1. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Foreshadowing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by spklvr, May 26, 2011.

    I recently sent a short story to one of my old writing teachers. He replied with lots of praise (which made me very happy), but also pointed out that I really should have foreshadowed more. Basically to make readers go “oh!” at the end.

    The short story was about two men going up a mountain by horseback, talking about old days, and as they begin arguing, their past is revealed to the readers. Then when they finally make up, it turns out one of them is dead, hung himself, and the other one is up there to scatter his ashes and has imagined the whole conversation. So what my writing teacher meant was that the one character being dead kind of just comes out of no where.

    Thing is, I thought I did foreshadow some. Through the whole story, the one guy will ask the other if the spot they are at is nice, even when they are fighting. The other guy will always find something wrong with it until they get to the final spot. One is led to believe he's asking if this is a good place to set their camp, but is actually about where he wants his ashes scattered. But as I write it like that, it suddenly doesn't seem like foreshadowing anymore.

    But lets talk generally as well, do you think stories should have foreshadowing? Because I realized I never do it. Fantasy especially should probably have foreshadowing of some kind, and it's what I'm writing, yet there is nothing. My character who appears to be good through the whole story, but turns out to be evil right at the very end, is written like he was good the whole time. Maybe I want my readers to go WTF or something. I just want it to be a surprise. And in that case, him being evil kind of puts all the pieced together though.

    So what do you think? Do you foreshadow?
     
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  2. IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer
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    IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer Member

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    First just want to say -- I love that idea for a story.

    But for the more general question -- yes, I think foreshadowing is good. But it's really hard to find the balance between not enough on the one side, and telegraphing on the other. (I tend to err in the opposite direction, and have to go back through and make things more subtle).

    Not enough foreshadowing, and the ending may as well be "rocks fall. Everyone dies". It just sort of comes out of no-where.

    Too much and it's "gee... I WONDER where THIS is going. NOT." which is even worse.
     
  3. MatthewR
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    MatthewR Member

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    I love foreshadowing. For one thing it feels like and inside commentary and helps me focus while I write. Another perk is that if used properly the reader can still be surprised at the end.

    George RR Martin's Game of Thrones first chapter depicts a direwolf killed by a stag that had 5 offspring and a bastard offspring. The dire wolf was the house symbol of the Starks and Stag being Baratheon. In this first chapter the subtle foreshadowing would be completely lost on most readers however a second look through shows this obvious allusion to the coming conflict and ultimately the result.

    Foreshadowing can also be done through opposites.

    This is actually the opening lines to a chapter in my story. The older man quickly turns sinister as this chapter introduces him and some of his backstory he eventually becomes an main antagonist for most of the characters.

    A sentence here or there can offer depth and symbolism to your overarching story elements, without truly giving up any of the "surprise" or "gotcha" moments for the reader.
     
  4. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I've found it's hard for a good story to not have foreshadowing. But, foreshadowing is often not the heavy-handed tool many writers clumsily employ, like say in your story the imagined character kept making death puns. Good foreshadowing simply comes from the fact a story is the same story the whole way through that builds upon itself to the climax.

    For instance, good stories, when deconstructed, often consist of a series of microcosms. In one moment of scene, a character may throw away a french fry that landed on the counter because it's now ruined, and the story as a whole may be about this character throwing away a job opportunity because it somehow gets ruined (according to him). Granted, a writer has to be very careful to not get heavy handed with symbolism, foreshadowing or working with these microcosms, but if you study stories you'll find it's often the same message being told over and over.

    Foreshadowing fits into this because microcosms of the larger story prepare the reader for the larger story. So, in your story, we could have a moment or scene where your MC thinks he sees a deer, but realizes he doesn't, that it was just his imagination. Then, when the 'big' meaning or point of the story is revealed, it's not a shock, as the reader has been subtly and repeatedly conditioned with the main story message being acceptable, via many microcosms of that same story occurring.

    And it will seem counter intuitive and too obvious as you're crafting stories in this manner, because you'll know the secret, you'll know the story. The trick is to hide this message in plain sight. So, while the reader is immersed in the action of the story, you're subtly controlling the message and delivering the story over and over to them within the story, but they don't know this, obviously, if you do it well. Still, that message is there, so by the end the reader doesn't scratch their head and go 'huh?' but goes 'ah, of course' because it was there all along, the same story being told the entire story.

    And really, trust me, it's hard to get used to. I've studied some stories and broken them down and they seem painfully obvious when you read it a second and third time looking for the microcosm, and you feel like an idiot that you didn't see it the first time, but that's good story telling, hiding the message in plain sight and delivering it over and over until you've acclimated the reader so much to it that the only thing that would surprise them is if the final payout didn't adhere to that message.

