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Am I Supposed to "Foreshadow"? (1 Viewer)

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EternalGreen

Senior Member
I had a beta-reader suggest I do more of this. (They said I should've foreshadowed the existence of a tree, for context.)

If foreshadowing is done wrong, it feels condescending. I wonder if subtlety is key.
 

Joker

Senior Member
You don't have to do anything. That leads to formulaic writing and no one likes that.

Should you? I would only suggest you try and force it if the plot twist is otherwise straining credulity. If I have to rack my brain as to how a plot development makes sense, some foreshadowing alleviates that. Otherwise, I wouldn't force it if it doesn't come up organically.
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
I think of foreshadowing as being used in two different ways:

- For artistic effect

and/or

- To establish plausibility for an eventual surprise/reveal

The first form of foreshadowing (for effect) is kind of up to the sensibilities of the writer. Maybe a character is going to die, and the writer wants to artistically give clues to the reader, just to make the actual character death feel more resonant, or meaningful, due to all the hints that came before it.

(A girl has dreams of flying off a bridge, for example, that get more vivid throughout the story. In the end, she leaps off a bridge and falls to her demise. Her last thought is that she feels like she's flying.)

The other form of foreshadowing (establishing plausibility for an eventual reveal) is, in my opinion, kind of a necessity. It's letting the reader know that there are puzzle pieces in play, and those will, eventually, be slotted together to form a cohesive picture. Without proper foreshadowing, a sudden twist or reveal could feel cheap, bizarre, or unearned. To avoid that, the writer has to anticipate any confusion that the reader might have, and quietly answer those questions before they have a chance to arise.

(The mystery killer somehow keeps making evidence disappear. And the killer has a baffling ability to stay one step ahead of the detective, no matter what he does. Combine that with the detective's loss of time, his constant fatigue, and his father's psychosis, it suddenly makes perfect sense that the killer is, in fact, the detective himself, a la Fight Club and Memento.)

So I guess the question to ask is: what kind of foreshadowing is wanted/needed? Once you know which one, you can figure out how best to do it. :encouragement:
 

Cephus

Senior Member
There's nothing that says you must do it, but if you don't and it feels in retrospect like the reader should have seen it coming, then they're not going to be happy with you. It depends entirely on what you're doing and how you're doing it.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I like to think of foreshadowing along the lines of Chekhov. To paraphrase:

"If there's a gun on the table at the start to the story, it must be used by the end of the story"

This doesn't need to be taken too literally or fastidiously. Sometimes stuff is just scenery -- like a gun. The operative phrase in the logic is 'on the table'. If the gun is prominent in the scene, it will be prominent in the reader's subconscious and there's no point in placing something a reader's subconscious if it doesn't get used.

I like what Kyle said about plausibility. When somebody gets struck by lightning and dies, it's so much more effective if somewhere prior to that they said "you've got more chance of being struck by lightning!' These kinds of things can make an event hit ten times harder.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I think of foreshadowing as being used in two different ways:

- For artistic effect

and/or

- To establish plausibility for an eventual surprise/reveal

The first form of foreshadowing (for effect) is kind of up to the sensibilities of the writer. Maybe a character is going to die, and the writer wants to artistically give clues to the reader, just to make the actual character death feel more resonant, or meaningful, due to all the hints that came before it.

(A girl has dreams of flying off a bridge, for example, that get more vivid throughout the story. In the end, she leaps off a bridge and falls to her demise. Her last thought is that she feels like she's flying.)

The other form of foreshadowing (establishing plausibility for an eventual reveal) is, in my opinion, kind of a necessity. It's letting the reader know that there are puzzle pieces in play, and those will, eventually, be slotted together to form a cohesive picture. Without proper foreshadowing, a sudden twist or reveal could feel cheap, bizarre, or unearned. To avoid that, the writer has to anticipate any confusion that the reader might have, and quietly answer those questions before they have a chance to arise.

(The mystery killer somehow keeps making evidence disappear. And the killer has a baffling ability to stay one step ahead of the detective, no matter what he does. Combine that with the detective's loss of time, his constant fatigue, and his father's psychosis, it suddenly makes perfect sense that the killer is, in fact, the detective himself, a la Fight Club and Memento.)

So I guess the question to ask is: what kind of foreshadowing is wanted/needed? Once you know which one, you can figure out how best to do it. :encouragement:

I quite like foreshadowing that puts a too-good-to-be-true goal in front of a character that just begs to be thwarted; eg:.two soldiers sharing a smoke in the trenches. One shows the other a picture of his sweetheart back home and says to his buddy: "ah, when this old war's over, I'm gonna marry that girl."

Dead.
 

