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How do I foreshadow without being predictable about it? (1 Viewer)

ironpony

Senior Member
I wrote a screenplay, and my story is about a police officer who starts off innocent and then halfway through he becomes corrupted, and then much more corrupted by the end. So it's turning from good to bad type story.

But a couple of readers told me that they felt I should have foreshadowed this plot turn coming rather than go for a total surprise. I was aiming for a surprise, because typically I don't like foreshadowing things in writing, because you see it coming if you do.

Since I wrote a script, I use movies as examples, but one comparison I can think of is The Dark Knight, where

SPOILER


In the first act the Harvey Dent character says "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain". And because he said that, he totally made it predictable that he would be the villain, even if you are not familiar with the comic book, the foreshadowing made it predictable.

So normally I do not like foreshadowing for that purpose, but am I wrong and foreshadowing or seeing it the wrong way? Thank you for any advice on it! I really appreciate it!
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
You just got to be subtle and bury it in the narrative. In the intro to Apparition, Arthur is asked who's blood is on his cheek and shirt. He tells the officer it's his wife's. That makes him look like a potential murderer. But then, in a joking (getting to know the characters) scene, the last thing his wife, Sarah says is 'You better hide any sharp objects before I come down there." That's buried and will likely not get noticed because of what preceded it. It was a joke ... or was it foreshadowing?

I don't think you should treat foreshadowing as something for the reader. I think you should add it in for your own pleasure. Rather like eastereggs. That should help makes sure the foreshadowing is subtle and therefore more rewarding if an intelligent reader spots it.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
My experience tells me most readers don't do subtle, don't know about screen plays, when I have tried to foreshadow things subtly they have completely missed it. I would go for hit htem over the head with it, they probably still won't notice until later :)
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
My experience tells me most readers don't do subtle, don't know about screen plays, when I have tried to foreshadow things subtly they have completely missed it. I would go for hit htem over the head with it, they probably still won't notice until later :)

This. For my Guardian Angel novel I had the narrator character, herself an angel, mention about four times as to how a holy angel might be captured, how horrible it was, what normally kept it from happening, etc. But when the professional editor and published author I engaged to critique the manuscript got to Act III, where the angel MC is captured...she said the plot twist floored her. She wasn't expecting it at all.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
This. For my Guardian Angel novel I had the narrator character, herself an angel, mention about four times as to how a holy angel might be captured, how horrible it was, what normally kept it from happening, etc. But when the professional editor and published author I engaged to critique the manuscript got to Act III, where the angel MC is captured...she said the plot twist floored her. She wasn't expecting it at all.

I think it's more an 'expectation' thing. Once you're an established author (and I'm talking Hemmingway, Bradbury, Orwell here), they become 'known' for certain aspects. Once those things are known then people begin to look for those things. For someone else, like myself, people will simply look at the work as a whole and not consider what things I may put into my writing. To them, mirroring, echoing, time bombs, foreshadowing, will likely just appear as if I'm 'filling that word count' in order to get published. They go unscrutinised (if there's such a word ...).
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Well if I am told I should foreshadow and that it's important, how do I do so without breaking the fourth wall? In screenwriting, you are only allowed to write what the audience will see or hear, so how do you write a foreshadowing since it's not typically something an audience can see or hear, if that makes sense?
 

Selorian

Patron
The Shawshank Redemption

Everything that the warden does (except for the abundance of crimes he commits) in The Shawshank Redemption is based on his religion. When the warden picks up Andy’s bible, Andy clearly tenses up for a moment.


The warden momentarily looks at the bible and says, “salvation lies within.” At the end of the movie it’s revealed that the bible was hollow and its where the inmate was hiding the rock hammer he used to escape. As it turns out, salvation really did lie within.

That was just one example I found when I Googled examples of foreshadowing in movies. The audience can both see and hear it.

As another example, in Back to the Future II, there is a scene where a scene from A Fistful of Dollars is playing on a tv. In Back to the Future III, Marty not only chooses to use Clint Eastwood as a name, but also uses the exact tactic depicted in that scene to thwart a bad guy.

Just do a search and look at the instances of foreshadowing and see how it was handled. Some may seem obvious now, and may have then for those looking for it, but for the most part they are only breadcrumbs we realize after the payoff at the end.

Hope this helps and best of luck to you.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
That was just one example I found when I Googled examples of foreshadowing in movies. The audience can both see and hear it.

As another example, in Back to the Future II, there is a scene where a scene from A Fistful of Dollars is playing on a tv. In Back to the Future III, Marty not only chooses to use Clint Eastwood as a name, but also uses the exact tactic depicted in that scene to thwart a bad guy.

