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

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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Don't be melodramatic and do hide from the reader important information as to withhold. The character should be the center of the story. For example let's say a murderous serial killer is on the loose. You hide this information from the reader. What is more you can make it a backstory of the character you chose that isn't predictable (moving into the present time of the story). Maybe the character has a gun from the murderous serial killer. He hides it from the police. A possible motive could be to downplay the serial killer story. The serial killer information enters late into the story. Maybe the character is an advocate for not using guns, and the gun was his own that he used. To make it unpredictable you don't put the killer killing people as the plot (as if banal because that's how a newspaper headline could read). The character must take over. So you create a character that puts the story of the serial killer underneath the surface of the story. Maybe a woman fell for the serial killer. But that woman could be a sister of the character. He keeps it a secret since he doesn't want to break her heart, and then of course he wants to find the serial killer plot event, and after doing it move away from town. By moving away from the serial killer and using a point of view character that is appropriate you avoid the cliché. You didn't use the killer in a scene because the character killing people is too cliché for a story on a serial killer. I read this advice from robin hemley's book. His book is basing stories on real life. I think the advice is applicable to any fictional work. Because predictable means cliché and it means the reader will be bored. I also read this advice today when doing nothing. Don't reveal motivation, feelings, or anything early on of the character you are using as the pov character because the story will be spoiled. Let the gun be symbolic. Maybe someone else really owns it and was against using it for example. Maybe a retired police officer in the force. The serial killer shapes the character but not by using violence. Or by killing people like a serial killer would. That would be considered cliché in my example. Maybe the truth is known by the end of the story. Melodrama as that found in a newspaper story as an example a serial killer is cliché by default. It's been done millions of times. You need to bring something new to the table when writing a story. So by handling melodrama be extra careful of how the reader will predict things will turn out. Plot is event. Character is what you are writing by avoiding a plot that seems formulaic and predictable. By choosing a pov character you can avoid clichés but by not choosing the most obvious ones such as a victim of the serial killer. Not to mention you story changes completely. So choose a character that makes this not a story that becomes more predictable. As for your story I don't know, but maybe this advice will help you think for yourself how to do it. This enhances characterization. The inner battle that happens in the character's mind is what happens. The event is relegated or made less important.
 
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ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, but I think that your serial killer example is different than mine because you are talking about hiding a twist, like if someone is a killer but the audience doesn't notice, where as I am talking about keeping a character arc from becoming predictable, which is different than a twist, unless they are similar in terms of foreshadowing?
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
The key points: You avoid excessively depending on the plot by choosing a character that doesn't give away the plot and rely on other ways to make your story less cliché. You change the pov character and the character isn't as obvious. You avoid the tropes of your genre, and rely on characterization. By that you take a sideways approach by taking away the tragic in your idea and instead and having the character respond in a unique way. That is a serial killer story will have a person worried about who he will kill next, and fear for their own life. Here the killings are left in the foreground/background. The character is the focus. How will character surprise us and not the plot and make the story unpredictable? You don't focus on melodrama and create character gestures and speech. Maybe a character is a stereotype and our job as writers is to write without a stereotype. Life can be melodramatic. You deal with the aftermath and not the trauma. This he calls indirection to avoid predictability.

I put it up incase it interested you. Personally I think I gave you different examples of cliched handling of serial killer stories in newspapers and how other writers handle it differently. My argument is that a cliched situation relies on plot to surprise. It's a so what story according to Robin Hemley. Take in mind this is from a literary theory book from a mfa program. I find it accessible and I understood it. Anyways I think some of what I said holds true for you. You explore a plot incident of a serial killer killing and this is called according to him indirection. I gave you the example of this strategy. This person is the head of the iowa nonfiction department. It's a useful way to develop stories using nonfiction. That is why in the example he refers to newspapers. The character's behavior can become unpredictable when you hide the motivation and feelings. He says it is easier to write stories about someone else because you have distance from the material. You are then willing to twist the story anecdote from a newspaper and then make it into a story. When we know a characters behavior intrigues us in a newspaper story for example it is a good material for a story because the writer wants to know why as does the reader.

