F is for … Foreshadowing
I’m late posting this week; things have been busy, and the blog post I thought I’d be publishing this week isn’t happening yet (but will be something to look forward to in the future, I hope!).
I’ve also had some brilliant news: I had a telephone interview yesterday with one of the tutors at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Writing School and have been offered a place on their MFA in Creative Writing, starting September. I’m so excited! I’m also terrified I won’t measure up.
Once I submitted the application, I tortured myself for two weeks. If you write, you’ll know what I mean. From the moment I sent off the paperwork (containing a writing sample, book review, reference and personal statement), I started to doubt everything. One moment I’d think, ‘this is a good sample of my work,’ and the next I’d think, ‘Who wrote this rubbish? They’re going to laugh me out the door!’ I seriously considered asking if I could withdraw and submit again.
Luckily, I didn’t. The tutor I spoke with liked my writing, and, after a brief chat, offered me a place! Now I just have to wait for the official offer.
Did I mention I was excited?
Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s get to this week’s post.
You may have heard the term before. In a nutshell, foreshadowing is where you drop clues in the story about something significant that will happen later. Usually, the clues are subtle, so that the reader might not think anything of them until the important event happens and then – if you’ve done a good job – they’ll say ‘Oh yes! I should have seen that coming!’
Sometimes, the writer will try to disguise foreshadowing by misdirection. They might have the main characters dismiss something as impossible and never going to happen, but then, of course, it does.
Or they may use nature. Nothing says there’s trouble ahead like a raging storm, or animals acting oddly.
The trick is to make the foreshadowing innocuous enough for the reader to absorb it as background detail, or worldbuilding if it’s speculative fiction. Details that seem minor and vaguely interesting at the time we read them, are rendered pivotal at the novel’s climax. Or at least they should. There’s a fine line between innocuous and forgettable. Don’t make your foreshadowing too noticeable or you’ll puncture the suspense you’ve so carefully built, and don’t make it too unnoticeable or it won’t give the reader that ‘Oh, of course!’ feeling later.
In Lord of the Rings, Tolkein foreshadows the climax at Mount Doom:
‘Pity? It’s a pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play in it, for good or evil, before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.’
In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Harper Lee foreshadows the novel’s main story arc.
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.
What are your favourite foreshadowing moments?