Monday, August 29, 2011

On Foreshadowing

I think that my favorite thing that authors do in writing is foreshadow. A good use of foreshadow will make me fall in love with an author like nothing else.

To be honest with you, my adoration of JK Rowling started with foreshadow--she layered in the Polyjuice Potion that was crucial to Book 4 in Book 2, and by that point, I was just head-over-heels. Guys, good foreshadowing is just smexy.

Foreshadow takes skill. It requires one of two things--either the author has to plan out the important clues from the beginning (especially difficult if you're dealing with a series instead of just one book) or the author has to use the situations/objects/characters she's already established in the story in a significant way later on.

And either way you do it, you've got to make it clever.

In a lot of ways, foreshadowing is like a magic trick. Magic are all about diversion. I make you look at the flash and bang over here and you don't notice the card up my sleeve over there. Likewise, (good) foreshadow is all about showing you something in plain sight over here, but hiding its significance over there.

Foreshadow is essential--essential--to a good story.

But bad foreshadowing? Bad foreshadowing can kill a good story.

Doctor Who Spoiler Warning Below This Point

For example: y'all know I have some love for Doctor Who, right? Well, last night I watched the latest episode "Let's Kill Hitler" (and if you've not seen it, stop reading now to avoid spoilers). And...as much as I love Doctor Who, I have to say...the entire storyline is weaker to me now because it didn't use good foreshadow. In fact, it didn't use any...and it totally should have. Here's the thing: it tells the story of Mels, Amy and Rory's childhood friend who is (a) obsessed with the Doctor and (b) brings him up all the time and (c) is the person Amy and Rory named their daughter after. And...she has never EVER been brought up on the show AT ALL. There's a complicated plot twist about Mels that you can read about here, but the thing is--I didn't care at all.

Do you know how cool it would have been if, when we saw Amy as a child last year, we also saw childhood Mel? How about if Mel had been at Amy and Rory's wedding (if she was significant enough to be the namesake of their child, why not have her at the wedding)? How about if--in the last freaking episode--Amy had mentioned that her daughter was named after her childhood friend?

But no--none of that was there. Which made the entire story not very believable. Which drove me mad. Which meant that this story of Doctor Who--which I've loved so far, full of time travel and witty dialog and clever plot twists--is diminished in my eyes.

That is the power of foreshadow.

13 comments:

Lena Coakley said...

I haven't seen "Let's Kill Hitler" yet, but I couldn't resist reading. That's too bad! Dr. Who is usually so good at layering in teh foreshadowing. How amazing that JKR could do it two books ahead.

Shawna Thomas said...

Great post! I think the thing about foreshadow done right is that you don't even notice it until it becomes significant.

And the more I hear about Dr. Who, the more I need to start watching that show.

Ava Jae said...

Fantastic post! I think we all love foreshadowing, it's one of those things that make us realize just how clever the author is. You're right though--foreshadowing in your writing is hard stuff. There has to be a fine balance too--if you foreshadow too much it ends up being a spoiler instead of a clever trick. Best way to tell if you've gone too far (or to little) in my experience is with lots of beta readers.

I haven't watched Doctor Who yet, but I've heard a lot about it. Maybe I'll check it out. :)

A.J. Mullarky said...

That really bugs me on Dr Who. They just pretend at the end to tie everything in. Except Bad Wolf - now that was good, and Rose's appearances in series four, but that was quite minor foreshadowing... It does take some serious skill and it seriously disappoints me when the Dr Who writers don't use it its full potential...

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

Good post, thankyou!

Anne Riley said...

Foreshadowing is something I really struggle with. I think it intimidates me, really, because like you said, it does take SO much skill and planning ahead. And basically, I am the world's most impatient writer, so foreshadowing and I don't always get along! Great post.

Sandy said...

I still love Doctor Who but I agree with you on that episode they could have killed us with an OMG moment if they had introduced/hinted at Mels before we saw her in "Lets Kill Hitler". The moment I heard her name I thought she was spoilerRiverspoiler and wasn't too surprised when she was revealed but it would have been fantastic if they had done some foreshadowing.

Sandy

Lynsey Newton said...

I *LOVE* foreshadowing and am trying to apply this to my own writing.

Shelley Koon said...

I struggle with foreshadowing because I always feel like it is too obvious when I do it - of course that could be because I know what it is and assume my readers are always smarter than me and will figure it out quickly! I suppose this is where beta readers come in handy ;)

Great post!

Braiden said...

Maggie Stiefvater here at Melbourne Writer’s Festival said that these things she might use later down the track are breadcrumbs and by the end of it you’ve made a loaf of bread as everything comes together.

How I’d kill to have Jo Rowling’s mind!

Alex said...

I love foreshadowing too! I also liked how the films used polyjuice potion but didn't make a point of it: only fans would have said that they knew what it was. In David Eddings' Mallorean series, he uses great foreshadowing. In fact, most epic fantasy is great with foreshadowing!

Fantastic post. I recently read your book too: I fond myself quite impressed and I loved the characters. Also, I guessed that he was the one who "died"

Rachel Morgan said...

I first discovered foreshadowing when I was younger and started reading Harry Potter, and it was also one of the main reasons I fell in love with the series. JK is just so GOOD at it! By the time I got to book 3 my little 13 year old self was totally in awe :-) I thought it was AMAZING to have so many details so well planned out.

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