It’s the “aha” moment—when everything finally comes together in the story. It’s an exciting discovery for the reader, but it takes a lot of work for the writer to create this moment. One of the best tools writers have to create this effect is foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is a plot element that hints at something to come later in the story. There are many reasons to use foreshadowing inwriting, including building suspense, sparking curiosity, and preparing your reader for that “aha” moment.
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What is foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing is aliterary device that alludes to a later point in the story. For example, if a character mentions offhandedly that bad things always happen to them in autumn, then the observant reader will be alert when the leaves in the story begin to fall. Foreshadowing can be obvious or subtle, and when used effectively, it creates just enough anticipation or curiosity to keep the reader turning the pages.
Writers may also use foreshadowing to set the reader up for an emotional reveal or plot twist. Of course, you don’t want to give away a big surprise, but if you spring it on your reader without any emotional buildup (even if it’s subconscious), they might be confused or even distraught.
What foreshadowing is not
Foreshadowing is not a spoiler
Foreshadowing is meant to inflate suspense, not stamp it out. Foreshadowing hints at what will happen in the future, but a spoiler tells the reader explicitly what happens. With a spoiler, the reader has no surprises to look forward to.
Foreshadowing is not a flash-forward
A flash-forward (the opposite of a flashback) projects the reader into a future situation in the story. While both foreshadowing and flash-forwards deal with the future, a flash-forward explicitly describes what is happening. Flash-forwards are similar to spoilers in the amount of detail they give, but while spoilers deflate a story, flash-forwards enhance it by bringing in new details.
Foreshadowing is not a red herring
Ared herring in storytelling is a hint placed deliberately to mislead the reader. You can find examples of red herrings in crime novels and TV shows. When a character is acting a little bit too guilty, they are probably a red herring.
Types of foreshadowing
Direct (overt) foreshadowing
Direct foreshadowing is explicit about what it is. When a narrator says something like, “Little did I know . . .” the character is about to divulge something that happens later.
Direct foreshadowing might also show up in an introduction, a prelude, or even a title. Murder on the Orient Express, a detective novel by Agatha Christie, directly foreshadows that there will be a murder on a train called the Orient Express. It doesn’t take a lot of sleuthing to figure that out.
Indirect (covert) foreshadowing
Indirect foreshadowing is a subtle hint about the future. Oftentimes indirect foreshadowing can be so understated that it goes unnoticed by the reader until after the later event has happened, which leads to that light-bulb moment.
When does a writer use foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing shows up in many ways in creative writing. Some common places to use foreshadowing are in titles, dialogue, and symbolism.
Why not begin at the beginning? The title of a book can provide a huge hint about what’s going to happen in the book’s plot. For example, readers of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King are primed for a return of the king. Death on the Nile suggests that there will be a death on the Nile, and As I Lay Dying does more than hint at the fate of the narrator.
Dialogue can also be a great way to include indirect foreshadowing in the form of a joke or an offhand comment. Let’s say Mary tells Sally that she’ll only get a promotion if her boss takes an extended absence, and then later in the story her boss takes an extended absence. In dialogue, it may have seemed like anexaggerated way of saying the occurrence is unlikely, but when the boss does go on leave, the reader thinks back on that moment and understands it in a new way.
Writers can usesymbolism and motif to create more conceptual foreshadowing. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown,” the main character’s rejection of Puritanism is foreshadowed using symbolism associated with the devil. For example, on a nightmarish trek through the woods, he meets a man with a snake-shaped staff.
3 rules for writing foreshadowing
1 Make it relevant
Make sure the hint is relevant to the plot. There is a literary principle called “Chekov’s gun” that states that every element introduced in a story must have a relevant use. For a literal example, think of the James Bond films. Every weapon that Bond is presented with at the start of his mission will likely come into play at a crucial moment of action.
Not all writers agree with Chekov’s principle—in fact, some even mock it—but it’s useful to keep in mind when creating foreshadowing. When you foreshadow, you are not arbitrarily placing a hint in the story; you are deliberately placing it there to generate an effect. Foreshadowing a meaningless moment will misdirect your reader’s attention and leave them confused or disappointed.
2 Be subtle
If you’re using direct foreshadowing, you want your reader to pick up on the hint. However, there is a balance between making it obvious and making it too obvious. A hint that is too obvious leaves no room for the reader’s curiosity—defeating the purpose of the foreshadowing. Remember, foreshadowing is a way to engage the reader through anticipation, curiosity, or suspense.
3 Consider the timing
In general, it’s better for an author to create ample space between elements of foreshadowing and the big reveal. The longer curiosity or anticipation is allowed to build up, the greater the payoff when it gets resolved. It can be the difference between eliciting an “oh” and an “aha!”
