Well, I won’t foreshadow much about what we’re going to learn about through this blog post, so dive right in!
What is foreshadowing, and what role does it play?
Foreshadowing is defined as a literary device that is used to give readers an indication or a taste of what’s to come or how sometimes things may not turn out as they seem.
It is meant to create a sense of suspense, intrigue, unease, or even stir the curiosity of readers who are probably going to be in for one helluva ride! It also often prepares them for the sudden twist in the tale or abrupt revelation(s).
Types of foreshadowing
There are two types of foreshadowing:
The twist is openly suggested to readers via an opening monologue or via dialogue between characters. A popular example that’s cited is the witch’s prophecy that predicts the killing of Macbeth at the hands of someone who isn’t born of woman. Or the prophecy that Alice will slay the Jabberwocky in the 2010 film Alice in Wonderland.
Readers don’t realize what’s to come but are led on by the author, who sprinkles clues that only hint at a foreshadowed event. Often, there are covert props placed in the scene that one might not even guess are foreshadowing something. E.g. Oranges are placed at the table/in a scene or eaten by a character right before a tragedy occurs in the movie ‘The Godfather’. Don Corleone himself is buying oranges when he is shot, and he is eating an orange when he passes away later.
What can you use to foreshadow events?
- Title: The title itself can foreshadow what’s to come. ‘The Death of a Salesman’, for example, hints at Willy Loman’s tragic demise at the end of the novel after a hard life slogging as a salesman to achieve the American Dream like many other hopeless salesmen before him (sorry, spoilers).
- Metaphors and similes can also be used to foreshadow events.
- Character traits are also a means utilized to foreshadow. An example is Danny Torrance, whose self-reliance aids in his survival at the Overlook hotel, and from his father, who is driven mad in ‘The Shining’.
- Prophesies and predictions are a common method of foreshadowing, as seen in Macbeth.
- Authors also opt for symbols such as stormy clouds that not only foreshadow a storm up ahead but, in some cases, can also indicate upcoming tragedies.
- Use of a prop. An example of the same can be seen in the TV show The IT Crowd, wherein Matt Berry’s character Douglas finds a gun in his desk drawer, and it will foreshadow him accidentally shooting himself in the foot with it later. A literal ‘Chekhov’s gun’ if you think about it…
Various techniques of foreshadowing.
- Chekhov’s gun: Author Anton Chekhov defined foreshadowing as sowing a seed and reaping the benefits in the form of the details paying off in the end eventually. At times, the outcome even defies expectations. An example of the same is seen in Christopher Nolan’s filmography, in particular, the movie ‘The Prestige’, which has hidden clues (the sown seeds) galore throughout, leading to an unpredictable climax.
- Red Herring: This is an element common in many a crime dramas wherein multiple characters are painted as the suspect, but this is just to mislead the audience and distract them. Usually, an innocent victim is planted or falsely accused, so the actual criminal will go scot-free.
- Flashforward: The opposite of flashback and also known as a prolepsis, this technique enables readers to look forward in time and catch a glimpse of the future. They only know how the foreshadowed event will occur but won’t know what it actually will be. E.g. A woman wakes up in a pool of blood, and the rest of the event is narrated to viewers in flashbacks to reveal how she found herself in such a bloody situation in the first place or who led to it.
- Pre-scene: In this form of foreshadowing, the characters usually encounter each other earlier, and this will be a recurring meeting. For example, in the sci-fi flick Back to the Future 3, protagonist Marty McFly encounters the antagonist Mad Dog Tannen at a pub in the Wild West, which foreshadows their duel in the latter half of the movie.
How to create the perfect foreshadowed event
- Plan out your story and only incorporate foreshadowing in the second draft.
- Plant seeds, leave breadcrumbs, leave your readers scratching their heads, and returning to comb over your pages to see if they’ve missed out any clues.
- Scatter seeds like you’re sending your readers off on a scavenger hunt.
- Don’t wear out readers by leaving too many breadcrumbs. It might complicate the story and frustrate your readers. Strike a balance.
- Enlist a second pair of eyes, like a friend or family member who might peruse through your manuscript to figure out if they can spot the clues easily or whether you’ve accomplished the art of leaving them befuddled or even inciting curiosity among them.
- Watch R.L. Stein’s Masterclass. The beloved preteen thriller author does a fantastic job explaining his process and how to incorporate twists and turns that delight an audience.
With that, we’ve come to an end of this post. I bet you didn’t see that coming, did you? Anyway, I hope this post helps you in polishing your writing and foreshadowing skills further.