How to Foreshadow Events to Create a Well-Rounded and Cohesive Story: Tips and Questions

 How to Foreshadow Events to Create a Well-Rounded and Cohesive Story: Tips and Questions + a FREE Download

Foreshadowing is a literary device and a necessary aspect of any well-crafted story. Though necessary, many writers may not know how to use it to its full effect. I will therefore offer you some tips on how to use it in this blog post. But, first, let’s look at what foreshadowing actually is.


What is Foreshadowing?

In its most basic form, foreshadowing is a way to prepare the reader for what’s to come later in the story. It’s not about revealing what’s going to happen, but to simply preparing the reader. So, it’s about offering subtle hints at what’s to come, which is how you will create a well-rounded and cohesive story.

For example, you can’t have most of the beginning of the story be all sweet and bright and joyful if you want to end the story by killing off an important character. That would make the reader feel cheated (and she will probably never buy more of your books). Readers don’t like being cheated or lied to. If you, however, mention death in some way at the beginning of the story—of give it a darker touch—the reader won’t feel cheated when you decide to kill off a character.

Another way to look at foreshadowing is to think of it as guided tour for the reader into the story and its world. By this I mean that you can foreshadow aspects that are possible in your story and its world by showing a few chosen aspects.

 Download the FREE Foreshadowing Worksheet

Download the FREE Foreshadowing Worksheet to establish what to foreshadow in your story!

Examples of Good Foreshadowing

I’ll give you two examples—Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling and A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin—just to give you an idea of how foreshadowing can be used.


Warning: There are spoilers below. If you don’t want to know more about these stories, you should not continue reading.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone prepares the reader for the continuation and ending in a very good way. First, the mention of death in the beginning of the story—the death of Harry’s parents—sets the tone. Later when the remnant of Voldemort drinks the blood of a unicorn he’s killed, the reader doesn’t feel like death is an uncomfortable surprise.


Furthermore, when Dumbledore tells Harry that the thing that saved him from Quirrell was what saved him from Voldemort’s killing curse all those years previous (his mother’s love and sacrifice) it hints back to the beginning—at the mention of the death of Harry’s parents. Additionally, the early mention of Harry surviving the killing curse as a mere baby is a foreshadow of his survival against Quirrell.


Another important aspect of foreshadowing that I mentioned above is the guided tour into the story’s world. Magic is shown in the beginning of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone—first when Albus Dumbledore uses his deluminator to put out the lights on the street outside the Dursley household, and when Minerva McGonagall changes from her Animagus form (a cat) to human form—which offers the reader a slight peak into the magical world Harry will soon explore. 


Now, consider what it would be like to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and never see any magic (or any subtle hint about it) until Harry receives his letter from Hogwarts through Hagrid. That would be cheating the reader, because magic is such a huge part of the book (and the rest of the series).


I’m not saying that showing something vital of your story (like Rowling did with the magic at the beginning of the novel) is a must. You can offer subtle hints. For example, instead of showing Dumbledore and McGonagall use magic, it could’ve been enough to show this through the subtle description that whenever Harry had to cut his hair, it grew back out within no-time, as if his hair protested against the cut.


A Game of Thrones

The beginning on A Game of Thrones (putting aside the prologue) starts off with Eddard Stark performing an execution on a man who ran away from the Wall and his duties in the Night’s Watch. This early show of death is probably the best way to start off this story, considering how much death there is throughout the novel (and the whole series).


Furthermore, that Eddard is the one performing the execution is perfect since he ends up being executed at the end of the novel. Even though many were surprised by this event, it can’t be seen as cheating the reader. This mirrored event is more a shocker than a cheat or a lie because we’ve seen death and injustice and hardship already from the beginning.


Additionally, Eddard’s own execution at the end of A Game of Thrones also play a role as foreshadowing for the rest of the series to show that no character—major or not, likeable or not—is safe from death.


