Episode 81: Foreshadowing

On February 8, 2020, Kasie and Rex took on the topic of foreshadowing with a little help from an internet full of resources. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the Day: Foreshadowing


  • What is foreshadowing
  • How to do it in your own work
  • What not to do
  • News in the S.C. Writer Universe
assorted tarot cards on table
Photo by Alina Vilchenko on Pexels.com

Segment 1

From LiteraryDevice.net:

Foreshadowing is a literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story. Foreshadowing often appears at the beginning of a story, or a chapter, and it helps the reader develop expectations about the upcoming events.

Ways to implement: character dialogues, plot events, and changes in setting, title of a work or a chapter.

So why do it?

“Foreshadowing in fiction creates an atmosphere of suspense in a story, so that the readers are interested and want to know more.”

Misconceptions (From Wikipedia):

Foreshadowing is often confused with other literary techniques. Some of these techniques include:

  • A “red herring”, is a hint that is designed to mislead the audience. However, foreshadowing only hints at a possible outcome within the confinement of a narrative, and purposely leads readers in the right direction.
  • A “flashforward” is a scene that takes the narrative forward in time from the current point of the story in literature, film, television, and other media.[3][4] Foreshadowing is sometimes employed through characters’ explicitly predicting the future.[5] Flash-forward occurs when scenes are shown out of chronological order in a nonlinear narrative, and chronology is inconsistent in an anachronist order such as to get the reader or audience thinking about the climax or reveals.
  • The “Chekhov’s gun”, everything superfluous must be deleted.

Sideshadowing (literary critic Gary Morson): Found notably in the epic novels of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, it is the practice of including scenes that turn out to have no relevance to the plot. This, according to Morson, increases the verisimilitude of the fiction because the audience knows that in real life, unlike in novels, most events are in fact inconsequential. This “sense of structurelessness” invites the audience to “interpret and question the events that actually do come to pass”

Why is it important? (From Author’s Craft section of UdleEditions.com)

“Foreshadowing can make extraordinary, even fanciful events seem more believable; if the text foreshadows something, the reader feels prepared for the events when they happen.”

Foreshadowing Examples in Literature (From LiteraryDevices.net)

Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is rich with foreshadowing examples, one of which is the following lines from Act 2, Scene 2:

“Life were better ended by their hate, Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love”

In the balcony scene, Juliet is concerned about Romeo’s safety as she fears her kinsmen may catch him. Romeo says, in the above lines, that he would rather have her love and die sooner, than not obtain her love and die later. Eventually, he gets her love and dies for her love, too.

Great Expectations (By Charles Dickens)

A description of weather in Chapter 39 foreshadows the momentous changes in the life of a character named Pip:

“Day after day, a vast heavy veil had been driving over London from the East, and it drove still, as if in the East there were an Eternity of cloud and wind.”

Pip’s observations on the weather before Magwitch’s arrival. It is a foreshadowing as well as a representation of Pip’s inner chaos. Just as the angry winds leave a trail of destruction in London, Magwitch’s disclosure opens a path of destruction in Pip’s life.

The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls (By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

“The tide rises, the tide falls,

The twilight darkens, the curlew call …

And the tide rises, the tide falls.”

The title of the poem foreshadows the entire poem, how nature and life start and end. It is about the tides, their motions, and the circle of life. The darkness and ups and downs of tides foretell that the travelers would never return.

MacBeth – Three Witches – are prophecies really foreshadowing? Or just the writer telling us what’s going to happen so we don’t get lost?

“By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes.”

Segment 2

Common Examples of Foreshadowing (From YourDictionary.com)

  • Sometimes a future event is mentioned earlier in the story, like a comment about a meeting between characters. The reader already knows that that there are issues that will discussed.
  • A pre-scene shows something that will reoccur. For example, in a western movie, the good guy enters a bar, has a drink, and leaves. The bad guy scowls and spits on the floor and you know there is definitely more to come between them.
  • Heightened concern is also used to foreshadow events. A child leaves the house and the parent is overly concerned about them. The child tells the parent not to worry, that everything will be fine. Readers will see this worry as a precursor to danger coming soon.
  • A gun is a sign of upcoming events. Sometimes it will be hidden in a drawer or glove compartment.
  • Worry or apprehension of a character also foreshadows. This may be shown with facial expressions, gestures, or words. At this point the readers don’t know what is wrong, but they anticipate finding out.
  • A character’s thoughts can foreshadow. For example, “I told myself this is the end of my trouble, but I didn’t believe myself.”
  • Narration can foreshadow by telling you something is going to happen. Details are often left out, but the suspense is created to keep interest. For examples, the character wakes up and the narration talks about how this is going to be the longest day of his life.
  • Predictions can obviously foreshadow. Examples are the character losing a talisman or reading her horoscope.
  • Symbolism is often used for foreshadowing. This might be a lone animal, like a bird, or storm clouds.

So how do you do this? Correctly? NowNovel.com has 8 laws.

  • Rule 1: Make foreshadowing relevant

Overusing foreshadowing can have an unintentionally comic effect. If you make a trivial event blown out of proportion, your writing assumes the melodramatic tone of a soap opera. Remember to save foreshadowing mostly for major events throughout your novel.

A good example of foreshadowing: The strange sounds Hogwarts’ students’ hear in the walls in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, sounds that portend the monster they later discover.

What’s a bad example of foreshadowing? If, for example, a character’s eyes change color or glow when something is about to happen. This is a cliché from the world of comic book superheroes.

  • Rule 2: Understand the purpose of foreshadowing

Foreshadowing … says ‘pay attention, this is important,’ it should build suspense or prepare readers for a turn of plot that would otherwise seem unlikely.

The purpose will help you determine how to foreshadow. If you want to build suspense, be obvious enough for the reader to notice.

For example, if you show your main character hiding a gun in his glove compartment, this foreshadows a violent event.

If you are simply setting up a plot situation for later, be almost invisible to the reader.

The brilliant playwright and short story author Anton Chekhov once said that if you introduce a gun in a story, it should go off at some point.

A novel has a bit more space to sprawl than either a short story or a play. It is not necessary for every element to have an important function at novel length.

However, the introduction of something major like a gun where it does not belong or a piece of shocking information (for example, a character discovering his colleague has committed fraud) needs to have a payoff later in the novel.

  • Rule 4: Include plot foretelling at the outlining stage
  • Rule 5: Don’t overdo it
  • Rule 6: Make plot pay-offs fit their buildup
  • Rule 7: Use the revision stage to add or fix plot links
  • Rule 8: Get feedback on how you foreshadow your plot

Segment 3

Examples (From Novel-Writing-Help.com)

  1. Pre-scene – the smaller version of what will come later
  2. Naming an Approaching Event – like a storm, a wedding, or a ceremony of some kind
  3. Irrational concern – Overprotective parents, overly cautious measures taken to ensure safety like belts tightened before liftoff
  4. Apprehension – Characters second guessing, thinking through the possible bad scenarios, “I have a bad feeling about this”
  5. Narrator statement – “She didn’t know that wouldn’t last.”
  6. Show a loaded gun – “that’s gonna be a thing”
  7. Opinion – “I told myself there would be no more bodies. I didn’t believe a word of it.”
  8. Prophecy – fortune tellers, psychics, etc.
  9. Omens and Symbols – a “goocher” in Stand by Me

Segment 4

SC writerverse news

Ready to support Write On SC? Go to Patreon.com/WriteOnSC to become a patron.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s