1. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    Do you foreshadow, or completely surprise the reader?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dryriver, Mar 1, 2012.

    I'm writing a novel where, about 2/3rds in, something pretty negative and - at least I hope so - quite unexpected happens to the protagonist.

    Here's my question:

    Should I drop subtle hints before this happens (aka "foreshadowing"), hinting to the reader that something unexpected/game changing is going to happen a bit further down the road, although never specifying exactly what will happen?

    Or should I use the power of surprise, and let the "game changing negative event" in the novel happen to the protagonist completely suddenly, and unexpectedly?

    A 3rd option - a "compromise" if you like - might be to drop hints that are deliberately slightly misleading, so that the reader expects something to come down the road, but when it actually does come into being, its not quite what the reader expected to happen at all...


    Maybe I should ask a more general question. Is it good that a novel surprises you completely, without giving any clue as to what was about to happen?

    Or is it better that something being about to happen down the road was hinted at ("foreshadowed"), even though that something itself might turn out to be different from what you expected?

    Thanks for any answers/viewpoints on this.

    - DR
     
  2. Erato
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    Erato Contributing Member

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    One solution isn't "better" than another. What's "better" is how you write it. Your choice should rest on the type of book you're writing and on your personal preference and on which one you think you can deploy most effectively.
    In your particular case, that depends also on your type of narrative and viewpoint. If it's a first person present, then as a rule, no, unless you also want the protagonist to get some foreshadowing. If it's a first person past, you may be able to get away with a few hints dropped in word choice. If it's third person limited, you can probably manage foreshadowing; if it's third person omniscient, definitely.
     
  3. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    My novel's POV is 3rd Person, Present Tense, Limited (not Omniscient) Perspective.

    The hints I'm dropping would be in the form of song lyrics the character listens to, as well as conversations on a TV programme he watches.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am not quite sure if I understood this, but do you mean to say that you'd foreshadow by having someone hint, verbally or with feeling, that danger lies ahead, like sort of a prediction? Because in my experience, foreshadowing that works best is to have an unrelated and banal event occur and simply give a sense of unease to the reader. Something small, but well placed so that it just suggests the air of danger. Like, if one of the characters will be in peril later, foreshadow it by them sipping a coffee and burning their tongue earlier in the day, or them crossing a road and a careless driver nearly knocks them over (all really crappy examples, but you know what I mean, in general). That way, it is entirely up to you, it doesn''t disturb the plot and can be easily removed in a re-write. if you think it is not necessary.

    But yeah, I like to foreshadow before very big events, put the reader on the edge without them realising it, so they are more invested when the main action comes.
     
  5. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    I'm not very good at this but I've read book where an author foreshadowed something major but I didn't see it coming until after it happened and then I could look back and say, yes the author told me it was coming but was so slick about it that it still hit me like a tornado in the arctic.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Foreshadowing does not preclude surprising the reader. The best foreshadowing is ambiguous, reinforcing what the reader expects in the story while obliquely reflecting the direction the story will ultimately take.
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    While I know your're not aiming at this, overt/sledge hammer foreshadowing can annoy readers, but in the proper context I believe it adds depth to the story.

    Comments, observations, actions by characters, for example, that suggest a possible direction something could take can add depth to a story. When a reader comes across something 'unexpected' it's pretty neat when they think, I should've seen that coming, based on the storyline and events. That's when an author has done it right.
     
  8. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Here's the thing: foreshadowing should be so subtle that it is only recognised as such in hindsight. Yes, use it to create tension, set the mood, but it should never signpost what is about to happen. Its main purpose is symbolic, not literal. So, to use the earlier example of someone almost being hit by a car earlier in the day - this doesn't have to foreshadow her actually being hit by a car. It could symbolise any near miss so that eventually we're expecting their luck to run out.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Foreshadowing can also be indirect. With the car example, you could have a car running a stop sign in a scene background earlier in the story, even at a completely different location. Or two of your characters could be talking in a diner, and part of what one of them says may need to be repeated because it was drowned out by a car blasting its horn at a pedestrian crossing against the light. You may be interrupting the dialogue to emphasize the point that gets repeated, but the nature of the interruption can be a form of foreshadowing.
     
