You know in a movie when the music suddenly slows and then starts building to a crescendo? The door opens and there’s a body or the murderer or a ghost? Well, that music is preparing the audience for what’s coming – something surprising, shocking or extraordinary.
Foreshadowing is a literary technique that creates a warning or indication of something that’s about to happen or will happen in the future. It’s a hint of what’s coming.
Foreshadowing doesn’t have to be about something bad. Quite often it is – like a murder, or a bomb, or a kidnapper stalking his victim. But it can also be used for happier outcomes, like the first time two people meet and the story ends in a romance; or a student worrying about her exams and then finding that something else is more important; or an elderly couple reluctantly leaving memories behind when they move into a nursing home and finding new memories there.
Why should we warn our readers about something that’s going to happen? Doesn’t that spoil the surprise for them? Doesn’t that give the story away?
Those are common questions I’ve heard from writers over the years, and they do have a point. It very much depends on the reader – whether they like noticing subtle clues, or whether they like a straightforward story without any hints. And that will be up to you, the writer.
Why use foreshadowing?
Foreshadowing is a useful way of creating suspense and dramatic tension; it can also raise expectations and generate curiosity. By using such a device, a reader’s experience and understanding of a story can be enhanced. And by using foreshadowing techniques, you can keep your readers involved in the story.
Different ways of foreshadowing
Foreshadowing can be direct ie telling the reader what is coming.
- Shakespeare often used this technique. For example, the chorus at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet sets the scene for the play and, in so doing, tells us quite clearly that From forth the fatal loins of these two foes a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.
- And the witches in Macbeth address Macbeth as the Thane of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland.
- The title of a book can also be a form of foreshadowing eg The Fall of the House of Ushes; Murder on the Orient Express; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
- Predictions are another obvious form of foreshadowing. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, it is prophesied that Oedipus will grow up to kill his father and marry his mother.
But usually, foreshadowing is more subtle, indirect.
- Symbols or motifs are one of the most common methods. Storm clouds can be a foreshadowing metaphor for the troubles to come in, for example, a marriage. In certain cultures, owls are seen as the sign of a forthcoming death. A broken mirror can symbolise bad luck on the way.
- Settings can be indicative of the mood of a story and of what might happen. A walk in a churchyard could set up a funeral later in the story; visiting a childhood haunt could preface the reunion of two people.
- Objects can be used to foreshadow. One of the most often-quoted examples is Chekhov’s Gun. This is the principle that unless something is vital to the story, it shouldn’t be there. Chekhov wrote: If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.
- Dialogue is another method. I have a bad feeling about this one character might say to another character or himself.
- Metaphors and similes can also be used. The opening paragraph of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms includes The trunks of the trees were too dusty and leaves fell early that year…. This metaphor foreshadows the early deaths of 7000 soldiers due to a cholera epidemic.
- 6. Character traits. If your protagonist saves the day in the final chapter by abseiling down a mountain, you MUST have mentioned somewhere earlier that he/she has that particular skill. You cannot surprise your reader at the very end. That’s a form of deus ex machina: God from a machine which the Greeks were fond of using in their plays – their gods saving the day when human endeavours had failed.
I will put in a personal opinion here. The type of foreshadowing I detest is the one in which the writer addresses the reader directly, warning of things to come, usually at the end of a chapter eg As Susannah said goodbye to her boss, she had no idea that she would never see him again. This, for me, is far too much information!
Foreshadowing done well can add enormously to the flow and meaning of your stories; done badly, it will only confuse or annoy your reader. Here’s a checklist of points to consider:
- Don’t overload your story with foreshadowing
- Keep them short and to the point
- Use them more towards the front of the story, then scattered throughout the rest.
- Plan where they can be inserted. They can often be added during the second draft.
Lajos Egri wrote The Art of Dramatic Writing in which he maintains that all storytelling elements play a part in foreshadowing: No conflict ever existed without first foreshadowing itself. In fact, every choice you make – genre, setting, character, mood – foreshadows. With each line of dialogue or image of action you guide the audience to anticipate certain possibilities, so that when the events arrive, they somehow satisfy the expectations you’ve created.
