Lurking in the Foreshadows

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What is lurking on this laptop? Could it be the dreaded “foreshadowing”? Or just time to write ~800 words?

Ah, it’s that fated time of the month when I write about something vaguely inspirational and important, boil it down to around 841 words, and amuse you with my cutesy little cartoons and Paint.net Photoshop-esque opening images. But that’s not the point of this—why am I rambling on anyway? On December 30th, 2014, I set myself the goal of reading one book a month and—surprise, surprise—I’ve been following it. For July, it was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, a book that inspired what I’m going to tell you about. That, and my first-ever marathon of the Harry Potter movies, as well as Episode 4 of Life is Strange. “What do these three have in common?” you may ask. “What a clichéd thing for you to ask,” I may respond in a sarcastic manner you misconstrue for mocking.  “Foreshadowing.” *cue booming music* Everyone likes dictionary definitions, and furthermore, everyone loves Wikipedia, so here’s the Wikimeaning* of foreshadowing:

Foreshadowing or guessing ahead is a literary device by which an author hints what is to come. It is used to avoid disappointment. It is also sometimes used to arouse the reader.

As I haven’t read the book which led to The Girl on the Train‘s existence (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn), I came into the book with only glowing praise from Amazon and my bookworm mother, spouting out its merits. It was an engaging read: interesting characters with complex lives and who weren’t just picture-perfect and likeable for the sake of being likeable, and the crazy lives of these characters kept me reading (no doubt helped by the library’s two week loaning limit). The problem with it: foreshadowing. The big twist comes out of nowhere. The twist involved a character who is the secondary protagonist. Part of the novel is told from her point of view. She would, at least once, have thought about the big plot twist that involves her. It is not until a few chapters before the big reveal. This is not good foreshadowing.

See!

This is also not good “Fore“-shadowing. Geddit? Oh dear, Paint.net, what have you done to me?

Foreshadowing is an interesting literary device. Mostly known for its use in nail-biting thrillers and Law and Order episodes, foreshadowing is naturally found across all genres. I first heard of term when I was young and innocent and obsessed with reading Harry Potter, and rereading it and rereading it. After a while, I started noticing things in the earlier books predicted things in the later books: conversations with vague undertones in book two that are fleshed out by Deathly Hallows, etc. The same things happen in the movies, only to a far lesser degree, and I mean only the first two movies. Foreshadowing, and in essence the whole idea from the books, are forgotten from the third movie onwards. Anyway, I’m getting a little off-track. What were we talking about? Oh yes… foreshadowing. So, how do you foreshadow? First of all, you need to find good examples of it. One of my examples is the Life is Strange video game by Square Enix/Dontnod. Even without a complete five episode season, you can already see foreshadowing at play: supposedly innocuous quote from characters at the start of the first episode, the placement of a doe at a junkyard. There will be more by the time Episode 5 rolls around. For more examples in various media forms, here’s the [almost] comprehensive TV Tropes list. But you probably want to know what separates the good from the bad. We’re up to [roughly] 600 words now. The Quick Dot Point List to Good Foreshadowing

  • Do start subtly and not too obviously. In Twilight, Bella remarks to herself no-one will bite her when she first arrives at her new high school. Obvious, frequent remarks to what is at play in the future runs the risk of alienating readers and being too Dad-jokey.
  • Do start early, and not a chapter before the big reveal. Make it subtle.
  • Make your characters—whether it be protagonist, friend, foe—observe something in the background that hints at something that will appear later on in your work.
  • A throwaway line in Chapter Two by a seemingly irrelevant character will do a world of wonders, especially if your readers or the character don’t take any notice of it. Alternatively, intersperse these with red herrings. Or not. It’s your manuscript, not mine.
  • Adding a joke made by a friend of the protagonist or the protagonist themselves
  • Plan ahead. The only way to know how to add any of this in the first place is to at least roughly know how your story will end. Otherwise you’ll have to do the tedious task of adding it all in a way that doesn’t feel out of place.

Now, I’m off to include foreshadowing in my own work, and to subtly foreshadow this blog post for you.   *Not a real word

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