Hi Noah and Rose!
I do use a variety of these. I love planting cryptic surprises and especially planting double-meaning clues that do the “red herring thing”.
But here’s the thing. I don’t plan it out. I am a panster writer and I tend to let the story develop organically. Every path forward is an exploration for me, so sometimes my subconscious just puts odd things in there that become important later. That’s why I just left the first draft run where it takes me, and then with the later drafts, I carve out the excess fat, locate the bones and lean it up with the little tells buried in it enough not to be too revealing, but slightly odd when first encountered. If something odd comes out on the page, just put an asterisk there, or a question mark to see if something comes of it later. These sometimes play out, and sometimes don’t, but more often than not, they are keys that can get your character out of a jam when you write them into a plot corner. Sometimes planning too much can make the device seem contrived, so let them occur naturally if you can.
I rarely, if ever start with the full story in mind. I need the mystery and discovery of it to keep me writing just to see what comes next.
Only one time did I know the full story, but it was because the story came from a dream I had, and I woke to flesh out the details and wrote manically for several hours on late night coffee as a college student. I don’t advise that if you’re married. It doesn’t fly too well.
I do have a prologue AND an epilogue and I do use them in such foreshadowing.
My prologue reveals a menace that goes before and sets a future trap or deception for my MC that is introduced in Chapter 1. It sets the stage for tension, even though Chapter 1 is just acquainting us with the character. However, the sneaky truth is, I didn’t write the prologue to my first book (Chapters 1-31) until after I had completed almost all of the draft of the 2nd book (Chapters 32-70). I actually wrote the first book’s Prologue after I wrote Chapter 66. By that time I was well acquainted with the hardships that the characters would face and what advance things needed to be teased and hinted at without giving too much away. Anyone skipping my prologue will miss some key clues on what preceded the Chapter 1 intro. Anyone skipping the Epilogue will miss a key surprise and segue into the sequel novel. My fantasy includes biblical mysteries within it interlaced within biblical accounts, but never contradicting the biblical text or its hermeneutical understanding in the broader context of scriptures.
So you asked us:
I would love to see an example from some of your writing of how you foreshadowed something.
That is kind of difficult, since the example I would choose, other than what I mentioned above, would be from that dream story I told you about. But let me just summarize it.
The story was a military incursion, kind of like a Vietnam-era strike into a jungle warfare scenario. It is told in first-person POV, almost as if the soldier is giving a debriefing and reliving the scenes he experienced in guerilla warfare.
The assumption was that the area was filled with very deadly snipers and several attempts to penetrate the jungle and secure a key village had failed. A military ship in the harbor was laying forth a barrage of shelling, occupying the fighters on the shore side of the village, while a strike troop was flown in low under the cover of the shelling to enter the back jungle and take the enemy by surprise. Many troops had gone missing. Just vanished with no radio contact or indication of what happened. Only that they had taken fire and were giving it back. This MC is thrust into that scenario, and they are trying to move in before the tanker planes drop chemical defoliate on the dense jungle to kill off the cover before running a gunner strike on the area. The village was said to have hostages, and with the missing soldiers that had gone before, they could be in that bunch. The trouble begins when the troops divide up into squads to take flanking positions and keep low radio clicks to indicate where they are. Only the teams lose sight of each other and become disoriented in the jungle. Steam rises from the heated foliage and the soldiers panic, searching for a way to find the others and get their bearings. When the gunfire begins, the MC and his band are committed, but scared. They cannot be sure of what they are shooting at. As the warfare continues, however, there is a subtle pattern that emerges in the killing field and with each loss of life, as his friends fall. The pattern persists, as the MC and his comrades back track through some of their own forward positions, and get reduced in number as they fire at what they believe to be the snipers moving in and all around them. The pattern continues until the MC tragically realizes what is going on. There is something strange they passed through. A kind of energy field, but it did not seem to have a physical effect on them, but that passage was pivotal in which they started losing control, orientation, radio contact, and men.
[That pattern of kills and proximity to the MC was a building foreshadowing of the twist.]
The MC and his company had entered a time barrier that looped them en masse in a parallel physical reality only a few seconds behind themselves. They were killing each other with friendly fire and the loop kept continuing until they would’ve eventually killed themselves off or reduced their number down to the last man standing. The MC realizes where that strange energy wall was and sees his past self heading towards it, so he realizes that he must shoot himself to break out of the cycle and prevent his past self from ever reaching that wall.
That’s one of the most bizarre dreams I have ever had, and it was summed up in the statement: Sometimes a man can be his own worst enemy.
So, that’s mine. 😉
Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
I was born in war.
Fighting from my first breath.