Take the trauma out and have it resemble very little about the event. He is against melodrama which is associated with trauma. This leads to a cliched and predictable plot. This is the point I am trying to make in your thread. Your thread title and question: how do I foreshadow without being predictable about it?

A second way is to cut characters and cut unnecessary details from the original story (in Robin Hemley's book he constantly refers to newspapers and to family stories of people other than ourselves).


The focus is less on the situation and being intrigued by the character's motivations. Let's say for example in the newspaper there is a news story about a woman who hides a secret. She hides the fact she won the lottery and left a lottery ticket in her husband's Christmas present. You as a writer create a unique motivation.

One way to begin the story is to use the dramatic imagination and to make the husband worry why his wife is hiding. But now you know the ending. The character motivation intrigues us.

How to foreshadow I don't know. I have heard writers typically plant clues in the story. Like for example in Shakespeare's cesaer an owl appears in the morning. This is foreshadowing that something is not right (cesaer will be killed). This was explained by my teacher who was a literature teacher in high school. Or maybe there was a dark and stormy night even though this is a cliché. That highlights something bad is going to happen. Which is the same as the example of the owl.

I tried and I think I answered part of your question. It's a roundabout answer but is one way of writing the story to be less predictable.

You must mix and match your story with events from your own life or that is memories. He argues we can combine anecdotes. It's always easier to write about the other person's anecdote and not what happened to ourselves he argues. It creates more distance. I think the benefit he argues for this is that it increases the imagination.

An example of an action a character takes: let's say for the serial killer story the man in question destroys the tv in the house since he is worried the woman in question will have their heart broken. Let's say she has heart disease. I think action is synonymous with gesture in fiction. You avoid a victim story since the protagonist always takes an action.
 
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ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay thank you very much! That's a lot to process but I am thinking about it :).

Well one way I could give the protagonist more flaws is to give him more to do in order to have more flaws. I was told by a couple of readres, that the protagonist does not have enough to do in the first act, since he is a cop working with a team of cops, instead of working by himself.

I was advised before to composite some of the police characters and the MC all into one character to make it more simple and it also gives the MC more to do as well, rather than a group of cops.

However, I am wondering if this makes it less believable. Can the main character be the cop who arrives when 911 is called on the first crime, to make it more clear who the main character is, but also be assigned to the case as a detective after, and also be assigned to be the press spokesperson, and also after doing detective work and finding one of the witnesses, to be assigned to protection duty of that witness as well?


Or does this seem like too much for all one cop to be assigned to coincidentally, as opposed to others taking on the different tasks of the case? Or maybe readers are use the jack of all trades, one man force cop character, and they prefer it? What do you think out of curiosity?
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
Oh okay thank you very much! That's a lot to process but I am thinking about it :).

Well one way I could give the protagonist more flaws is to give him more to do in order to have more flaws. I was told by a couple of readres, that the protagonist does not have enough to do in the first act, since he is a cop working with a team of cops, instead of working by himself.

I was advised before to composite some of the police characters and the MC all into one character to make it more simple and it also gives the MC more to do as well, rather than a group of cops.

However, I am wondering if this makes it less believable. Can the main character be the cop who arrives when 911 is called on the first crime, to make it more clear who the main character is, but also be assigned to the case as a detective after, and also be assigned to be the press spokesperson, and also after doing detective work and finding one of the witnesses, to be assigned to protection duty of that witness as well?


Or does this seem like too much for all one cop to be assigned to coincidentally, as opposed to others taking on the different tasks of the case? Or maybe readers are use the jack of all trades, one man force cop character, and they prefer it? What do you think out of curiosity?

You're still thinking in terms of 'flaws'. Give him traits that can swing both ways. I gave you 'focused and strong willed' (positive traits) which can easily become 'stubborn and self indulgent'. All it takes is to push the right buttons to get him there. There are lots of traits like that. Pick one.

There are no 'baddies' and there are no 'goodies', just circumstance.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Oh okay thank you very much! That's a lot to process but I am thinking about it :).

Well one way I could give the protagonist more flaws is to give him more to do in order to have more flaws. I was told by a couple of readres, that the protagonist does not have enough to do in the first act, since he is a cop working with a team of cops, instead of working by himself.

I was advised before to composite some of the police characters and the MC all into one character to make it more simple and it also gives the MC more to do as well, rather than a group of cops.