Examples of foreshadowing in literature
Mystery and thriller novels rely heavily on suspense, so they are good places to look for examples of foreshadowing. But foreshadowing can be found in other literary genres if you know what to look for.
I don’t know, darling. I’ve always been afraid of the rain.—Catherine in A Farewell to Arms
In the novel A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, the reader learns that Catherine is afraid of the rain, though she can’t tell why. It later becomes clear that rain symbolizes death, and it is death that Catherine fears. Spoiler alert: Catherine dies in the end, and the narrator walks away in the rain.
It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.—Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird
In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird,lawyer Atticus Finch explains courage to his children while simultaneously foreshadowing the outcome of his legal case. This is an example of using foreshadowing in dialogue.
I say that you are the murderer you are seeking.—Tiresias in Oedipus the King
In the ancient Greek play about Oedipus Rex, a prophet named Tiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer he is seeking, foreshadowing (not so subtly) that Oedipus will murder his father. The foreshadowing in this instance is direct and embedded in dialogue. While audiences today might consider this a spoiler, audiences at the time of the play were familiar with the fate of Oedipus, so hearing this exchange wouldn’t ruin the plot for them.
What is foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing is a plot element that hints at something later in the story.
How does foreshadowing work?
Foreshadowing works by suggesting something will happen without giving it away completely. This keeps the reader engaged with the story from start to finish.
What is the purpose of foreshadowing?
The purpose of foreshadowing is to prime the reader for a later event. It is used to build suspense, create curiosity, or prepare a reader for a plot twist.
What is foreshadowing? Foreshadowing is a literary device that alludes to a later point in the story. For example, if a character mentions offhandedly that bad things always happen to them in autumn, then the observant reader will be alert when the leaves in the story begin to fall.What are good examples of foreshadowing? ›
A prime example of dialogue foreshadowing occurs in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo says, “My life were better ended by their hate, than death prorogued, wanting of thy love.” This line foreshadows Romeo's eventual fate: commiting suicide over the loss of Juliet.What is a simple definition of foreshadowing? ›
“Foreshadowing” is a narrative device in which suggestions or warnings about events to come are dropped or planted.What is an example of foreshadowing clue? ›
Foreshadowing through Symbolism and/or Omen. This uses minor or insignificant things as symbols that foreshadow something that will happen. For example, a crow is often an omen of death, thus, the appearance of a crow could foreshadow a character's demise.What is an example of foreshadowing for kids? ›
Notice that the author has mentioned dried-up grass, grass on the porch, the cracked boards on the house… and then he mentions flames. Do you think a fire might happen in this story? This is an example of foreshadowing; the clues the author has given you help you predict that the house will catch fire and burn down.What is foreshadowing 7th grade? ›
Foreshadowing — Foreshadowing occurs when the author hints at future events that may occur in a story. This can be done through dialogue, a character's actions, the setting, or another event. It helps readers develop expectations about the story.What are two types of foreshadowing? ›
While many different plot elements can create foreshadowing, there are two main types of foreshadowing. These are indirect and direct foreshadowing.What is foreshadowing 5th grade? ›
Foreshadowing serves to hint at future events. It's a literary device whose purpose is to let viewers know something is going to happen without giving away too many details.What is an example of foreshadowing in a popular movie? ›
- Doc Ock's Death - Spider-Man 2.
- A Fistful of Dollars - Back to the Future Part II.
- The Bar Names - The World's End.
- Blue Sky on Mars - Total Recall (1990)
- The Bird Cage Trick - The Prestige.
- The Flood - Parasite.
- The Truth About Sandie - Last Night in Soho.
Examples of Foreshadowing: 2. A character in a story comments on the weather, and says, "I think a storm is coming." This can signify a physical storm or a metaphorical storm that is coming in the story.
Her early interest in airplanes foreshadowed her later career as a pilot. The hero's predicament is foreshadowed in the first chapter.What is a type of foreshadowing? ›
There are actually 5 types of foreshadowing! The 5 types are: prophecy, concrete, flashback/flash-forward, symbolic, and fallacy foreshadowing.What is an example of foreshadowing in Act 3? ›
A clear example of this in Act 3 Scene 1 is seen when Benvolio alludes to a potential fight between the Capulets and Montagues. They believe that the hot weather will lead to their “blood stirring” which will lead to an argument that may not have been started otherwise. This clearly foreshadows a fight in the making.What is an example of foreshadowing in Romeo and Juliet? ›
Romeo says “Come, death, and welcome. Juliet wills it so.” Juliet has a vision of Romeo “As one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (3.5). This heavy foreshadowing of the lovers' deaths emphasizes that they are trapped by their fates. It also has the effect of making Romeo and Juliet's love seem more precious.How do you identify foreshadowing in a story? ›
- Are there any unusual parts that could be hinting at the future?