    Watch the movie There Will Be Blood. Over and over it's telling you the exact same thing, you just don't realize it until the end, at which point the shocking events aren't surprising. Watch it back, and ahh, it was there the whole time, hidden in plain sight, and you were getting the message, just not noticing or focusing on it, but instead the action of the story.
     
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  5. astrostu
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    astrostu Member

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    I'm fairly new at this, but I try to use both foreshadowing and red herrings. Some of the more obvious ones I put in the first draft or two and then work on subtle-izing them. Then, later on, I try to go back and put more in. Kinda like how I try to do all those other fantabulous literary things - emphasizing themes, making dialogue flow better, etc.

    In terms of your specific story, think about the movie The Sixth Sense. If you haven't seen it, or if a reader of this thread hasn't seen it, then I won't give anything away -- you should watch it, though. For me, in that movie, there was some fairly subtle foreshadowing, but I honestly didn't really "get it" until the end. And I was glad for that. I think I would have the same reaction from your story of this particular type - I wouldn't really want to know until the end. For me, I'd read the story one way through, then come to that at the end, and it would make me sit down and really think for awhile, re-analyzing how I felt through the story.

    But that's me for that particular type.
     
  6. astrostu
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    astrostu Member

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    [sigh - another double-post]
     
  7. The-Joker
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    The-Joker Contributing Member Contributor

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    From what I've seen a good way of foreshadowing is by using distraction. You slip in the clues but distract the readers from their actual significance. Like in the movie The Sixth Sense. All the clues were there, but the movie duped you into thinking those scenes were part of a completely different theme. Like his wife not talking to him was supposed to convey their growing discontent in their marriage, when in actuality it was a precursor for something else entirely.
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your whole post gave me that 'ah, of course'-feeling :) symbolism and foreshadowing is something I haven't learned how to use yet, and I have never been very sensitive about these things. Normally if I stumble upon one I think I wouldn't even notice or at least not see the underlying meaning of it. Now it suddenly became clear to me what that is supposed to do and how to use it.
     
  9. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great posts here, already. I'd only add that when it comes to balancing, which is always tricky, a little too much is often better than too little. Readers aren't familiar with your story like you are and they may only pick up half of the foreshadowing you're doing, and in the end, an "Oh no, I think I know where this is going..." is often better than a "What the hell just happened?"
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Wonderful idea for a story!
     
  11. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Glad people like the idea for the story (at least).
    I've been thinking a bit and I'm beginning to realize the reason I don't foreshadow is that I'm absolutely terrified of being predictable. I hate books that are predictable, and I take pride in knowing the ending to every movie I see when I'm only half-way in. When reading something I'd rather go “WTF” than “I think I know where this is going”.
    I'm okay with predictability if I can picture the story moving in several different directions, because then I'll want to see what direction it takes and how it's done. It's when I can only see it going in one direction, and it goes there, that I'm disappointed (I'm looking at you Avatar).
     
  12. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    Foreshadowing / omens are also good plot hooks to make the reader more motivated to read further into your story. If you give them an idea that something horrible might happen to their favorite character, then they're going to want to know if it actually happens or not.

    You see it all the time especially in action movies / TV shows where one of the main protagonists does something to piss off an antagonist. They will often use it as a cliffhanger where you see an unknown character (because he has yet to be introduced) and all you see is his outline and his eyes that are burning with revenge. He utters words about your protagonist - something about death.

    You suddenly change the tone from 'oh, I'm glad that quest went well, guess I'll stop reading for today' to something more along the lines of 'who the hell is this asshole trying to start **** with my favorite character? He better not touch him!' and then they dive into the next chapter to see how things unfold.

    Anyway, I know that's a totally different use than what you're going for, but I guess I just wanted to type it out anyway.
     
  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Good stories aren't about what will happen, by why and how and to whom. And usually things are only predictable when you're so distant from the action that you're not thinking about what is happening in that moment, but instead are disconnected from that action, so your mind is wandering and you're skeptically trying to crack the code.

    Basically, you can have your cake and eat it to because readers want to lose themselves in a story. The only reason suspension of disbelief is broken is because the writer gives the reader reason to step back and be skeptical.

    Trying to rely on the novelty of an idea, though, is risky because if the reader figures out the idea, the story is effectively ruined. But most readers won't notice your story is predictable or be looking to figure out the plot-line if your action is engaging and feels as if something is at stake, and your characters are empathetic and yearning. Successful stories don't rely only on what happens, because it's not as important as watching it happen to characters you're concerned about and know have a stake in the action.

    Of course, there are readers, writers and markets that are rather shallow, and it's all about what happens. The point of the forums, imo, is to learn how to write well, though, not learn how to pander to markets (that's important, too, of course, just a later stage in a writer's development).
     

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