And finally, one of the greatest examples of foreshadowing, from the film Fatal Attraction – the original bunny boiler! Alex, Dan’s vengeful mistress: Bring the dog, I love animals…I’m a great cook.
The Pomodoro Technique
I’m not very good at sticking with the job in hand. I get side-tracked. Then I get side-tracked again. If I wander upstairs, I have to spend time wondering what I went upstairs for. Yes, definitely getting on in years! But I’ve recently come across something that is helping me to be more organised. It’s called THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE.
It’s a time management system that breaks your day (or any part of a day) into 25-minute sections, known as POMODOROS.
- You set a timer for 25 minutes and get going on a particular task.
- When the timer goes off, you stop – even mid-sentence.
- You then have a 5-minute break.
- Then you set the clock again for 25 minutes and resume your task.
- If you do three or four pomodoros in a row, then you should then have a longer break, anything between 15 minutes and half an hour.
For me, it works!
What are the advantages of the Pomodoro Technique?
- It is designed to make you focus on just one task at a time, working for a concentrated 25 minutes. (If you have all day then, according to Parkinson’s Law, you will take all day!)
- It instills a sense of urgency.
- It makes you have regular breaks, particularly important if you are working on a computer.
- After a break, you will feel better, and you will have a fresh outlook on a task.
- It can increase productivity.
- You tend to waste less time.
Now the History bit!
The Pomodoro Technique was created in the 1980s by an Italian student, Francesco Cirillo. He was having trouble studying, getting distracted and losing focus. One day, he saw a tomato kitchen timer and set it, initially, for 10 minutes. He found it helped his concentration and after a test period, settled on 25-minutes as the most productive time. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato – and The Pomodoro Technique was born!
You don’t, of course, have to buy a tomato timer! I didn’t particularly want one with an audible tick-tock sound, so I chose an ordinary timer that is silent, albeit I chose the red one.
And there are a number of apps you can download onto your computer, tablet or phone. Here’s a website that has tested the six best apps.
I would suggest that it’s definitely worth a try. If it works for you – great! If it doesn’t, no harm done at all. There are other time management techniques out there – just don’t spend too much time Googling!
Janus is the Roman god of beginnings, gates, doorways, time, and endings. He is usually shown as having two faces, symbolising looking forward and back, and the beginning and ending of conflict.
Janus words are those that have two different and opposite meanings. They can also be called contranyms, antagonyms, or auto-antonyms.
Here are some examples:
Meaning 1: to move quickly eg The man being chased was running fast.
Meaning 2: to be held securely eg He was held fast by the chains.
Meaning 1: To allow eg The teacher sanctioned the use of calculators in the examination.
Meaning 2: To restrict, punish eg The UN imposed sanctions against South Africa in the 1970s.
Meaning 1: to cut a portion of something eg He took a clip of her hair.
Meaning 2: to attach something to something else eg I clip all my receipts together.DUST
Meaning 1: to remove something eg I have to dust the kitchen counter after using icing sugar.
Meaning 2: to add something eg I dust the top of the cake with icing sugar.
Meaning 1: to withstand something eg The house on the beach weathered years of storms
Meaning 2: to wear away eg The cliff face was weathered away by the force of the sea.
Other Janus words include bill, bolt, cleave, buckle, refrain, leave, peruse, transparent
Can you supply the meanings of these words?
Just make sure when using them in your writing that the context makes it clear which meaning you intend.
Prompts and Exercises – what’s the difference?
A writing PROMPT is a tool that aims to get the creative side of your brain working. You probably used them way back in schooldays, when your teacher set the task of writing about “My Holiday” at the start of the autumn term! One of my writing group members calls then NUDGES. “I just need a nudge, Linda,” she says, “then I can get going!”
