And the Morning Sky was Red: The Art of Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing increases dramatic tension within a novel. It builds anticipation, adds suspense, and drops hints to readers. With small details we can indicate that things could go wrong. Sometimes those things do. Sometimes not. The point of foreshadowing is to help keep readers interested.

There are a few things to be aware of when foreshadowing:

  • Don’t be overly obvious. Heighten expectations, but keep readers guessing. You can also mislead readers (as long as it’s justified) by making them believe that one thing will happen, when something else actually occurs. For instance, instead of person A shooting person B, person A shoots himself.
  • Don’t break your promises to readers. When you foreshadow that something big is going to happen, you can’t back out. For example, if you lead readers to believe that a major character will escape death, readers will be disappointed, and probably mad, if you kill off that character.

There are many ways to foreshadow effectively. Here’s a list of some of the ways:

  • Name a coming event. Not the most subtle technique, but by naming an event and indicating why it’s going to be problematic, readers will anticipate the upcoming event, and will want to see how it’ll play out.
  • Use symbolism. Something as simple as “the leaves fell early that year” (A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway) implies something is going to happen. Having a group of kids playing “Ring Around the Rosie” could be another sign. What’s great about symbolism is it can be very subtle. The character(s) may not pick up on the foreshadowing, but readers will.
  • Prophecies. In real life, a lot of people don’t believe in crystal balls, horoscopes, and the like. But in novels, nothing is meaningless. If something is included in a book, it’s important.
  • Apprehension. Describing someone as sweaty or tense, or with shaking limbs, or having an uneasy look all indicate to readers that a big event is about to occur. Seeing that the characters are apprehensive, will make readers apprehensive.

Foreshadowing allows us to guide readers’ expectations. It helps us to prepare them for what’s to come. Heavy foreshadowing is used for the biggest events within the novel. This type of foreshadowing starts early on in the book and continues throughout, until the major event. Light foreshadowing is used for smaller events, and can be used to “poke” readers, reminding them that the big event you foreshadowed in the first chapters is finally about to happen.

Just remember not to go overboard with foreshadowing. Let the reader do the work. (Readers are usually very good at interpreting information and reading between the lines. They’ll get bored if you point out every little thing to them.)

What do you think of foreshadowing?

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