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Apr 8, 2020

3 Ways to Use Foreshadowing to Strengthen Your Novel

By Jolee McManus.

If you’re like me, you’re obsessed with finding ways to make your work-in-progress stronger. But what makes a story strong? If you ask me, the secret isn’t pulling off any one trick but a number of tricks. As we grow as writers, we collect more and more tricks up our sleeves and learn how to seamlessly work them into our writing, sometimes without even trying!

One trick I’ve learned that I believe is key to a strong story is foreshadowing.

Here are three ways foreshadowing can be used to strengthen your story:

1.    Multiplying Curiosity in Your Novel’s Beginning

Many writers are guilty of writing and rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting) their first lines, pages, and chapters in order to make a strong first impression on readers. However you choose to open your novel, here’s my hot take: using foreshadowing in your novel’s beginning can spark your readers’ curiosity, an important element for making your readers keep reading, while also helping your beginning resonate long after the first pages.

By dropping hints in your novel’s early chapters of what’s to come later, you can pique the readers’ curiosity. They might not understand those hints right away, and may even find them confusing, but later on, they’ll understand what was going on in Chapter 1. This can give readers a sense of closure and satisfaction.

One well-known example of early foreshadowing is in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The book opens on sleepy Privet Drive, introducing the very normal (thank you very much) Dursley family. This might be a boring intro if flying letters and talking snakes didn’t show up. When they do, we’re just as bewildered and curious as Harry. But looking back, we understand this foreshadowing of a magical world Harry was soon to enter, and we appreciate those early chapters all the more for it.

2.    Preparing Your Readers for a Big Plot Twist

A well-known benefit of foreshadowing is that it can make shocking twists make sense or feel “right.” But the last thing you want is for your readers to be too shocked. If a character does something totally out of character or a battle suddenly breaks out with no hint that it was coming, your readers will be pulled out of the story, feel angry or disappointed, and even lose faith in you as a storyteller.

Yet, we all love exciting plot twists! The way to pull off a shocking twist without losing your readers is, of course, foreshadowing. If you take the time to sprinkle in hints of what’s to come throughout your novel (or throughout your first few chapters, if your twist comes towards the beginning), you’ll catch your readers off-guard, but not too off-guard, when the twist comes.

Of course, this is easier said than done! You don’t want to be too heavy-handed with your hints or you’ll give away the twist, but hints that are too subtle won’t help prepare your readers at all. My advice is to look to your favorite books that succeeded at shocking you with a plot twist and see what kinds of foreshadowing the author used.

3.    Uniting Multiple Books in a Series

Okay, I know this one is a little far-fetched. Most of us can only dream of being able to author a series of books! But, if it is your dream, it’s wise to prepare early on. The best series, in my opinion, are intricately connected through plot, character arcs, and, you guessed it, foreshadowing. Have you ever finished a series and realized the ending was foreshadowed in the very first book? Talk about impressive!

Whether you drop hints about a character’s future or lay the groundwork for a plot twist in a later installment, foreshadowing is a surefire way to unite each book in your series and satisfy your readers.

Foreshadowing may be a basic literary device we all learned in English 101, but there are infinite ways it can be used if you approach it creatively. As long as you incorporate foreshadowing in your novel the right way, it is sure to make your story stronger and create a longer-lasting impression on your readers.


About the Author: Jolee McManus    
Jolee McManus is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia with a BA in English. She runs a blog, Words by JLM, on which she reviews books, writes about writing, and gushes about anything word-related. When she’s not writing fiction or writing about fiction, she writes copy for a marketing firm in Atlanta, Georgia. When she’s not writing, she’s probably cuddling her corgi/border collie mix, Rory.