it’s irrelevant and shouldn’t be there at all.
With this in mind, every bit of foreshadowing needs this second part: the pay off or the deliverance. Without delivering on the promise you suggested earlier in the story, your reader may feel cheated or confused about what details are significant or irrelevant.
Remember: The bigger the delivery or plot twist, the more you’ll want to foreshadow.
There are so many things that can come out of foreshadowing that isn’t just internal questions and dialogue between characters. Great foreshadowing makes an impact on the plot and how your characters react to different things.
Foreshadowing influences your story beyond just adding a few words. It’s a deliberate piece of writing that writers can utilize to create dimension within their story. By using the promise and delivery method, you can ensure you’re consciously implementing foreshadowing into your story without including irrelevant tidbits of information.