Foreshadowing as a literary or narrative technique is defined as dialogue, action, or an event that:
- sets the stage for a story to unfold and gives the reader a hint of something that’s going to happen without revealing the story or spoiling the suspense.
- prepares your readers on a sub-conscious level for what’s coming, without allowing them to guess the ins and outs of the plot twist.
- creates suspense, builds anticipation, or hints at what will come later.
The novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy begins in a train station. When the protagonist arrives, she hears of an accident: a man has been trampled by a train. The train station and the accident foreshadow Anna’s own end.
What you should and shouldn’t do
And so you should never promise that a gun will be fired if it never actually is. That is failing to deliver. Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to:
- Foreshadow the fact that the gun will be fired.
- Imply that Character A will use it to kill Character B.
- But actually, in the end, have Character A use it on himself.
Let’s get on with the Prompts. More theory comes later.
Foreshadowing through Pre-Scene
1. You are in the cockpit of a plane. The plane hits turbulence, and captain struggles to regain control. All is fine.
2. You are in a Wild West saloon. The hero walks in and orders whiskey. Over in the corner, the baddie watches him drink. As the hero leaves, the baddie spits on the floor.
3. You are not very religious. But your family member is, and you are forced to say a prayer. Only, you do it in a very mocking tone.
Foreshadowing an Approaching Event (Raise the stakes of the event so much that the reader is waiting to see what happens)
4. Fred left the house at eleven o’clock and drove into town. He was meeting his father for lunch at Brown’s. Officially, they were just ‘catching up’, but they both knew Fred needed money again – and not such a small amount this time, either.
5. The Gathering always happened on the last new moon of the year. Everyone had grown restless as the equinox came and went.
Using Irrational Concern. (Character is irrationally afraid of something)
6. A teenage girl leaves the house for an evening out with her friends. Her mother makes her promise to be back before midnight. The girl kisses her mother and tells her she worries too much. She’ll be fine, she says.
7. A man is worried about being buried alive or early burial, or mistaken burial.
8. A man is invited to his long-lost friend’s house, way out in the country. He knows only that something strange has happened to his friend. As he approaches, he is filled with fear about the house, and the desolate nature around it, and he especially sees a crack, a fissure in the house that is strange.
Using Character Apprehension – (Character is scared about something)
9. As a man gets ready for work, we see that he is tense and sweating. His wife kisses him goodbye and wishes him good luck. The man throws her an uneasy look and picks up his briefcase.
Using Dialogue and Character Opinion.
10. “I suppose there was talk in our house, afterward.”
11. I told myself there would be no more bodies, but I didn’t believe a word of it.
12. “Does this safari guarantee I come back alive?” Reply: “We guarantee nothing!”
Showing a loaded Gun – (if you show a gun, you have to fire it)
13. An old man is sitting at his desk looking at his stamp collection. When he opens the drawer for his magnifying glass, his fingers brush against something…
14. You visit a fortune teller. She looks into her crystal ball, then suddenly closes her eyes and crosses herself.
15. A man is at his breakfast table, when he sees something he considers lucky on the floor.
Foreshadowing Through Symbolic Omens
16. The first thing Mary saw when she pulled back the curtains was a solitary magpie sitting on the fence. She waited for a second bird to appear, but no magpie came
17. Or Mary can just open her curtains and see storm clouds gathering on the horizon.
18. The leaves fell early that year.
1. Foreshadowing with a “Pre-Scene”
A pre-scene is simply a smaller version of a larger scene to come. They are not significant by themselves, but they imply that there is something more spectacular waiting to happen right around the corner.
In fiction, unlike in real life, everything happens for a reason. Every cause has an effect. If the reader of a novel witnesses an event that fizzles out before anything dramatic happens, they know that the drama will come later in the story.
2. Foreshadowing by Naming an Approaching Event
Simply naming the event and indicating why it is likely to be momentous is one of the simplest ways of foreshadowing there is.
‘The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. He’d been dead for ten days before they found him, you know.’ (Donna Tartt’s The Secret History,)
This type of foreshadowing charges scenes with suspense. Now we first meet Edward ‘Bunny’ Corcoran, alive and obnoxious, we wonder when the murder is going to occur.
On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese, the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.’ Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides:
3. Using Irrational Concern
In fiction, however, there is no such thing as irrationality. If a character worries, the reader expects – indeed, demands – that these worries are for a reason. But in this case, misdirection is a good friend.
4. Foreshadowing Through Apprehension
If a character is worried, the readers will also be worried.
5.. Using Narrator Statement
6. Foreshadowing with Dialogue and Character Opinion
Stephen King begins his classic paranormal horror novel The Shining with an interview foreshadowing future developments:
“I asked if your wife fully understood what you would be taking on here. And there’s your son, of course.” He glanced down at the application in front of him. “Daniel. Your wife isn’t a bit intimidated by the idea?”
“Wendy is an extraordinary woman.”
“And your son is also extraordinary?”
Jack smiled, a big wide PR smile. “We like to think so, I suppose. He’s quite self-reliant for a five-year-old.”
8. Foreshadowing Through Prophecy
When characters are given the gift of reading the future.
9. Foreshadowing Through Symbolic Omens
(refer to prompt) Any reader who knows the magpie rhyme “one for sorrow, two for joy…” will immediately suspect the worst for Mary, even if Mary herself is untroubled by the sighting and soon forgets about it.
In novels, symbolism counts. Here is how Ernest Hemingway famously foreshadows an early death in the opening line of A Farewell to Arms…
The leaves fell early that year.