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How to use foreshadowing in your novel

Foreshadowing is a clever and useful technique you can add to your novel. 

I’ve been asked to write about this a few times so decided today was the day to discuss it in a blog post.

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What is Foreshadowing?

Let’s cover the basics, what exactly is foreshadowing?  It’s a technique used by writers where they give indications of something to come later in the novel.

It’s a great way to get your readers aware and on the lookout for something.  These indications are usually in the early chapters.

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Why is Foreshadowing used?

Foreshadowing allows an author to create suspense or tension in their novel.  These hints of what’s to come, that are dropped in early can often linger with the reader.

Sometimes they can even be missed and then when the future event happens, there is that a-ha moment when the reader remembers back to some point at the beginning.

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Types of Foreshadowing?

Overt

Foreshadowing using worry of future events. Woman looking worried, feeling the panic of time. Image from Pixabay

This is where an event or outcome is directly suggested.  For example, a girlfriend telling her boyfriend that she is worried about his new job as a security guard.  He brushes off her concern with a smile, stating it’s a simple job with almost no excitement.

Pretty clear that the upcoming event will show his job is anything but simple and boring.

Subtle

Subtle foreshadowing using the mention of a fireplace poker. Image of open fireplace with poker. Image from Pixabay

It’s where the author has highlighted something vaguely with a brief mention.  This is often used with weapons or objects. Such as a glancing comment at the antique fire poker used in decoration around a fireplace that no longer works.

This is often a hint of an event that will take place further down the line, where that poker will feature.

They are considered subtle as many readers see them as just parts of the description and don’t always connect it as a piece of foreshadowing until they reach the part where the poker comes into play.

Chekov’s Gun (after the playwright Anton Chekov) is considered a subtle foreshadowing.

Symbols

Foreshadowing using symbols, such as the raven as the omen for an upcoming death. Image of a raven from Pixabay

Throughout the world, there are many symbols that are seen by different cultures to mean the same thing (though no all).

Whether it’s the “black cat” that heralds bad luck or the “solitary raven” the suggests a coming death or “coming storm” that predicts an argument or “chill that marches down your spine” that suggests something bad will happen.

We are designed to see symbols and associate them with something.  These can be a great method of foreshadowing.

Prophecy

Foreshadowing using prophecy.  Image of crystal ball, fortune-telling.  Picture from Pixabay

Simply put prophecy is used in a story to suggest an upcoming event.  It is usually kept vague allowing it to come true but often not in the way that is expected or assumed by the reader.

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Is Foreshadowing always negative?

No, this literary device can be used for both positive and negative events, situations etc.  It’s simply about hinting at something to some.

While the negative is more likely as we writers seem to like building up that aching tension and making our readers worry about the horrid thing their favourite character is walking in to, it’s not a given.

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Rules for Foreshadowing

Want to make foreshadowing work well in your novel?  Check out this infographic by NowNovel.com that depicts these “8 Laws of Foreshadowing”.

8 laws of foreshadowing by Now Novel

Do you put foreshadowing in your novel?

Share your Thoughts image.

Happy writing

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How to use foreshadowing in your novel.  Image of laptop and pad on desk from Pixabay

23 comments

    1. lol I know what you mean. Much of mine just comes about naturally but I’ve added some more deliberate pieces later on too 🙂

  1. I think your post makes an excellent point of adding foreshadowing after the first drafts complete. I’m still playing around with this technique. I agree with Bryan, it’s fun but can be complicated to implement correctly.

    1. Thanks for reading, Lorraine. Apologies for the delay in replying, I’ve fallen behind a little recently.

      I find much of my foreshadowing can happen accidentally. But other times I really need to consider it and definitely prefer to put it in in the 2nd draft, just helps when you have it all set out before you.

  2. Love this and very simply explained – that’s a good thing! I like to use objects and symbols. Eg in my current novel which i’m editing at the mo, there is the use of a poinsettia plant and a black hole punched in a plaster-board wall. And I’ve used a few cheeky strong warning statements of drama to come which the character is naturally unaware of at the point in the story. Stephen King uses these and they really draw you in. I guess they are overt foreshadowing warnings eg ‘little knowing what this victory over Marian would cost her in the months to come’ (alluding to the contentious relationship between the two MCs.) Cheers, Ari!

    1. That is great! I use objects for most of my foreshadowing and prophecy for others. Though I do want to try and add in some symbolism.

  3. Foreshadowing takes a particular form in the novel I’m working on because it’s seen through the eyes of the main character as a flashback between the book ends of the first and last chapters. A certain amount of foreshadowing is necessary in chapter one because we have to see the main character’s current unfavorable life situation and then follow his journey through his memories to unravel the mystery of how his life changed. I hope it works.

  4. I’ve tried to use this a bit. There are two times the MC has a dream that is a hint of things to come but not just that – it’s part the character’s hope/wish, part a hint of the future. The second one touches the final battle and the character; when they eventually get there, gets a moment where he thinks about how it actually went down (and the differences between the dream and reality).

    I am not sure if moments when someone says something like “I think it’ll go downhill” and it actually goes downhill sooner or later counts but there might be a few of these as well.

    1. Thank you kindly for reblogging, Don. Apologies for the delay, I’ve fallen behind somewhat on replying to my comments and am trying to catch up now 🙂

  5. I’ve often heard the foreshadowing using items – like the poker in your example – to be called “Checkov’s Guns.” Evidently an artist named Checkov loved him some item foreshadowing.

    1. Yes, named after the playwright Anton Chekov who famously stated “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired” 🙂

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