Tips for Using Foreshadowing in Your Fiction

June 13, 2017

One tool fiction writers use is foreshadowing (hinting to the reader about something that’s coming). If you use foreshadowing, you’re setting up an expectation with your reader and you absolutely need to meet that expectation before the end of your novel.

Here are some tips to help you make sure you create a good relationship with your reader so he/she trusts you’ll deliver what you promise in your foreshadowing.

  1. Make sure you’re working from a detailed outline that lays out these things: each character’s role, how each character affects the overall plot, and how each character ends up at the end of the novel.
  2. Be aware that you may decide to change your story as you write (one mystery author I know told me that one time the character she expected to be the killer simply wouldn’t do it, so she had to change the story). If you do change directions in your story, make sure you map out the change in your original detailed outline so you can see if the change makes sense with the rest of the story.
  3. Create a series of questions about your novel so you can critique it once it’s completed. Feel free to use these questions as a starting point: (1) Did the characters meet their goals or explain their failures? (2) Which destinies of which characters were left unanswered (if any)? (3) Which plot activities were not completed (things like a love attraction, a crime committed, etc.)? (4) How clearly did the plot and any subplots merge by the end of the story? (5) How well did things like dialogue, actions, etc. move the plot along (you don’t want to lead your reader down blind alleys or dead ends, which will only frustrate your reader and cause him/her to distrust you as an author)?
  4. Find a few readers you trust to read your manuscript and offer you honest feedback. Encourage them to share questions with you that they may have thought about during the reading. You, as author, know what you mean, know what you think, and know what you intend. Your reader, however, only has your written story to go by, so you’ll do yourself a big favor by learning about any holes in your story before you try to get it published.

I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction, and I think fiction is much harder to write because you’re creating the entire world the story lives in. You make a promise to your reader that your novel will be entertaining and worth his/her time to read. I hope these tips help you keep that promise. Happy writing!