What is Foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing is a literary device writers use to hint at future events in their stories. Foreshadowing can help create atmosphere and cohesion between different parts of the story, and gives the reader expectations… Expectations you, the writer, are expected to deliver upon.
It’s generally used to increase anticipation by giving hints as to what might happen next, which directly relates to increased tension throughout the story.
In most fiction, foreshadowing is a necessary component to good storytelling. But, like many parts of the writing process, a well-crafted foreshadow only comes after practice. It’s not something you’re likely to fully understand during your first attempts.
Types of Foreshadowing:
Direct foreshadowing occurs when your promise is straight hinted at. It tantalizes your readers with information, making them hungry for more.
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.
Why Your Book Needs Foreshadowing
- Foreshadowing helps set the tone for your readers, and helps your reader get used to darker themes within your story.
- Foreshadowing makes your reader wonder and grows anticipation for upcoming events. It adds dramatic tension.
2-Step Guide to Foreshadowing
Foreshadow themes that will be important later in the story
With the exception of info dumps, any and all information you can weave into the narrative of your story helps your reader engage with your book. 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 your protagonist’s reaction to those people or objects to who the reader that they should pay attention to those things and they will be important later on.
Deliver on what you’ve foreshadowed earlier in your book
But 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.
If we’re thinking about foreshadowing with this in mind, every bit of foreshadowing needs this second part: the pay off or the deliverance. Without delivering on the promise you incited earlier in the story, your reader may feel cheated or confused about what details are significant or irrelevant.
The bigger the delivery or plot twist, the more you’ll want to foreshadow.
3 Tips to Add Foreshadowing in Your Story
Don’t overuse foreshadowing (or any literary device)
Overusing literary devices can be annoying and tiring to read. When used correctly, foreshadowing can build suspense in your story and make your book a page-turner. But if overused, you may find your reader’s anticipation deflate.
Your book should constantly be moving forward. Your protagonist should always strive to answer their questions.
But if you’re constantly adding little excessive bits of foreshadowing, your protagonist is likely doing a lot of talking (or thinking) and not a lot of action. Foreshadowing foreshadows possible future actions. But if there’s no action, what action can you be foreshadowing?
Make everything you foreshadow relevant to the story
Sprinkling tidbits of foreshadowing is an art like any other. A certain beast that you can either execute well and readers never see it coming, or it can flop and be too obvious or too obscure. Either way, you want to add the tidbits that are worth adding.
Think about how your favorite authors add foreshadowing into their books. Do they just spell it out on the page? Or make some off-the-wall reference you don’t even get after the fact? Likely not, or you wouldn’t even recognize it as foreshadowing to begin with.
Foreshadowing should be short and sweet, with a worthwhile punch when the foreshadowing comes into light.
Include your foreshadowing in your story outline
Planning is the best policy when it comes to big things in your story, and foreshadowing is a big thing. Foreshadowing adds tension into your plot and scenes and can create a sense of urgency and differing interpretations between your characters. Two characters can perceive the same scene, or even the same sentence, differently.
By adding these bits of tension into your story from the outlining phase, you can plan their direct impact on your plot. You can outline how it impacts your characters between the tidbit and the outcome. You can determine how it leads your characters towards the climax. Or how it doesn’t.
There are so many things that can come out of foreshadowing that aren’t just internal questions and dialogue between characters. Great foreshadowing makes and impact on the plot and how your characters reaction 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.