How to Get Your Foreshadowing Right

Foreshadowing can be a tricky thing to master in your story, but it can add depth and subtlety to your work. When it works, it’s like a magic trick. The payoff is satisfying and we don’t know how we didn’t see it coming. When it’s not done right, the reader feels disappointed and cheated. So let’s look at some tips for foreshadowing.

  • You need the set up. You have to plant clues all through the beginning that prepare your reader for the payoff. They have to anticipate the ending, even just subconsciously. You don’t want to give the ending away, just show it is a possibility so that when it happens, the reader says “why didn’t I see that coming?” If you don’t plant clues, the ending will seem out of nowhere and unrealistic, leading to reader disappointment. Especially if things seem to be going another way. For instance, if you show two characters growing closer together, but then suddenly have them get together with other characters they’ve shown no previous connection with, readers are going to feel cheated by the switch.
  • Foreshadowing is for significant events, not the little everyday things. Don’t overdo your foreshadowing.
  • Don’t plant the clues without the payoff. According to Chekov’s rule, if you introduce a gun into the story, that gun must go off later. Otherwise readers will feel cheated and disappointed you didn’t develop that thread. There must be consequences.
  • Plan backwards. Foreshadow big events by going back and deciding when and where to plant your clues. Sometimes this is easier to do backwards from the event.
  • Plant your clues early on. The more important the event, the more important it is you plant your clues early on.
  • Payoff every hint. Don’t foreshadow things that aren’t significant. But every plant must have its payoff or the reader will feel the story is unresolved. They will feel there’s a thread untied, so tie them all off.
  • Consider foreshadowing big reveals in your characters’ backstories. Don’t mislead your readers or surprise them when you finally reveal backstory. Don’t contradict the truth or lead your readers to believe something you’ll later reveal to be untrue.
  • Foreshadowing can be created by manipulating the mood, setting the tone for the scene. But don’t set the scene with a specific tone if nothing happens or to just add tension.
  • Use rewriting as a way to finesse your foreshadowing. Whether it’s adding clues or rewriting them since the ending changed, always do a pass through your revisions to get your foreshadowing right.

How do you get foreshadowing correct? Share your answer below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

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