I am excited to post — with permission, of course — an article that Mary Deal has put together with her perspective on foreshadowing. I told her when she sent me the article that I love this particular literary device, and I’m pretty good at spotting it when I read. Because I can spot it so well, when I write my own stories, I try to use it with great subtlety. In fact, I like to sprinkle foreshadowing dust in my books, and then pull the foreshadowed hints together like a bunch of threads at the climax to the story.
You may recall my interview with Mary on November 18th. Here’s a link to her original interview if you’d like to go back and read it: A Good Deal, Mary Deal, That Is, Guest-Blogs With Mike Angley Today
Mary’s website is chock-full of great articles like the one that follows, so please be sure to visit her at: Write Any Genre
by Mary Deal
Foreshadowing gives the reader a sense of participation in the story, through anticipation….
Throughout all stages of writing development, foreshadowing gives the reader a sense of participation in the story, through anticipation.
One of the best tips for writing a story, whether short or book length, is to introduce certain plot action early in a composition. That early action, or the action sequences, should quietly suggest what’s to come later. This applies across the board to multi-genre writing.
Great foreshadowing ties all the way down to the ending, through the great writing and grammar, into the story climax and denouement.
Avid readers, especially, are wise to plot action. They can spot foreshadowing without having to go back and read the sequence again. They can sense it in the set up. They want it!
Subconsciously, a few readers may not realize foreshadowing has prepped them. However, on a subconscious level, tight pre-planning keeps them wrapped up in the story.
Whether on a subconscious level or consciously, you want your readers to carry a feeling of anticipation as they read through the stages of writing development that you have so adeptly woven. The reader won’t be aware of writing rules and writing procedures. But foreshadowing keeps them turning pages.
The way I write is to finish a chapter, that one scene, with all that I can allow myself to put into it…for the moment. As I write the next succeeding chapters, I may think of something new to include in the story that needs to be foreshadowed earlier. So I go back and add a tease in a preceding chapter or other chapters before that one. I continue this process throughout the book. No chapter is really finished till the book is finally polished.
In writing my first mystery, I thought my story was finished, but realized one bit of action that should have been foreshadowed earlier. Then, it is a matter of choosing which chapter to go back to, the most likely place, to insert the hint of what was to come.
Those hints must be so innocent that they do not tell exactly what’s to come. Yet, when you read what happens later in the story, you remember the hint of it mentioned earlier.
For instance, in my mystery/thriller, River Bones, when I planned my notes for Chapter 4, I wanted to give a credible reason for my character to accept two pit bull puppies. Yet, I have her so busy she doesn’t have time for dogs. It’s unlikely she would take on responsibility like that. But the plot required that she take these dogs.
So I went back to an earlier chapter, where the protagonist is talking to her little sister’s headstone at her gravesite, sort of updating her sister about her life. My character hasn’t been to her sister’s grave in years, so she’s real emotional, with jumbled thoughts, and she’s just tossing out important events. In the dialog, I added that she said, “By the way, Mandy died. But you know that, don’t you?” As if her sister in heaven watches over her and already knew.
The reader will know that because this is a fiction novel, soon enough, they will learn who Mandy is. Since this is a suspenseful mystery, the mention of a death early in the story is just another incident to tweak the reader’s interest and keep them reading. When they get to the part where the protagonist tells a friend she once had a Yorkshire terrier named Mandy, that she loved dearly, the reader then understands the emotions and motivation that make the woman innocently accept the two pit bull puppies.
I say innocently accept because her doing so out of love for the dogs is a pivotal point in the story that should not feel contrived, especially when the plot action requires the dogs be with her and no one else. To make the story credible, I had to foreshadow a reason why the character would so readily accept the pups. Without having inserted that one line of dialog into the scene at the gravesite, the fact that the protagonist later readily accepts the dogs becomes nothing more than a crutch to help solve a crime.
Foreshadowing gives the reader a sense of participation in the story, through anticipation, and is necessary to make the plot action of any story cohesive.