Most of the feedback from my novel, A Time of Stones, was that most of the conclusive moments were random and did not prepare the reader for what happened.
At the time of writing and editing, it seemed to make sense but as I read over it after the feedback – there was no foreshadowing weaved throughout the story of the main plot. It was like a lightbulb struck the dark room.
Has anyone else encountered the same problem?
As I edit my novel for the fourth time, I realize that foreshadowing is like the secret ingredient that helps your writing make sense. It’s often apparent only after readers reach the big event you’ve been prepping them for and a few little clues along the way will prime the pump for your novel’s most critical plot points.
For those still struggling with foreshadowing – here are four tips to help you foreshadow in your story.
The element of surprise isn’t always your friend
While no writer wants our novel to feel predictable, neither should we blindside readers with random events we haven’t prepared them for. Real life offers few true surprises, and the same should hold true for fiction. In retrospect, readers should be able to look back and identify subtle clues leading to your big plot points.
This isn’t to say you can’t hold readers in suspense and include elements of mystery and surprise. They just need to make logical sense by the end of the story.
A light touch makes all the difference
While real life offers few surprises to the savvy observer, hints rarely smack us in the face. We harbor uncertainty about how things will turn out, even if we’re pretty confident we know the answer. Stories should read the same way, with everything feeling inevitable only at the end of the story.
With that in mind, keep your hints subtle. You’re laying the groundwork for future plot points, not painting a roadmap for the reader. Foreshadowing creates a world in which major story events make sense. It doesn’t hover over the reader’s shoulder.
Likewise, not every event needs foreshadowing. Overusing this tool can blow smaller details out of proportion and detract from your showstopping moments. Intentional foreshadowing should prepare readers for your story’s major plot points, not your main character’s mundane run-in with a neighbor at the grocery store.
Always deliver on your promises
If you call special attention to specific story details, do it for a reason. Foreshadowing with no payoff will leave readers feeling distracted and unsatisfied.
This is the principle of Chekov’s gun: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.”
Foreshadowing is almost undetectable
Skillful use of foreshadowing is an exercise in subtlety. Most of the time, the reader won’t know it’s there — at least not right away. That doesn’t make it unimportant. On the contrary, it will make the payoff that much more satisfying. As readers reach a climactic moment, they’ll begin to assemble the disparate pieces of the puzzle you’ve laid out for them. If you choose your hints wisely, you’ll have a story that strikes the perfect balance between believability and surprise.
I hope this helps if you have any concerns and more questions, ask me below. If you think someone has an interesting point of view and answer, please invite them or share this post with them.