Just do a search and look at the instances of foreshadowing and see how it was handled. Some may seem obvious now, and may have then for those looking for it, but for the most part they are only breadcrumbs we realize after the payoff at the end.

Hope this helps and best of luck to you.
.

Thanks. I thought the Shawshank Redemption one still counts as a foreshadowing you can hear though because someone says it in dialogue. But that's what makes foreshadowing cheap or gimmicky though to me because you are giving away what is going to happen. Unless that's not bad?
 

Selorian

Patron
.

Thanks. I thought the Shawshank Redemption one still counts as a foreshadowing you can hear though because someone says it in dialogue. But that's what makes foreshadowing cheap or gimmicky though to me because you are giving away what is going to happen. Unless that's not bad?

It does count as both seeing and hearing.

An audience enjoys being able to connect the dots of a good story. It also shows that the author knew all along where the story was going and didn't just make things up as needed. Foreshadowing should be viewed, in hindsight, as clues that the ending was always going to happen, from the very beginning.

That said, they can also be used to purposely draw the attention elsewhere when needed. Take this for example.

There is a neighborhood party. During a discussion about jail conditions being to lax, one neighbor says they know firsthand they're not. That then somehow leads to a discussion of how expensive medicine is for the elderly, so much so that a sweet elderly woman says she can barely afford her husbands pills.

Then, a week or so later, a string of break-ins occur.

We're likely to jump to thinking that neighbor with the criminal record is to blame, but we eventually discover it is the elderly woman bribing her grandson into committing them so she can pay for her husband's medicine.

This isn't a perfect example, but hopefully it's enough to get the concept across.
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I think the kind of foreshadowing you need to make this work would be a series of small moments throughout your story, building up to the reveal of your character's change. A few words in the narrative or a questionable statement or thought by the MC here and there should be enough to give the move you want to make with your character a foundation so it doesn't feel like it's coming out of nowhere. I think the trick will be choosing wording that does signal the potential for your character's change, but also isn't enough to guarantee it...so the reader more wonders if the change will happen rather than expects it.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay. But if I want a character to turn from morally good to bad, why can't I just have a character turned that from a single event? Why do I have to drop hints of bad from here to there, rather than have he character seem all good, then tragic event happens, turning them bad? Why do I have to drop hints of bad throughout, if that makes sense?
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
Oh okay. But if I want a character to turn from morally good to bad, why can't I just have a character turned that from a single event? Why do I have to drop hints of bad from here to there, rather than have he character seem all good, then tragic event happens, turning them bad? Why do I have to drop hints of bad throughout, if that makes sense?

In one situation, you are giving glimpses into the moments, thoughts, etc. that show the character's vulnerability to going bad so that when the tragic event happens your character's change feels more plausible. If you wanted to have just a single tragic event turn your character bad without any foreshadowing, I guess that could happen, but I think it would be harder to pull off as believable. I'm not sure what event could cause such a 180 in a character that for all the reader knows is a shining bastion of goodness, but maybe?
 

ironpony

Senior Member
I thought it would be more realistic though, because I thought in real life, people are switched that way. Like if a person was happily married with a loving spouse and kids for example, they probably do not have thoughts of revenge killings naturally. But if their spouse and kids were to be murdered, they would probably then have those desires, never having those thoughts before the event. So I thought that was more realistic. If that makes sense, or no?
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
I thought it would be more realistic though, because I thought in real life, people are switched that way. Like if a person was happily married with a loving spouse and kids for example, they probably do not have thoughts of revenge killings naturally. But if their spouse and kids were to be murdered, they would probably then have those desires, never having those thoughts before the event. So I thought that was more realistic. If that makes sense, or no?

If I were writing that and wanted to foreshadow, I'd include a scene where the character is watching or reading news coverage of a traumatic assault or killing of an unrelated family. "What would you do if you were ever in a situation like that?" "Dunno."
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
I thought it would be more realistic though, because I thought in real life, people are switched that way. Like if a person was happily married with a loving spouse and kids for example, they probably do not have thoughts of revenge killings naturally. But if their spouse and kids were to be murdered, they would probably then have those desires, never having those thoughts before the event. So I thought that was more realistic. If that makes sense, or no?

I think your idea of someone losing their family and then becoming a revenge killer could work, and there is no reason your MC would have to think or do anything bad prior to the killing of their family. But, what makes your MC prone to becoming a revenge killer as opposed to any other choice (getting depressed and self imploding, becoming a victim advocate, etc.)? Whatever traits make your character eventually choose a life of revenge killing are the traits that you could be using to foreshadow his eventual change.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I wrote a screenplay, and my story is about a police officer who starts off innocent and then halfway through he becomes corrupted, and then much more corrupted by the end. So it's turning from good to bad type story.