  10. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    I hate huge surprises when I'm reading a book. If there's no foreshadowing, I feel like I got gypped somehow or the author was being lazy and didn't want to take the time to tie things together. That's just my opinion, though.
     
  11. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    I usually foreshadow. For me, it feels like it makes the reader more excited, anticipating what might my hints lead to. I'd rather not hint to something then take the story a whole new level, it's not nice to trick the reader that way. If you feel it fits your story then I think it'll work, just don't overdo it. That would just kill the whole story.
     
  12. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it all depends on the scene. Sometimes foreshadowing just kills suspense. Not everything should be foreshadowed. I think it's a discretion that a writer has to develop.
     
  13. Dubya
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    Dubya Member

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    Nothing worse than a mystery where a character who has barely had a mention turns out to have "done it". I agree that it seems lazy to not give the reader a subtle clue
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't worry too much about foreshadowing, you as the author know the event will be happening as you writer, therefore you will foreshadow the even naturally.
     
  15. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    Add foreshadowing to your story like you would add pepper to tomato soup. A little-not that much.

    The best surprise events are those where your initial reaction is "What lazy writing! Nobody bothered to foreshadow this event at all!"

    Then, a couple of seconds later:"Wait a minute... what about in Scene X, when that happened? THAT was kinda an ominous echo of what happened. And wait a minute, in Scene Y, didn't that guy say ABC?"

    And then you suddenly realize:"Holy crap! It all fits! That unexplained murder, the missing clock, the gun left on the sidewalk... I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN WAHEFOIEWHFEWHFWEFHWEFHEO"
     
  16. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say it depends entirely on the genre. If the book is a novel of suspense, absolutely inform the audience in some way that a bad thing is coming. They will be in suspense waiting for it to happen. If it's an adventure novel or a thriller, do not inform them or telegraph the disaster in any way. They will be shocked. Really the answer to your question lies squarely with your intent. Also I would strongly consider what emotional response you want your readers to have to the disaster. If you want them to be horrified or angry, don't foreshadow it. If you want them to grieve or be sorrowful, you might foreshadow it to build them up so they are ready to be sad when the moment comes.
     
  17. NeedMoreRage
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    NeedMoreRage Member

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    My favorite thing in any story is when something huge occurs and completely catches me by surprise, and then I go back and realize there were very subtle clues that I completely did not notice the first time because they were so subtle. I feel like the story tricked me and I have great respect for anything that can harmlessly fool me.

    So if I were to write a story with a massive twist, I would try to add a tiny bit of foreshadowing.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In horror and suspense, anticipation enhances the tension. By all means foreshadow in those cases, and keep the reader thinking the worst is imminent. But just when the reader thinks the moment has passed as yet another false alarm, that's when you drop the hammer.

    Like in Jurassic Park, when they know raptors are on the loose. Then the bushes rustle, and they sight the raptor staring at them through the rifle scope. The reader thinks, oh good, one down, and BANG, the other raptors attack from the sides.

    You think you know what's coming, and that raises the sense of danger, but the real dangeris not EXACTLY what you thought.

    But foreshadowing is used for other purposes, too. Many stories exhibit parallelism to relate subplots to the main plot. Foreshadowing is a means to indicate the connection. The main storyline can be one of betrayal on a literal level, but you may also have character subplots that deal with smaller kinds of betrayal. Foreshadowing can be used to reinforce the analogy.
     
  19. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    I am trying to figure out a/some clever way/ways to foreshadow what is coming in the story right now...

    Kind of like "OMG, it was right in front of my eyes!", except at the time (and in the context) you didn't understand what the foreshadowing actually referred to!

    At least not in any detail.

    I'm beginning to realize that there are many, many clever little ways to do this, and that some degree of experimenting/trial and error will need to be done to get it to work just right for the specific story I am writing.

    If anyone has any bright ideas on the different ways foreshadowing can be accomplished, I'd be more than happy to hear them...
     

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