Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tips on Foreshadowing Part 2: Character Relationships

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Guess what?! One of my blog posts was featured in The Funnily Enough! (*Squee!*) Check it out here.

This is part two of my series on foreshadowing. See Part 1 here.

Let's talk about character relationships. As with all foreshadowing, the most important thing to remember is that all stories inherently set up certain promises to the reader. It's crucial that you deliver on those promises. How do you set up these promises, you ask? Well, chances are you've already done it. You just don't know it.

If your MC is a woman and early on in the story she meets a man who's smoking hot but a jerk, you've already set up one of these promises. Most readers are smart enough to know that this will probably be the main love interest. At some point, they're hoping to see their expectations satisfied.

If you say that your MC doesn't get along with a sibling, then your audience is expecting this to be resolved at some point. It doesn't matter whether the siblings end up hating each other for all time or come to terms. Either way, you have to resolve this because by making a point of mentioning it, you've set up a promise, which you now have to deliver on.

An example of this done WELL: all the teenage-drama type shows on TV. They tend to introduce the major love interest right away, show a spark, then spend two or three seasons keeping the main guy and gal apart. Frustrating? Yes. But it keeps people watching because the audience knows who is supposed to be together and they keep coming back, waiting for the writers to make good on the promise they set up in the first episode.

And what happens when one of the main characters leave the show? More often than not, the viewers leave too. Without any chance of satisfaction on the promises originally set, they lose interest in the series.

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An example of this done BADLY: The Millenium series. *spoilers ahead* I LOVED The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I liked it less because of the characters and more because of the mystery. At it's core, it was a historical whodunit, and I loved the way Stieg Larsson handled it. I couldn't put it down. I didn't want to read books 2 and 3 because I knew they wouldn't have the mystery, and I wasn't particularly fond of the characters. However, Larsson set up a romance at the end of book 1. He says that Lisbeth Salander is totally in love with Bloomkvist, but Bloomkvist doesn't reciprocate. Lisbeth harbors unrequited love for him, and he's totally oblivious. The first book ends on that note. I was willing to keep reading to see exactly how they ended up together. And guess what? *spoilers* They don't end up together. It seems like everything is pointing to that throughout the rest of the story. Then, a few hundred pages before the end of the trilogy, Larsson simply changes his mind. Bloomkvist ends up with someone else and Lisbeth decides that though she's still fond of him, she can deal with him being with someone else. Um...LAME! I couldn't believe the author did that! If you don't want your MCs romantically involved, fine! I get it! But don't set the audience up to expect something, and then take it away! I went from only kind of, sort of liking the trilogy to all-out hating it! DON'T DO THIS TO YOUR READERS!!!

So, set up your promises of relationships, whether romantic or platonic, by

1) Starting in the opposite place you want to end up in. If two people will end up together, they should hate one another at the beginning. If you want two people to come to terms, start with them being estranged, etc.

"What do you mean I'm going to end up with him?"
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Example: Every chick flick EVER! The characters always hate each other at first and think the other person is the last person in the world they could ever end up with. One of my personal faves for reference: You've Got Mail.

2) Make sure that wherever the relationship starts (hating each other, etc.) is disruptive to the MC's world. If it's not, there's no reason to "fix" it.

Example: Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. At first, they aren't particularly fond of one another, but they become good friends. Their dislike of one another is disruptive because they're thrown together and HAVE to work together, so it'd be best if they learn to get along. (Plus there's the bonus of Luke's sister becoming involved with Han. Can we all say brother-in-law?)

3) Gradually move your characters toward the opposite state in their relationship. Do this by degrees. Specifically correlate events between the two characters with their changing emotions toward one another.

Example: Ron and Hermione. Rowling did an excellent job showing their relationship changing over the years. Bit by bit things got better, then worse, then awkward, and eventually they found their way to each other. (So cute!)

4) Make sure you end in the opposite place that you start. BE EXPLICIT ABOUT THIS!!! It will be much more powerful if you do.

Example: Anna and the King. One of my favorite films of all time! At one point, Anna is talking to the king about the fact that he has so many wives. It's a recurring theme throughout the story. He tells her that, as the king, he loves all his wives individually and doesn't understand her problem with plural marriage. At the end, after he's fallen in love with her, he tells her that he now understands the idea of being satisfied with just one woman. It's a direct reference to something discussed earlier in the film that has changed. It's both touching and powerful because we have an earlier frame of reference for it. This is the fulfillment of foreshadowing at it's best!

Foreshadow character relationships and stick to the promises you set up and you can't go wrong!

What do you think? Have you ever read a book where the author made a relationship promise and then didn't deliver?

Random Movie Quotes (RMQ)

Don't know what this is? Click here.

Yesterday's RMQ was "Do you want to be a cop or do you want to appear to be a cop." This was said by Oliver Queenan in the film The Departed, played by Martin Sheen. Great movie, albeit adult. This one was guessed by Alex Cavanaugh. Great job Alex!

Today's RMQ:

"And you think if you save poor Catherine, you could make them stop, don't you? You think if Catherine lives, you won't wake up in the dark ever again to that awful screaming of the lambs."

One point for film, one for actor, one for character. Good luck! :D


  1. Great tips on foreshadowing. It helped that you showed bad examples too. Loved the picture of Ron and Hermione.

  2. Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal Lector. Anthony Hopkins.

  3. Think I did the foreshadowing right!
    And Brandyn beat me to the answer. Bummer.

    1. Good job on the foreshadowing! Isn't it great to read something and realize that you've already done it right in your writing? :D And yeah, she beat you on the answers. But now worries. There's always tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that...:D

  4. "Example: Every chick flick EVER! The characters always hate each other at first and think the other person is the last person in the world they could ever end up with. One of my personal faves for reference: You've Got Mail."

    So true LOL I always joke that the moment the girl says 'You are the most detestable man I've ever met' it means they are going to get together.
    Another great post!

  5. In defense of Stieg Larsson, I gather it was supposed to be more than a trilogy. Maybe they would have ended up together if the author hadn't died.

    1. I didn't know that. Maybe so! Thanks! :D

  6. This is really interesting! And true. If the characters that are meant to be together at the end of the story but they already like each other at the beginning then it's kind of boring and it's like, where can you go from here?

    Ron and Hermione are really cute, I loved the way Rowling made that happen!

    Awesome post!

    1. Thank you! :D Gotta love Ron and Hermione! :D

  7. Congrats on having Funnily Enough pick up your blog on action/fighting scenes! I like that posting. Also, great tips on foreshadowing relationships. Whether it's the main plot or just a subplot, if they don't change to an opposite state of where it started then it gets boring.

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