Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tips on Foreshadowing--Part 1

Most of this I got from Brandon Sanderson--at least the larger, general ideas. For more from him, visit his website at This is the first of a series about foreshadowing in your story. :D

1) Foreshadow Correctly. Easy-peasy right? Maybe. Maybe not. Foreshadowing should not be heavy-handed, but sneaky. Throw in little tips here and there in places where they will seem unobtrusive. There is really no formula for this. It comes down to honing your craft. Your foreshadow details need to be put in in such a way that they don't stick out. You have to put them in places that it feels natural for them to be.

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For Example: My sister never read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but I remember going to see the movie version with her. After seeing it the second time (you always miss things the first time through) she commented on the fact that Dumbledore does state early on that the tears of Phoenix birds have healing powers. At the end, those powers are needed to heal Harry. If the author had randomly thrown this fact into some part of the narrative or made it so obvious that she was practically bashing the reader over the head with it, it would have been an obvious foreshadowing. Instead, she revealed it during a conversation with Dumbledore about a bird he had, and how great these birds were. It seemed like a natural part of the conversation, so at the end when the bird shows up, the reader fully believes that it can heal Harry and even vaguely remembers learning this fact about the bird. This was a perfect way to foreshadow.

2) Don't Do What People Expect. The first thing you think of will probably be the first thing a lot of people think of. Sanderson says to trash the first five ideas you come up with and use something even less expected. I'm not sure this holds up 100% of the time. Sometimes a great idea strikes and you shouldn't always disregard it. This is a great reason for using a critique group. Let them read the ending and then ask them point blank if it was too obvious. Did they think that would happen? How effective was your foreshadowing? They can tell you a lot. Don't be afraid to change it if it was too easy to guess. If you come up with something less obvious and more unexpected, it can only be a better ending, not a worse one.

3) Plot and Emotions Should be Intricately Tied Up in the Ending. Make sure when you foreshadow that you characters' emotions are tied up in that as well. One great way to do this is to make sure that your foreshadowed details tied directly into your character's emotions.

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For example: if x happens, your character will have a melt down, but since that's not going to happen, it's all okay. Then, right at the end, BAM! X happens. By then, your readers will already know how your character feels about it, and they'll be glued to book to find out what happens. I'm trying to think of a great example, but it's late and I'm drawing a blank, so I'll go with a TV example: 24. This TV show would spend 5-10 episodes racing against time to stop something terrible from happening, such as a virus being released on the public or a nuclear bomb going off. Then, more often than not: BAM! The bomb would blow or the vial carrying the virus would shatter. There would be a collective, country-wide, 24-fan gasp. We were all too aware of the consequences of the disaster. It's been foreshadowed. Stakes are high for the characters in terms of the physical, the emotional, and what they stand to lose. This is a powerful form of foreshadowing.

4) Fulfill Promises You've Made. The key to great foreshadowing is to fulfill all the promises you've made to your reader.

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For example: one of my (and everyone's, it seems) favorite scenes in Star Wars: A New Hope is when Luke, still young and idealistic, stares out at the two moons of his planet. Why is that scene so powerful? Well, the musical score, for one. But it's more than that. You can just feel that he's meant for more than farming with his uncle. There's more he's meant to see and do and become. That scene is a promise made to the viewer that there are grand adventures waiting for him. Foreshadowing at it's awesomest! (Yes, that's totally a word!) And does the franchise deliver on that promise. Uh, yeah. Just a little bit.

Foreshadowing in your story should be the same way. By setting up your world, your relationships between characters, and of course your conflict, you're promising your readers that you'll deliver on certain things. The key to great foreshadowing is as much the foreshadow as the fulfillment of these promises. I'll go into more detail about these things in future posts about foreshadowing! :D

Random Movie Quotes (RMQ)

Don't know what this is? Click here.

Yesterday's RMQ was, "And so the lion fell in love with the lamb."
"What a stupid lamb."
"What a sick, masochistic lion."

This is a conversation between Edward and Bella in--that's right!--Twilight! I know, I know, you can hate on me later! :D Had to do one sometime. Brandyn from Going for Goldilocks guessed it. Great job! Three points for you! :D

Today's RMQ is:

"Cheesy me no likey."

Who said it? One point for film, one for character, one for actor. Okay, this is pretty obscure so I'm about to give you a MAJOR HINT. Listen carefully--uh, I mean read carefully! The "actor" for this is a real actor, of course, but for this specific film, he's a voice. As in, this film is a cartoon. Hope that helps! Good luck! :D


  1. Great tips Liesel. I loved the example from Harry Potter. It was perfect.

  2. The Emperor's New Groove! Said by Emperor Kuzco.
    I'm not sure I'm very good at foreshadowing. When my manuscript comes back from my critique partners, I'll let you know.

    1. Very good! You know cartoons too! Yeah! Thanks Alex!

  3. I think it's hard to two that line between revealing too much and hinting at things to come!

  4. Great tips! I love how great these blogs are for learning from each other. I liked your examples. After reading Brandon Sanderson's books, it doesn't surprise me that he throws out the first 5 endings he thinks of. The endings of his books are so great that they'll blow your mind.

    1. Thanks Rachel! I need to read more of Sanderson's stuff. I've read some, but not much! :D