Writing Hijinks: How to Utilize Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a powerful tool but one a lot of people struggle with. Foreshadowing is a warning or indication of a future event. It gets the reader ready for the big events that occur later in your story. This doesn’t mean we come right out and tell our readers what’s coming next, just that we lay the foundation for these events. This is also where Checkov’s gun comes into play. If you show your readers that your character has a gun, readers will expect it to go off later. This is important for foreshadowing, that we give the readers all the crucial information and details they will need for later on. On the other hand, don’t spend time talking about an item or plot point that will not come into play later. Readers will feel cheated when it doesn’t.
The first part of foreshadowing is planting clues for the reader. We want to keep this subtle so readers won’t guess what’s coming, just that it’s a possibility. So if the main character is going to be kidnapped by the baddie, you can show a strange man following her home from work. Or if your main character is unknowingly related to the villain, describe their similar appearance. Balance between subtle clues and making an obvious connection. Readers should be able to look back at these hints and wonder how they missed them, but you don’t want them to guess the ending before it comes. And the more important the foreshadowed event is, the sooner you need to foreshadow it in your story. Don’t wait until right before the event to foreshadow it. Readers will again feel cheated. So if your character is a black belt martial artist, don’t wait until just before his first epic fight to tell us. That way when he wins it won’t feel contrived or too easy.
The second part of foreshadowing is the payoff. This is the event that you’ve foreshadowed unraveling. The reader should say“Aha! How did I not see this coming?” from the clues you’ve planted previously. This keeps the reader from feeling cheated by these big events that otherwise may seem too convenient or out of nowhere because the reader will know that these situations are possible. The payoff should be satisfying for the reader. Shoot off that gun. Show her getting kidnapped. Reveal that familial relationship.
Be careful you don’t give away your ending when you foreshadow. It may help to work backward from the event to figure out your clues to plant. Ask yourself what hints you can give the reader without giving it all away. Get really creative with your clues.
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