foreshadowing: how and why

The truth according to the dictionary states that foreshadowing is “a warning of a future event.” I’ve seen foreshadowing hundreds of times in movies without even realizing. The female protagonist almost pepper sprays a young thug in the first act. Later on, that very pepper spray comes in handy when the villain tries to abduct her in act three. It doesn’t feel like a cop-out that she just happens to carry it around, because we saw her (almost) use it when stakes were comparatively low, plot-wise.

Usually, I like to be in awe of the author’s cleverness. I like it when something occurs that makes perfect sense, logically, but I never saw it coming. However, writing foreshadowing myself is a completely different matter.

I read an article once–possibly by Stephanie Morrill, the author of The Lost Girl of Astor Street?–that told readers that she tripped up herself on this very thing when writing this book, her very first mystery novel. One of the best things I took away from that article was not getting too paranoid about readers. She said that there will always be some readers that caught on and were “oh, i completely saw that coming from two hundred miles away.” You can’t dodge the intuition of millions of readers and expect none of them to see your plot twists coming ahead of time. It’s not an excuse for lazy writing, or cliche plots, but it’s a help.

However, in the interest of misleading at least the vast majority of the masses, I usually like to at least take mental note of how clever plot twists were set up in my favorite books.

*one major spoiler for The Raven Boys ahead*

*spoiler alert*

*as in ‘click away son if you don’t want this spoiled*

For instance, the double plot twist involving Noah. Firstly, Maggie Stiefvater did something incredibly simple that escaped my eye. She introduced everyone else by first and last name, and introduced Noah by just his first name. When the antagonist reminisced about the murder of Czerny, it didn’t connect. When the two names got put together–that it was Noah Czerny who was murdered–it was mindblowing.

Also, Noah being a ghost of sorts. Stiefvater told us right out, honestly. Someone commented on how cold his hands were, and he was #sassy. “Well, yes. I’ve been dead for sEVEN YEARS my hands are just slightly chilled”. It was easy to skip over because I figured it was just Noah being an exaggerating weird smol bean. But no. Surprise.

*spoilers are over, ’tis safe territory now*

I haven’t quite figured out how to do this in my own novels yet. For one, it would have to be casual/told in a joke context for it to be easily blown off, and not a total “that was…distinctly weird” moment. For two, it would have to match the character. Noah is smudgy and lowkey whimsical and I love him. That clueless, lost introductory line fits his character very well.

what are your favorite foreshadowing tips? what is your favorite plot reveal in your WIP?

2 thoughts on “foreshadowing: how and why

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