Foreshadowing is a concept that I discovered when I was around 14 or 15, and it blew me away. I was googling writing tips for making a good story, and I don’t know how it happened, but I came across an article telling about foreshadowing. This was one of the moments that really made me love learning about writing. I hope that you enjoy it as well.
What is it?
Many of you may know what foreshadowing is, but, in case you’re like 14 yr old me, I’ll explain it. When used in a story, foreshadowing is a tool used to give the reader a clue about how things will end. For example, if the character is going to die at the end of the story in a blizzard, then in the very beginning you are going to make it snow a little bit. If there is going to be someone getting shot, you show the gun before it ever fires.
In mysteries, there are a lot of possibilities. By the time you get to the end you have a satisfying answer because it matches the clues you found along the way. Mysteries also include what’s called red herrings, which are misleading hints to throw the reader off. The trick is that those still have to be believable. When you’re watching a movie with someone who has already seen it and they say “Pay attention, this is important”, they’re probably pointing out the foreshadowing.
Why use it?
The purpose of foreshadowing is to allow the reader to have a clue in what is going to happen, so that the event doesn’t feel completely random. This also ties the story together to keep it feeling whole and complete. The movies and stories that make my insides all giddy and happy are the ones that feel complete and like it makes a full circle. The reason for this, is that the ending makes sense and matches the beginning.
Good foreshadowing is a tool that writers use in plot twists and keeping the story interesting. When it’s used correctly, you won’t even notice that a detail is important until the end. Keeping the clues subtle allows the story to continue without giving away the ending, but still allowing it to make sense.
How do you do it?
The thing about foreshadowing is that you need to find a good balance between having too much or too little. The real test in finding out if you have the right balance is having beta readers tell you if they guessed the ending or if it wasn’t believable. One way to help with this is providing a distraction, putting in the clues along with more interesting action.
For me, I have to plan out the whole story and when I’ve got it all figured out I can look at the whole story and fix it. That’s when I put in the foreshadowing. I find the important details that the reader needs to know and put them in before they’re needed. I especially consider the abilities and knowledge of characters. If I want a character to save someone’s life at the end, then I need to show them having some kind of medical or first aid experience at the beginning.
I can’t expect to be a New York Times bestseller novelist (Not my expectation, but I can still wish) if I don’t ever write a story. So, a character can’t have an ending that isn’t earned. I could become a bestseller if only a few people knows that I’m writing. There’s a lot more to my life than just writing, so that could be an example of an ending making sense when people know that I write, but it’ll still be a surprise when not everyone knows how much I write. (Yes, this is a hint that you need to foreshadow in your life by writing or doing other little steps towards your goal. Hop to it!)
Try picking out the clues in movies you watch or books you read. I especially like watching fun comedy mysteries and trying to solve the case before the end. See, if you can pick out the good or bad foreshadowing. You can also watch this youtube video to hear tips about foreshadowing from an LTUE conference.
Foreshadow your goals and foreshadow your stories! Have fun, and let me know what you’re working on.