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Foreshadowing -- how and why to use it in your writing



This is the Supreme Court in 1973 at the time of Roe vs Wade

This is the Supreme Court in 1973 at the time of Roe vs Wade

Photo credit: The Transient Hour thetransienthour.blogspot.com






If you happened to have entered the U. S. Supreme Court on that day in 1973, at the end of Roe vs. Wade, and you heard the announcement that abortion was henceforth legal in the United States, you might have been surprised by such a momentous event. However, if you had followed the trial from the beginning, the verdict would have been anticipated and your reaction would have been much more emotional. Perhaps, having heard opinions from both sides for the previous few weeks, your reaction might have been that of shock, happiness, revulsion, or even anger.

By entering the courtroom on the final day, you had no inkling of the conclusion. If you had been in the courtroom every day, or followed the trial in the newspapers, the two possible outcomes would have been planted in your mind, or, in writing terminology, foreshadowed.

If you reach the end of a novel and the main character suddenly dies of a heart attack, you will be surprised and perhaps feel cheated. On the other hand, if the author had mentioned chest pains, or perhaps the main character surreptitiously slipping nitroglycerine tablets under his tongue, then his death would have been foreshadowed and you might have even anticipated the ending.

One of the marks of a well-written novel is for the author to allow the reader to stay one step ahead of the protagonist in solving a crime or discovering the secret of a mystery. This is done through foreshadowing. The writer gives both the main character and the reader the same information; however, by causing the protagonist to miss subtle clues, the reader achieves great satisfaction in solving the puzzle before the main character does.

Donít overdo foreshadowing. If you give too many hints about upcoming events, the reader will feel like a child being led toward an obvious conclusion. Treat your readers as your intellectual equals and give them a story they will want to read again.




Kate Winslet in The Reader, nominated for the best actress

Kate Winslet in The Reader, nominated for the best actress

Photo credit: The London Telegraph www.telegraph.co.uk



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