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Foreshadowing

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  • #136219
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    Alright y’all, I want your best tips on foreshadowing. What are some of the main ways or techniques that you use? What is your overall advice? I would love to see an example from some of your writing of how you foreshadowed something.

    The five main ways I found through my research how foreshadowing are:

    • Name Drop: Use a name of a group, person, or some other entity in a ways that seems to point towards it coming into play later on
    • Prologue and Prophecy: This is a direct way of foreshadowing a future scene through a prologue or actual prophecy
    • Innocuous Statement: A statement or phrase (especially said by a character) that seems to have a meaning or mysterious feel but the readers can’t know what it means, and it comes into play later
    • Symbolism: Use of some physical object or natural event that interacts with the character in some way or is noticed by the character to foreshadow something a human related event in the future
    • Object: A character comes across is attains some object in a seemingly purposeless way, but that object is used later on in the story

    What are y’all’s thoughts on these five ways? Do you ever use them? If you have, do you have an example you could share?

    I’m looking forward to seeing y’all’s thoughts! 🙂

    #136268
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @noah-cochran

    Ooh, foreshadowing is my favorite!

    I’m going to be completely blunt, I usually just wing it XD I do recognize some of those techniques, though I’ve never seen them laid out like that.

    My favorites are probably the name drop and innocuous statement. I use them all the time, and the object one occasionally. The symbolism one is fun to layer in now and then, but it’s really hard to pick up on on the first read. It’s awesome to leave it there for people rereading the book, but don’t count on it to foreshadow entirely.

    The prologue and prophecy are overall dangerously hard to use and very easy to get wrong, just because of how clear they tend to be. Many people skip prologues, and though I don’t personally mind them, they should be a last resort. And prophecies can easily be cliche unless done very well.

    Something important to remember about foreshadowing is that your goal isn’t to surprise your reader with the plot twist. That’s a bonus. The goal is to give your readers a fun mystery to piece together, clear enough that they could predict it if they paid careful attention. You don’t have to outsmart your audience, that takes all the joy out of the mystery.

    Now, you often hear that your audience is smarter than you think, but for foreshadowing, I’d have to disagree. Your audience is taking all of this in for the first time and they don’t know which details are important and which aren’t, so you’ll have to err on the side of heavy-handed. (For me, personally. I tend to foreshadow too subtly, so it doesn’t make sense when it happens, though I think I’m improving there.)

    Foreshadow an event at least twice, preferably three times. Scatter your foreshadowing as much as possible, and remember what each of your characters knows. Something might be obvious to a character, then you don’t have to mention it in the narration if you want to maintain secrecy. (Don’t overdo this, though.)

    A great technique I figured out is making a piece of information or an object have a double duty. It should have a clear meaning/purpose/explanation right off the bat, but also a deeper one that will get dismissed because the reader will go with the most obvious answer.

    For example, in The False Prince (You mentioned you read it, I believe) Sage rolls a coin over his knuckles. Initially, it was a way for the reader to see he was worried or distressed, and that purpose made sense. Later you find out the rest of the story.

    Also, False Prince has excellent use of innocuous statements. I enjoyed that book far more on the second read because I could pick up on all the double meanings.

    You can also use your POV to hide obvious facts. Readers will remember anything that seems cryptic or open-ended, so if you’re afraid it’s too obvious, you can make your POV character jump to conclusions and explain away the occurrence or statement.

    This will only work if the explanation seems plausible and logical to the reader. Then you can introduce a nice bit of plain, straight human error to your plot. Even better if your character has earlier demonstrated that they’re very single-minded and that they’ll just dismiss anything that doesn’t conform to their worldview.

    On the other end, if you want to call attention to something, purposefully leave it open-ended or uncertain. Readers will pick up on it, especially if you do that multiple times.

    Sage’s ‘gold’ rock is an excellent example of this.

    Also, Beta-readers are the only way to make sure you got it right.

    In the best case, the mystery will start off unimportant, then it’ll grow to be bigger and more important as your characters gather information/as you drop in foreshadowing. If you make it too important, too early, it’ll just look like your characters are staring past the elephant in the room. If you’re afraid it’s too easy to guess, just reveal it quickly. Nothing is more annoying than a very obvious mystery being dragged out for a whole plot.

    You actually have a lot of leeway in foreshadowing, because your readers are seldom focused on it. Actually, they shouldn’t focus on it, they should barely notice it in the best case. The perfect reaction to a reveal isn’t “Huh? I never expected that,” but more “Oh! I should have seen that long ago, it’s so obvious!”

    You can actually play with this quite a bit. I actually had a character blatantly state what would happen in the future. (Relatively far future, in the next book.) and though my readers noticed, they’ve completely forgotten about it. Even though it was literally the most obvious thing ever. Anyway, foreshadowing is mostly just listening to your gut feeling.

    TL;DR

    Readers won’t notice something until you point it out multiple times, scatter the information, don’t wait too long with the reveal. Readers will remember anything cryptic or open-ended, so you can give the reader false explanations to distract them. Prophecies and prologues are risky. Your goal isn’t to outsmart your reader, but to make it possible for them to solve the mystery by themselves. Also, it’s pretty hard to mess up foreshadowing.

    Hope this helps! Foreshadowing is overall very fun and one of my favorite parts of writing.

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136352
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    Another excellent response from Rose. I really do appreciate your advice and replies. 🙂

    I’m going to be completely blunt, I usually just wing it

    I guessed as much. xD Foreshadowing (though not necessarily good foreshadowing) seems to come spontaneously to many writers.