However, I am wondering if this makes it less believable. Can the main character be the cop who arrives when 911 is called on the first crime, to make it more clear who the main character is, but also be assigned to the case as a detective after, and also be assigned to be the press spokesperson, and also after doing detective work and finding one of the witnesses, to be assigned to protection duty of that witness as well?


Or does this seem like too much for all one cop to be assigned to coincidentally, as opposed to others taking on the different tasks of the case? Or maybe readers are use the jack of all trades, one man force cop character, and they prefer it? What do you think out of curiosity?
Sure I think that makes sense. My memory is foggy but I think in a movie I saw that the police chief doing that. I am not sure if it was in the o.j. Simpson series which I saw on Netflix and I would research it though since fiction needs to be believable. I am just one person. I would email the police and say you need research since you are writing a movie. They would be flattered probably and would want to help you. Maybe a synopsis of that series could reveal the answer. But anyways I think it could work. But this isn't my area of expertise and maybe the public could believe it. Research it though to find out. The character actions make sense to me even though more context could be needed.
 

apocalypsegal

Senior Member
To me, the thing about foreshadowing is that it's something the reader thinks later "Oh! So, that's what that was about!". Not that it was totally out of left field, but that it wasn't immediately obvious the writer was trying to give a hint. The best way to learn the technique is to read fiction where it's used, see how the writer puts hints, subtle things, things that aren't odd but that the reader takes in without realizing it, until the point where all of it makes sense. A good mystery will have foreshadowing that isn't in your face but isn't too easily forgotten, until the crime is solved and the reader sees it all come together.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay thanks. But when it comes to not foreshadowing at all, in order to keep the most mystery, will the reader always think that the surprise will come too far out of left field?

Is there ever a story where the reader thinks "wow you manage to surprise me without any foreshadowing at all!" , as oppose to thinking it's too far out of left field?
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Oh okay thanks. But when it comes to not foreshadowing at all, in order to keep the most mystery, will the reader always think that the surprise will come too far out of left field?

Is there ever a story where the reader thinks "wow you manage to surprise me without any foreshadowing at all!" , as oppose to thinking it's too far out of left field?

WADR - Your exclamation doesn't make any sense. Forshadowing works againts the surprise not to promote it, They might say something more like "What a surprise...I didn't see it coming...there was no foreshadowing at all." It sounds like the surprise you are speaking of is a twist at the end. It think those are fine, but whatever it is, even if you don't foreshadow, it has to make sense and tie into your story. The reader should be able to look back and say something more like..."That's clever, I never would have thought that, but it all makes sense now." But you specifically don't want to do too much foreshadowing in that event. Just make sure you tie it in, so it's believable. I think that is the real skill. The reader should be thinking Brilliant! Not...Unrealistic!
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh well I was told before that foreshadowing enhances the surprise, and not working against it, which I did not understand, unless that is incorrect, and it's the other way around?
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
Oh well I was told before that foreshadowing enhances the surprise, and not working against it, which I did not understand, unless that is incorrect, and it's the other way around?

My view of it is that foreshadowing is essential if you're going to do something otherwise unpredictable. You've got to prime the reader/viewer to have the possibility in the back of his head, even if you don't make it obvious (and you shouldn't). If you just spring your surprise on your audience with no prep or buildup, they're likely to call it a deus ex machina...or, in modern English, say, "Now that's cheating." Either way your story loses traction...and viewers.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
My view of it is that foreshadowing is essential if you're going to do something otherwise unpredictable. You've got to prime the reader/viewer to have the possibility in the back of his head, even if you don't make it obvious (and you shouldn't). If you just spring your surprise on your audience with no prep or buildup, they're likely to call it a deus ex machina...or, in modern English, say, "Now that's cheating." Either way your story loses traction...and viewers.

Oh okay, I thought that a deus ex machina is when a huge convenience happens for the main character. But if the surprise would be a huge inconvenience for the main character, I didn't think it would count as a deus ex machina. I thought that convenience determined whether or not something counted as a deus ex machina, and if it was foreshadowed or not.

