Ever since the spark of my creative writing career those many years ago, I’ve always leaned toward foreshadowing – both in my own writing as well as favoring it in the works of others. Why? Hard to explain, but I think I can best sum it up by saying it gives me something to look forward to – and something to compare once the event actually happens and I can go back and say “aha!”.
It’s a classical element of storytelling that, in my opinion, sets some authors apart from the rest of the bunch. Not to belittle anyone’s talent for writing, but if you use it well, you’ve made a fan out of me. The sad news is that lately I don’t seem to find it in use very much, if at all.
I’ve stated it before – I read a lot of books, and I mean quite a lot. Aside from the works that were written 20+ years ago, I’ve yet to find much foreshadowing in use in recent works – or at least used properly.
So what is proper use? Here’s an example, simple yet effective:
“At least it looks like this is all over for you,” Joe said gravely, as Kevin breathed a heavy sigh of relief at the sight of the alien spacecraft jetting into the atmosphere out of sight.
Now – what just happened there? Sure, the spaceship is gone and Kevin is obviously relieved; why, we don’t know since it’s out of context for this example. However, one word up there subtly tells us what we can anticipate taking place in the near future: Kevin is going to suffer an untimely demise. Whether that’s from another alien invasion, or just Joe getting ready to clunk Kevin over the head with the mallet behind his back.
That one word – gravely – attached to the simple statement that the Joe character made tells us that something bad is going to happen to Kevin. A very simple, yet very elegant way to raise the subtlest of signs to the reader that they need to pay attention; and it only cost me one word. The beauty is that I didn’t really tell you anything, other than “psst! Something’s gonna happen!”.
Unfortunately, I’ve also seen overuse of foreshadowing. Some authors feel it’s necessary to telegraph things in every paragraph. Yikes! While that might work for a dream sequence, I’d hardly recommend doing it in bulk. After all, if you’re spending a majority of the story telling the reader to watch out in the future, what exactly are you telling them in the present? Sounds like wasted effort, in my humble opinion. You’d be better off just getting to the action and spare the reader the overhyped suspense.
There are some very talented authors out there pumping out some very readable work – I’d just like to see a healthier does of literary devices, particularly foreshadowing. It keeps me interested, and I can’t be the only one that shares that opinion.
So my advice to you, my author friends: practice using them – even if it’s just once. You’ll be surprised the avenues it opens up, and how much richer it makes your work.
Your fans will thank you.