    I am actually a huge fan of prologues. I don’t like long, drawn out prologues, and I really don’t like prologues that sections from future in the story, but prologues that show a glimpse of evil or the villain, some relevant historical event from the past, or a hint at some plan of a character or antagonist I really enjoy. I love using them cold opens to set the tone.

    Those were apt examples from the False Prince.

    Sorry for the late response, I got covid, not a particularly enjoyable experience. xD

     

    • This reply was modified 2 months, 4 weeks ago by Noah Cochran.
    #136367
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    @noah-cochran

    @rose-colored-fancy

    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.
    **Spoiler alert!!***
    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.]
    <<SPOILER>>

    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.

    #136370
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran
    Thanks for the response Brian!
    I do use a variety of these.  I love planting cryptic surprises and especially planting double-meaning clues that do the “red herring thing”.
    I think this probably encapsulates what many writers do when they “foreshadow”, no specific techniques, just dropping hints.
    Thanks for the example, that was interesting to read. 🙂
    #136371
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @noah-cochran

    Another excellent response from Rose. I really do appreciate your advice and replies.

    You’re welcome! I’m glad I could help!

    I guessed as much. xD Foreshadowing (though not necessarily good foreshadowing) seems to come spontaneously to many writers.

    That, and many revisions XD Beta readers are the one thing that is really necessary for foreshadowing. If you’re plotting, you can’t accurately estimate how obvious a twist will be, so readers help a lot.

    I am actually a huge fan of prologues. I don’t like long, drawn out prologues, and I really don’t like prologues that sections from future in the story, but prologues that show a glimpse of evil or the villain, some relevant historical event from the past, or a hint at some plan of a character or antagonist I really enjoy. I love using them cold opens to set the tone.

    That’s totally cool as well! It’s mostly a stylistic choice and I already dislike openings, so I try to write only one XD But one of my future projects is going to need a prologue. I think the key thing is to make it as interesting as possible. As with everything 🙂

    Sorry for the late response, I got covid, not a particularly enjoyable experience. xD

    I’m so sorry you got sick! Get well soon!

    Without darkness, there is no light. If there was no nighttime, would the stars be as bright?

    #136527
    Ashley Tegart
    @ashley-tegart

    My current WIP requires a ton of foreshadowing, so I’m having to hone this skill as well. Some parts of foreshadowing I plan in advance while other elements fall in place while I’m drafting. I think I’ve used all five techniques listed above. XD

    One thing I like to use for foreshadowing….hmm. I don’t know if there’s a name for it. But I like to thematically foreshadow events, have certain outcomes for early events be repeated with big, climactic events having similar outcomes. Or an event in the story’s history foreshadowing something that will happen again in the present story. I think this can really work toward thematic cohesion in a story and I’m liking how it’s turning out in my WIP.

    Another kind of foreshadowing can come from creating tension and building up to an event the reader already knows is coming. The Clone Wars show does this so well—dropping little things here and there, building up to what anyone who has seen the Star Wars prequel films knows is coming. Reveal information early on and then continue to add little details, creating a sense of time running out. Maybe this isn’t foreshadowing in the technical sense, but it can have the same affect of weaving together a cohesive narrative where no detail is wasted and nothing comes out of the blue. It’s also helpful if I have concerns that a plot twist is too obvious, no matter how overt or veiled I make the foreshadowing. Give the reader the “big reveal” earlier on, then build up to the inevitable.

    #136531
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    Thanks for the advice Ashley!

    What is your WIP about?

    #136646
    Ashley Tegart
    @ashley-tegart

    @noah-cochran

    My book is epic fantasy, set in a world kinda drawing from an 1800s feel (I’m not trying to “recreate” a historical period, just drawing a bit). I don’t have a good plot summary worked out yet, but there’s political tension, a murder trial, mysterious monsters appearing at night, philosophical debates, and someone has a secret…

    #136655
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    I’m intrigued, I really enjoy the victorian era. Keep me updated on it. 🙂

    #136661
    Brian Stansell
    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    @noah-cochran

    Noah, how’re you doing, bud?

    Still praying for you to get through this and back in the saddle again.


    @ashley-tegart

    Okay, Ashley,

    You sneaky intriguer, you!  😛 I am going to need to be updated on this as well…

    there’s political tension, a murder trial, mysterious monsters appearing at night, philosophical debates, and someone has a secret…

    AND you are setting it in the 1800’s. Wow!

    I need to get on your newsletter list, if you have a site you can share. ❤

    Brian Stansell (aka O'Brian of the Surface World)
    I was born in war.
    Fighting from my first breath.

    #136791
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    I’m doing fine Brian. 🙂 My taste still isn’t quite back, but otherwise I’m over it.

    #142445
    Ashley Tegart
    @ashley-tegart

    Okay, I’ve been busy with homework and haven’t had time to reply. I’m now trying to reorient myself as to what threads I was commenting on. 😛


    @noah-cochran

    Thanks! 🙂 Do you like Victorian Era British lit?


    @obrian-of-the-surface-world

    Thank you! I’ll keep everyone updated. 🙂 I don’t have a newsletter yet, but I do have a blog. I’m pretty sure I put the link in my profile! I post story updates there periodically.

    #142450
    Noah Cochran
    @noah-cochran

    @ashley-tegart

    I do. 🙂 Arthor C. Doyle and Wilkie Collins are my favorite. Dickens is on my list. Jane Austen is slightly pre-Victorian era, but she’s pretty good as well. What our some of your favorite Victorian era authors?

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