The beginning of A Game of Thrones also show off creatures that don’t exist in our real world, direwolves. Direwolves—a race of wolves that grow a lot bigger and stronger than ordinary ones—are uncommon even in this fictional world since they are mentioned to not being seen south of the Wall for two hundred years. The Stark family, however, find direwolf pups—which symbolize the sigil of House Stark. This early show of a powerful creature that has suddenly shown up—and connecting to a sigil of a great family—is a great foreshadow of the ending. At the end, three dragons come alive—after eons without even one—at the hands of Daenerys Targaryen—whose house sigil is made of three dragons. While the show of the direwolves is a foreshadowing of the exhilarating birth of the dragons at the end of the novel, it also guides the reader into the possibilities of this fictional world.


These examples give well-rounded and cohesive stories. This is something we should all aim for. But how can and should we use foreshadowing?


How to Foreshadow

As shown in the examples above, you need to hint as events that will happen later in the story, but also hint at such that will be possible in in the world and through the rest of the story.


The foreshadowing of bigger plot twists at the beginning of the story will almost always be best if done subtly. Be too blatant about it and you’ll give away your plot twists (and that’s not what you want, right?). No one says point-blank that Harry survived the killing curse as a baby because of his mother’s love and sacrifice to protect and save him. That little fact remains to be found out. Yet, the reader knows something else is going on behind it all since it is unlikely that a defenceless baby could survive a curse no other human-being has ever survived.


I have a rule-of-thumb when it comes to foreshadowing these kinds of plot twists: The bigger the plot twist, the earlier you need to foreshadow it. 


Let me give you an example from the top of my head: Let’s say a story is about a witch with the main quest of finding the most powerful staff in the world to save her people from evil witch-hunters who have been haunting them for centuries. The quest will end with a witch-hunter guy sacrificing himself for the witch to be able to attain the staff.


The major plot twist here is the sacrifice the witch-hunter does, which means that we should foreshadow this in the beginning of the story.


Let’s say that a part of the backstory of the witch’s life is that her mother sacrificed her own life to save a witch-hunter child from avenging witches. This event can be subtly mentioned at the beginning of the story by having other witches look at the heroine strangely because they believe she is a witch-hunter supporter because of a mistake her mother did many years ago. This can be mentioned already in the first chapter when the heroine is walking around her village.

 Download the FREE Foreshadowing Worksheet

Download the FREE Foreshadowing Worksheet to establish what to foreshadow in your story!

Foreshadowing doesn’t stop at the major plot twists, though. While the foreshadowing of bigger events is placed early in the story—and given more space than the foreshadowing of, for example, subplots—the foreshadowing of subplots should not be disregarded.


However, since subplots aren’t the main focus of your story, you may want to use more subtle hints to foreshadow these—and they should be hinted at a later stage of your story. And, because of these even subtler hints (perhaps even slightly invisible and forgettable), you may need to reference those hints later in the story. Let me give you an example from the story about the witch:


While the focus of the story is about the witch’s quest to find the staff, the subplot is about her struggle to trust a witch-hunter guy who is needed to show her the way through enemy territory to get to the staff. Her mother’s choice to sacrifice herself for a witch-hunter child, and the way her people still reacts to that choice, is holding the heroine back because she doesn’t want to make the same mistake her mother did. The relationship between these two characters develops, though, as the heroine begins to understand what the witch-hunter has been through in his life. And, as we know, the witch-hunter sacrifice himself for the heroine to attain the staff.


The hints you can drop about this subplot is to hint at the distaste the witch-hunter has for his own people, perhaps in a dialogue between him and the witch. You can also drop hints that he willingly left his own people by mentioning that all the belongings he has are the clothes he wears and a little pocketknife (hinting at his sudden, unplanned escape from his own people).


To reference back to these hints at a later stage in the story, you can have the heroine say, when she’s beginning to understand why the guy is helping her instead of his own people: “You ran away from them, didn’t you? That’s why you don’t have any personal belongings”, referring back to the foreshadow.

 Download the FREE Foreshadowing Worksheet

Download the FREE Foreshadowing Worksheet to establish what to foreshadow in your story!

There you have it. Hopefully this has helped you get some insight into what foreshadowing is and how to use it.

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How do you use foreshadowing in your stories? Please do share in the comments below.

 How to Foreshadow Events to Create a Well-Rounded and Cohesive Story: Tips and Questions + a FREE Download
 How to Foreshadow Events to Create a Well-Rounded and Cohesive Story: Tips and Questions + a FREE Download

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