But do you ever read a book or watch a movie where you see the big surprise or twist coming in advance, and you think to yourself, that if they just didn't foreshadow it, than you wouldn't have seen it coming, and it would have been more of a surprise as a result?
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
Oh okay, I thought that a deus ex machina is when a huge convenience happens for the main character. But if the surprise would be a huge inconvenience for the main character, I didn't think it would count as a deus ex machina. I thought that convenience determined whether or not something counted as a deus ex machina, and if it was foreshadowed or not.

But do you ever read a book or watch a movie where you see the big surprise or twist coming in advance, and you think to yourself, that if they just didn't foreshadow it, than you wouldn't have seen it coming, and it would have been more of a surprise as a result?

I'm not saying that there aren't different styles, and I'm not saying that there aren't surprises in life and that there shouldn't be any in fiction. But I believe that the best stories use appropriate foreshadowing. Hey, even God foreshadows: "Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7 NKJV)."
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Oh well I was told before that foreshadowing enhances the surprise, and not working against it, which I did not understand, unless that is incorrect, and it's the other way around?

Yes, you're right, foreshadowing may 'enhance' the surprise, but it doesn't contribute to causing a surprise. I may be hints to give away a surprise if you are not subtle enough. Do you not see why your sentence doesn't make sense?

"wow you manage to surprise me without any foreshadowing at all!"
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, no, sorry, I do not see how it doesn't make sense. I thought the less you foreshadow, the bigger the suprise will be normally.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Oh okay, no, sorry, I do not see how it doesn't make sense. I thought the less you foreshadow, the bigger the suprise will be normally.

Exactly, but your sentence portrays the opposite. And I think you are just toying with me now, because you're a pretty good writer and I think you know what I am getting at.

Your sentence suggest that the person is impressed that you were able to suprise them without any foreshadowing:

Do you mean: "Wow you manage to surprise me without any foreshadowing at all!" or,

"Wow, you surprised me, without any foreshadowing at all!" or,

"Wow, even though you had some foreshadowing, you still managed to surprise me!"

But you are probably laughing your head off right now...because you know exactly what I am talking about. :)
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh well this is what I meant: "Wow you manage to surprise me without any foreshadowing at all!" But did I not make sense by saying that?
 

TheMightyAz

Staff member
Mentor
Oh okay, no, sorry, I do not see how it doesn't make sense. I thought the less you foreshadow, the bigger the suprise will be normally.

I don't understand why you find the concept of foreshadowing so complicated. In Apparition, in the very first scene, I have Arthur with blood on his cheek and blood on his sleeve. When asked whose blood it is, he says his wife's. Yes, that's foreshadowing but it's ambiguous foreshadowing. How that blood got there and under what circumstances is the question I'm deliberately posing there. When the reader finally finds out, chances are they'll think they're smart, even though at this point I still haven't entirely decided which side I'm going to fall.

This scene is followed by a domestic scene in which Sarah (his wife) and Arthur play a little game of who can get one over on the other. In this scene there is some foreshadowing too. This game they play works out well usually, but as I show at the end of the scene, it can go badly wrong too, adding to the ambiguity of the first scene, and that's because it can also go both ways.

Blood on his sleeve + game of sarcasm that can sometimes go wrong = foreshadowing of events to come but not yet clear which way things will go. Now throw in the fact he's a writer and the Apparition (Heather) has occupied his mind rather like a character occupies a writer's mind when they're writing stories. Could Sarah become jealous? Could the game they play get even more sour?

Why is his wife's blood on his cheek and shirt sleeve? The two things are connected. I'm taking something that's a positive about their relationship and flipping it with an event into something that could potentially be detrimental.
 
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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Oh well this is what I meant: "Wow you manage to surprise me without any foreshadowing at all!" But did I not make sense by saying that?

Can you rephrase that using different words so I can figure out what you are trying to say?
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, it's not that I don't find foreshadowing complicated I don't think, I just don't understand why it's necessary. I thought a surprise would be a bigger surprise without it, but I do not understand how surprises are forced without it. I thought the point of a surprise was to surprise as much as possible, and still do not understand how it's forced without foreshadowing. In real life for example, surprises can happen without it being foreshadowed to anyone, so I didn't think it was unrealistic. I am just trying to understand how surprises are forced without it.
 
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