- Are there hints about any possible future tension between characters?
- Are there any plot, setting or narrative changes?
- Is a certain atmosphere created?
Foreshadowing suggests events that have yet to occur in a work of literature. Writers use fore- shadowing to build their readers' expectations and to create suspense. Example: A weapon found in a drawer early in a story might foreshadow a future crime in the story. There are examples of foreshadowing in your book.Why is it called foreshadow? ›
"indicate beforehand," 1570s, figurative, from fore- + shadow (v.); the notion seems to be a shadow thrown before an advancing material object as an image of something suggestive of what is to come.
Foreshadowing is one of Crichton's favorite tools: he uses it with bird-dinosaur imagery, with Tina's lizard attack, and again here to foreshadow the novel's major disaster. Just a couple of hours after this scene takes place, the tour group gets stalled outside the same paddock and the tyrannosaurus attacks.What is the foreshadowing in Encanto? ›
"In Encanto, you can see every member of the Madrigal family getting ready for the gifting celebration, including Bruno! Bruno is sitting on the top right balcony, foreshadowing that he was living in Casita the whole time."
Foreshadowing is a literary device used to give an indication or hint of what is to come later in the story. Foreshadowing is useful for creating suspense, a feeling of unease, a sense of curiosity, or a mark that things may not be as they seem.What is an example of foreshadowing in crime and punishment? ›
He laughs to himself, 'I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these trifles. ' The author does not yet reveal that Raskolnikov is contemplating murder or his reasons behind it, but this statement foreshadows that the character is about to do something huge and possibly sinister.What is an example of foreshadowing in poetry? ›
- Examples of Foreshadowing in Poetry. A Fairy Tale by Amy Lowell. But always there was one unbidden guest. ...
- The Send-Off by Wilfred Owen. Down the close, darkening lanes they sang their way. To the siding-shed, ...
- This Moment by Eavan Boland. Things are getting ready. to happen.
Here is an example: Danny remembered more about his mother's death than he'd ever told anyone. The day she had died, she had called each of her sons to her bedside individually. “Pour me a cup of fresh water, please,” she said, her voice thick with the Polish accent that decorated her words when she was tired or sick.How do you start a foreshadowing sentence? ›
A single sentence at the start of each section in the book, mentioning the address where the main characters live, foreshadows the tone of events in that section. For example: '124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom.What are some examples of foreshadowing in and then there were none? ›
Fred Narracott replies, ''Can't land on Indian Island when there's a southeasterly. Sometimes 'tis cut off for a week or more. '' The old man had predicted bad weather. This foreshadows that the guests will be stuck on the island with the murderer without a means to escape.What are foreshadowing notes? ›
Foreshadowing is an author's use of hints or clues to suggest events that will occur later in the story. events are merely hinted at through dialogue, description, or the attitudes and reactions of the characters.What are some famous examples of foreshadowing for kids? ›
'The house was so old it looked like nobody had lived there for years. The boards on the side of the house were all cracked. The yard had waist-high, dried-up grass that looked like hay. Bits of it pushed through rotted boards on the porch.What is an example of foreshadowing in a movie? ›
The Bird Cage Trick - The Prestige
This twist is foreshadowed when Borden crushed a bird in a cage in front of a child. Though Borden lets him believe that he miraculously let it out in time, he actually killed the bird and replaced it with another, just like how his brother died so he could avoid death.
At the beginning of the novel, when Harry arrives at Grimmauld Place, he likens the feeling of stepping through the doors to having "just entered the house of a dying person." Sirius may not have been dying at the time, but his fate was sealed, and he wouldn't live to see Harry finally defeat Lord Voldermort.
Foreshadowing is a literary device by which an author hints what is to come. The foreshadowing happens when Marlin (Nemo's dad) is talking with the teacher while Nemo is looking at the boat with an angry face. This foreshadows that Nemo may want to swim to the boat. The scuba divers infer that Nemo could get caught.What is foreshadowing called? ›
noun. an indication of something that will happen in the future, often used as a literary device to hint at or allude to future plot developments: The gothic novel uses foreshadowing to build suspense.How do you use foreshadowing in a sentence? ›
Her early interest in airplanes foreshadowed her later career as a pilot. The hero's predicament is foreshadowed in the first chapter.What are the 6 types of foreshadowing? ›
There are actually 5 types of foreshadowing! The 5 types are: prophecy, concrete, flashback/flash-forward, symbolic, and fallacy foreshadowing.