Foreshadowing, as defined by Dictionary.com, means “to show or indicate beforehand; prefigure.”
Foreshadowing allows for the writer to turn rather innocuous or unimportant details into something that carries significance at the end of the work because of the way they move the story along and/or affect the characters. Two things are key: Atmosphere and symbolism. Atmosphere allows the reader to get a feel of the mood, what emotions they should feel for the character and what sort of importance this place or overall mood has on the character itself.
Foreshadowing often works hand-in-hand with the symbolic meanings of things, people or events according to that characters universe; or with the characters own desires and fears, as a way for the writer to “tell the future” of that event or character without spoiling the journey.
But in order to foreshadow future events, you must first have a plan. A set up. Like building a house, you must have a foundation before you can begin on anything else. With foreshadowing, your foundation is what you want to foreshadow. Do you want to foreshadow a death? A character having to face a fear? A character having to do something in order to reach his goal? Or maybe you want to foreshadow a big revelation that throws everything off track?
A good film that shows a form of simple foreshadowing and a character overcoming his obstacle to continue his journey, is Disney’s The Haunted Mansion. In it, the main character’s son is afraid of spiders and won’t squish one on his bedroom window with a rolled up magazine. Later on in the film, the main character and his daughter are trapped in the mausoleum where they had to search for a key to solve the mystery of the mansion. When the door closes, trapping them inside with zombies that have come alive, wanting the key back, the son must open the door. Only problem is, big spiders crawl out of the door and he doesn’t want to get near them. In order to save his father and sister from the zombies, he has to face his fear of spiders and open the door.
Whatever it is, you must scatter clues early in the manuscript in order for any future events concerning those clues to have any sort of impact. In her blog post about foreshadowing, blogger Debz Hobbs-Wyatt says: “…Don’t draw the reader’s attention to something, some aspect of a character’s personality, like a phobia of spiders, if you don’t draw on it later.”
It might take a few drafts, but, if done subtly, foreshadowing also allows you to reveal things about a character, using bits and pieces of backstory to foreshadow reactions and fears that may lead to certain decisions and actions later in the novel.
Foreshadowing can incite many emotions but there are three chief emotion “types” of foreshadowing:
1. Doubt/ Dread: The foreshadowing that incites doubt or dread, like any scene in the novel, should fit with the character and situation. This type should be foreboding, incite worry for the character.
An example of that type of foreshadowing is shown in Suzanne Collins’s YA dystopian fantasy, The Hunger Games, when Katniss tells her little sister, Primrose, that she won’t be picked for the Reaping and sent to die in the Hunger Games, where children are forced to kill each other for the entertainment of the public. The reader feels Katniss’s dread about Prim being chosen for the Games—but this foreshadows Prim’s name being chosen and Katniss’s choice to go in her place.
2. Excitement/Anticipation: This type is the kind of foreshadowing that makes people curious as to how things connect, how this symbol, event, or character, associates with the rest of the story. Most often, this foreshadowing is used to indirectly suggest an outcome for a character or event.
An example of this type of foreshadowing occurs early in Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy, The Wheel of Time, in book one The Eye of the World. In it, Moiraine, an Aes Sedai—a magician who can wield the One Power—tells Egwene, an innkeeper's daughter from the village of Emond`s Field who can wield the One Power, that she “…may go far. Perhaps even the Amyrlin Seat one day, if you study hard and work hard.” The Amyrlin Seat, while also being a chair where the head of the Aes Sedai sits, is also the title given to them, likened to a king or queen. Much later in the series, just as Moiraine said, Egwene does become leader of the Aes Sedai order.
3. Surprise/Shock: This type of foreshadowing often comes with a huge revelation or an event that the character didn’t expect. With a reader, the foreshadowing specifically for that moment will often come during the second time reading the novel as they see what led up to the climax, what clues they were given by the writer to try and piece together the character’s journey.
An example of this is in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third novel in the Harry Potter series. For this example, I’ll only be using the events from the film adaptation as it’s been a while since I’ve read the novel and do not currently have it on hand. In both the novel and the film, Hermione seems to be taking two classes at the same time and managing to be present for each. Ron and Harry can’t figure out how she can be in two places at one time. It’s revealed near the end of the film, that Hermione has been using a Time Turner—a device that allows the user to go back in time—in order to take two classes in the same time slot. Using the Time Turner, Harry and Hermione travel back to save a supposedly “dangerous” Hippogriff, named Buckbeak, from being slaughtered. Using Buckbeak’s ability to fly, the pair are also able to retrieve Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, from Azkaban.
Earlier in the film, the event that foreshadows the use of the Time Turner itself, is when Harry, Hermione and Ron visit Hagrid and, somehow, end up being hit with thrown snail shells. When the Time Turner is used, Harry uses these shells (in much the same manner as before) to get the attention of his “alternate timeline” self, thus changing the outcome of many events.
Have you noticed examples of foreshadowing in the books you’ve been reading? If so, what are some of the types you've seen?