Foreshadowing is a dramatic device writers use to tease an important plot point which we must return to before the story ends. Think of foreshadowing a little like foreplay. Only in the case of foreshadowing, we’re teasing a big twist in the story or an important piece of information which will affect the hero or heroine or both before the story ends.
It’s important to remember that foreshadowing isn’t a red herring. Red herrings mislead, foreshadowing promises.
So how do you use foreshadowing in your plot?
The incident needs to be foreshadowed
Significant events and information require foreshadowing. For example, if you look back in the Psy/Changeling series, the identity of the Ghost was foreshadowed in several books, his very presence suggesting a vital twist was coming and one where we, the readers, needed to pay attention.
Teasing the reader is important because we need to build suspense, while preparing them for an event or addition which might otherwise seem random when it occurs later in the book. In Marshal of Hel Dorado, Scarlett’s abilities are foreshadowed from the beginning yet they aren’t revealed ’til nearly halfway through the book. Another example, Harry Potter’s burning scar. It’s a notable feature and it’s mentioned in the very first book and the payoff comes repeatedly.
Good rule of thumb: Always pay off your foreshadowing…
One of my favorite quotes about foreshadowing comes from Anton Chekhov. The author is credited with suggesting that if you introduce a gun into a story, it better be fired before it’s over. In other words, every element in a story must be vital to driving the tale, especially foreshadowing. Think about Star Trek Beyond’s cold open and the gift Kirk tries to give to the critters. That device proves to be very important to the later tale.
Incorporate as you write and edit
One of the slipperiest slopes when using foreshadowing is editing. When you write you layer it through your initial text and you know why it’s there. When you edit, you may end up cutting sections where portions of your foreshadowing exist, don’t forget to move those pertinent details to another scene. For example, in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, there were several cut scenes that included some important data foreshadowing the reason behind Padme’s eventual choice. Cutting those scenes neutered the impact for the viewers, and we should have been able to get the information in another scene.
What if the foreshadowing doesn’t work?
As I said above, foreshadowing is layered through your book or story, you the author know what every moment means but you need a beta reader, critique partner, or editor to read for you. Fresh eyes can let you know if it worked.
Delivering on a promise to your readers is the best thing an author can do. Don’t be afraid to tease, to suggest, and to guide–as long as you deliver in the end.
Do you have a favorite foreshadowed moment?