How to Foreshadow
by Deborah Owen
What is foreshadowing? You read it in every story and see it in every movie, but what is it? With new understanding, you can spot it and learn how to use it effectively in your own work.
Foreshadowing is the art of layering clues to build tension. For example, if a story has a prowler on the loose and there is a scene with an open window in an otherwise locked house, that is foreshadowing.
You can introduce foreshadowing with fortunetellers, séances, and Ouija Boards, or use them in opening lines, settings, dialogue, imagery, poetry, articles, stories, or even advertisements.
You’ve seen stories where a man is about to stab a woman in the shower. The act of a hand holding a knife and reaching for the shower curtain is foreshadowing. Or how about the drum beating, heart throbbing fin of Jaws? The horror genre has built morbidity on this technique big time, and it would seem thousands of followers love to nibble their nails into the quick.
In my story, There’s the Someone I Will Kill, a teenage girl suffers a breakup with her boyfriend. Home alone, she takes Mom’s Valium, drinks Dad’s Vodka, and then finds her father’s gun. The scene is set for something crazy.
First she plans to kill her boyfriend, but decides to win him back; however, the murderess rage won’t stop until she sets out to kill… someone. Drunk and doped, she carries the gun in her pocket and walks the aisles of a local store, looking for an old, sick, or handicapped person who would surely rather die than live in their present condition.
As she scans one candidate after another, my readers won’t raid their refrigerator until that scene has finished.
Now, let’s look at the foreshadowing in these scenes:
- The breakup (scene charged with emotion)
- Drunkenness (psychological changes)
- Complicated by Valium (loss of conscience)
- Weapon (opportunity)
- Decides she will win boyfriend back (twisted reasoning)
- Devilish mood (hate and anger, about to be acted out)
- Store scene (high tension)
- Selection of victim
All of these breadcrumbs escort my reader to a surprising ending.
It has been said that the first part of the story should be foreshadowed, and the last part, foreshadowing acted out. Writing is all about techniques and formulas, and foreshadowing, done well, is a sure formula for success.
Your Assignment: recognize ten foreshadowing plots in a story or on TV this week. Don’t forget to like us before you leave the page! Find more great tips in The Writer’s Choice Newsletter at http://cwinst.com/newslettersignup.php.