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On Foreshadowing

I am nearing the home stretch with my third draft. Today I have done much of the work on the ending that I mentioned needed to be done. While I was working on it, I continued in my process of discovering the marvels of foreshadowing.

From a reader’s perspective, foreshadowing is the stuff you read near the beginning of a novel that comes back into play at the end in an interesting way (or, at least, the writer hopes it’s interesting).

From a writer’s perspective, it appears to be almost the exact opposite experience. I write through to the end, and I get to a place where I need events to unfold in a certain way. Then I think about what really works, and what would be satisfying. Usually, this creates a picture of events in my mind that is incomplete and lacking important details. Then I comb over my manuscript looking for a few places to help set the stage for the events as I imagined them. My protagonist needs a certain item in a climactic scene? Great, I’ll just go back and allude to said item a few times when it makes sense. That way when he holds the item aloft, events may surprise the reader, but the reader won’t ask, “Where’d he get that?”. Or if the reader does ask, he can, at least, flip back to see that those events really did take place.

One of the keys with this way of writing is not being too heavy handed. If the lines I insert as foreshadowing stick out, the reader has too good a sense of what’s to come. If the lines I insert are too vague, the reader doesn’t gain any of the benefit of foreshadowing, and my work was wasted.

In some ways, foreshadowing is like the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah. At the time, most of them seemed like they meant one thing, but looking back with a Christian perspective, we see that they mean something completely different.

I know I’m saying nothing magical here; it just was my primary lifting today, and I knew I hadn’t talked about foreshadowing here before.

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