But a couple of readers told me that they felt I should have foreshadowed this plot turn coming rather than go for a total surprise. I was aiming for a surprise, because typically I don't like foreshadowing things in writing, because you see it coming if you do.

Since I wrote a script, I use movies as examples, but one comparison I can think of is The Dark Knight, where

SPOILER


In the first act the Harvey Dent character says "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain". And because he said that, he totally made it predictable that he would be the villain, even if you are not familiar with the comic book, the foreshadowing made it predictable.

So normally I do not like foreshadowing for that purpose, but am I wrong and foreshadowing or seeing it the wrong way? Thank you for any advice on it! I really appreciate it!

Pick something from the future moment you want foreshadowed, and reference it in earlier text as, ostensibly, a throwaway remark/piece of scenery/etc.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
Well if I am told I should foreshadow and that it's important, how do I do so without breaking the fourth wall? In screenwriting, you are only allowed to write what the audience will see or hear, so how do you write a foreshadowing since it's not typically something an audience can see or hear, if that makes sense?

There's a "trick". If you say "Janey was going to have a horrible day," you break the fourth wall. If the narration is Janey thinking "Today is going to be perfect.", then a reader in the know will realize it is not going to be perfect.

Or: "Johnny was walking down the street in a safe neighborhood, with nothing to worry about." Something probably happens to Johnny.

Or: "Everyone agreed that he was the cop least likely to go bad." Put that way, he probably goes bad.

I doubt that always is possible, and you have to adapt to your story.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, it's just I am writing a screenplay, sorry I didn't specify before. So I am only allowed to write what the audience would see or hear and cannot write things, like if a character is the least likely to turn bad or not, of course.

I think your idea of someone losing their family and then becoming a revenge killer could work, and there is no reason your MC would have to think or do anything bad prior to the killing of their family. But, what makes your MC prone to becoming a revenge killer as opposed to any other choice (getting depressed and self imploding, becoming a victim advocate, etc.)? Whatever traits make your character eventually choose a life of revenge killing are the traits that you could be using to foreshadow his eventual change.

Well in order for someone to become a revenge killer, do they have to have traits in them beforehand, that make them turn that way, or could the crime that happens to them be the trait that turns the character on the own? Could a crime happening to someone, be powerful enough on it's own, to turn someone bad, without any prior traits beforehand?

I guess for my story, I want the main character to go from mr. morally clean and perfect, to becoming corrupt, about halfway through. But if I give him traits that he could be come corrupt beforehand, that he is not mr. clean so much, if he has such traits already, if that makes sense? Or maybe I am looking at it the wrong way?
 

Ajoy

Senior Member
Oh okay, it's just I am writing a screenplay, sorry I didn't specify before. So I am only allowed to write what the audience would see or hear and cannot write things, like if a character is the least likely to turn bad or not, of course. *That's actually very interesting (I have no idea about screenplays) :)



Well in order for someone to become a revenge killer, do they have to have traits in them beforehand, that make them turn that way, or could the crime that happens to them be the trait that turns the character on the own? Could a crime happening to someone, be powerful enough on it's own, to turn someone bad, without any prior traits beforehand?

I guess for my story, I want the main character to go from mr. morally clean and perfect, to becoming corrupt, about halfway through. But if I give him traits that he could be come corrupt beforehand, that he is not mr. clean so much, if he has such traits already, if that makes sense? Or maybe I am looking at it the wrong way?

I think yes, one event could completely alter your character. My wonder would be, what about that character made him make the choice to become corrupt rather than another path like single mindedly using the legal system to seek justice or simply falling apart/getting so depressed that he self destructs. What causes your character to make the choice he does? What influences, memories, habits, etc. make that choice make sense?

I actually have a main character who goes through this kind of change. One particular set of events causes her to do some bad things (in grief), and then she sort of digs in and doubles down on the evil acts, justifying whatever she does to herself because of her beliefs/history/influences. My story first represents her cruel side. Then it shows her at varying points when she was still good, and finally, in the end, the story of what turned her becomes clear. Right now, I'm just working on making the connection between the good version and the corrupted version of her clear...sort of creating a whole representation of her arc through moments in her life.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, thanks, your example of your work is an interesting one. One thing I was told a couple of times before is that since my protagonist is mr. clean and does not become flawed until he wants revenge later, is that him being mr. clean for the first half, makes for an interesting character for the first half because he has no moral flaws. I can kind of see the point there, but if I want a character to go from mr. clean to being corrupt, do I then risk the character not being interested for the first half therefore as a result?
 

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