Joker

Senior Member
I quite like foreshadowing that puts a too-good-to-be-true goal in front of a character that just begs to be thwarted; eg:.two soldiers sharing a smoke in the trenches. One shows the other a picture of his sweetheart back home and says to his buddy: "ah, when this old war's over, I'm gonna marry that girl."

Dead.

And too obvious.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Often, foreshadowing plants seeds for events that will come up later. Some things bloom, but others don't - if you are too obvious it's a 'tell' and you're giving away the surprise. In writing, I like to toss seeds all over the place, that way the plausibility is there but it doesn't eliminate the surprise.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I quite like foreshadowing that puts a too-good-to-be-true goal in front of a character that just begs to be thwarted; eg:.two soldiers sharing a smoke in the trenches. One shows the other a picture of his sweetheart back home and says to his buddy: "ah, when this old war's over, I'm gonna marry that girl."

Dead.

I like this too, but I kind of agree it's way on the basic -- almost tropey -- end. It certainly doesn't hurt as a way to create an arc but I feel like even the most basic writer does this sort of thing, almost without thinking. You almost have to include such a scene as you illustrate in order to build investment in the guy who ends up dying. Otherwise it's *just* death.

I really enjoy more subtle forms of foreshadowing, the kinds of things that work on an entirely subconscious level and are more about character arcs and plot progression than 'this dude dies and it's really sad because I told you what he wanted'.

Sometimes foreshadowing gets mislabeled and it's really more a form of easter egging or just motifs (something like the girl in the red jacket in Schindler's List -- is that foreshadowing 'blood' and therefore violence? I find that tenuous) but the stuff that actually speaks to a later event or outcome so that, as Kyle said, it feels organic and somehow expected (though it isn't really).

An example of this would be in the TV show Breaking Bad. One of the characters owns a business called "Beneke Fabricators". The company later is found to be faking its taxes -- 'fabricating' them, in other words. Minor, sure, but it's the kind of irony I like.

Another example, same show. This season ended with a plane crash in which a pink teddy bear is recovered after falling from the wreckage. Earlier in the show, before any of that happens, one of the characters has this mural. The inclusion of the falling pink teddy bear in the top-right is obviously not accidental...

Jane-Teddy-Bear-Mural.png


Of course, in a TV show such things can be and usually are visual which is a little bit easier in a visual medium, but the basic idea is the same; Establish a link between what happens earlier and later in the book. Is this totally essential to tell a story? No, but it is a great way to build depth and means that when something happens it manages to both be a surprise and yet totally in keeping with the story.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
I quite like foreshadowing that puts a too-good-to-be-true goal in front of a character that just begs to be thwarted; eg:.two soldiers sharing a smoke in the trenches. One shows the other a picture of his sweetheart back home and says to his buddy: "ah, when this old war's over, I'm gonna marry that girl."

Dead.

Yeah — and if someone coughs in an old movie, you know they’re toast... :)
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Yes, the trench scene: Hero WilfredO#1 plus Bozo#2 twattles on about his ugly beau, possibly four pages, audience urging Hun to blow this bore from his boots, & woodbine follows woodbine into next chapter until schmuck#3 arrives for his matchbox, and gets the bullet in throat episode. Obvious rules.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I like this too, but I kind of agree it's way on the basic -- almost tropey -- end. It certainly doesn't hurt as a way to create an arc but I feel like even the most basic writer does this sort of thing, almost without thinking. You almost have to include such a scene as you illustrate in order to build investment in the guy who ends up dying. Otherwise it's *just* death

Yeah, it is definitely tropey, and that was a very basic example, but it's also clear and easy, whereas the motifs and things, while neat, may not carry the same emotional impact. But yeah, all the better if it can be built into the actual plot to a key character.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
I almost feel like this is a better example of foreshadowing. The guy showing picture of his sweetheart is almost like a red herring.

I’d have the guy showing some kind of annoying selfie, maybe with a celebrity. Then when he’s killed, you think, well, okay.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
OK, I read through all the posts and I didn't see what I consider to be the main reason for foreshadowing ... "Hooking The Reader".

"I reviewed my plan. It was the child of months of research ... everything from floor plans to security details to personnel records. Comprehensive. It would allow me to be in and out with perfect timing. Never seen, never heard, never even suspected. It should have been perfect. It SHOULD have."

So "It SHOULD have" is foreshadowing, and now the reader (hopefully) wants to know what happened to spoil the perfect plan.

Foreshadowing can also be played for comedic effect.

"It started out as a normal day. How could I have known my evening would end with me hiding under a naked woman's bed as her husband walked in, neither one knowing I was there, dead if I got caught, their damned cat peering in at me under the bedspread, and me with allergies? And I couldn't decide if I was better off pressing upward at the bottom of my nose with my index finger, or pinching it. Somehow, THIS was my main concern."

So how did he wind up like that, and why? You might spend the whole chapter reading to find out if he sneezed.
 
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