Writintg PROMPTS can take many forms:
- The opening line of a story
- The last line of a story
- A seasonal topic eg a winter walk
- A poem or haiku
- A review of a book, play or meal
- Mindmapping a topic
- Creating a story from a picture
- Creating a piece of writing from music
- Making a list of all the colours in your room
- Making a list of all the moods you were in yesterday
PROMPTS are designed just to get you going. On occasions, you might find you want to write for more than the suggested five or ten minutes. Or the prompt leads to you writing a whole story or article. Great! Or it just serves to get you in the mood for resuming a current writing project, such as the next chapter of a novel, or a story for a competition.
Writing EXERCISES can also be used as prompts – to get you going. Exercises, however, have a more precise goal. I use them, for myself and my writing groups, in order to practise specific aspects of writing.
For example, you could choose a picture of a particular setting, let’s say a fairground, and write 200 words describing a young teenager walking through that fairground. Then choose a different person, an elderly man, for another 200 words, and perhaps a third person, like a woman who feels she has no excitement in her life, for another 200. It’s amazing how the descriptions will vary from the different points of view.
If you feel your dialogue needs improving, then choose two characters, such as a businessman and a homeless teenager, and write a page of their conversation. Read it out loud and see if you have created two distinctly different voices.
I know I’m not very good at describing clothes, so I tend not to! But once in a while, I set myself an exercise of choosing a character and then describing his/her appearance in two different settings eg going for an interview and going out with friends for a walk.
If a writing buddy has said to you “but I want to know what your character is feeling”, write a page in the first person, delving into their thoughts and feelings about a particular issue eg whether they are going to confess to an affair.
In doing these exercises, you can either invent completely new characters just for the exercise. Or you can use characters in your current story or novel. The exercise might not find its way into your project story, but it will give you more of an insight into your characters’ personalities.
If you Google WRITING PROMPTS, you’ll find hundreds of ideas, which will include what I call both PROMPTS and EXERCISES. If you need a warm-up, or want to practice, just have a go. It will be time well spent.
My book “A Beginner’s Guide to Writing Fiction” has 366 writing prompts and exercises.
Trying something new
I love going on courses and learning something new! And I really enjoyed the one-day course I took one Saturday last month to learn how to make a leather bag. I’ve been making very simple fabric bags for sometime now and I think it’s watching The Repair Shop that made me think of trying leather.
I found Rosanna Clare’s courses on Facebook and when she couldn’t fit me in on the date I originally chose, she kindly fitted me in on another Saturday, alongside two people doing half-day courses in the morning.
I wanted a Saturday course because her workshop studio is just south of Guildford, and I couldn’t face the M25 on a weekday! On a Saturday, it was an easy journey down to the A3 and then off into the lovely Surrey country lanes down to Smithbrook Kilns – former brickworks that have been converted into a collection of artistes’ studios, shops, businesses, a restaurant and flats.
Rosanna’s workshop is an Aladdin’s cave of leather-working: skins in so many colours to choose from, all sorts of tools, sewing machines, all the hardware you need for bags, key-rings and belts, material for linings, and all the beautiful bags she makes to sell.
Two things impressed from the very start: the fact that the three of us had all arrived early, so we started early. And Rosanna’s passion. I think I’ve written a blog here before about PASSION in writing. Well, Rosanna has it for both leather and teaching.
The couple, on the three-hour course, were making a number of small items: such as a credit card case, a key-ring tassle, glasses case, luggage tag, bookmark, notebook cover and trinket tray. So Rosanna divided her time between them and me and not once did any of us feel we were left waiting.
I started by learning how to cut the leather pieces out, using a template and a rotary cutter. These pieces were then glued together, before stitching on an industrial sewing machine. That last piece of equipment was new to me, and it took a little time to get used to the slight differences from my home version. Zips, linings, tabs and hardware followed. Rosanna was happy to work through lunch, me too, so we carried on and had an early finish. And I was delighted with my fold-over bag.
I can quite see myself going back for another course and in the meantime, I might just try experimenting at home. Suzie Fletcher, watch out. You may have competition!
If you’re interested, have a look at Rosanna’s website at http://www.rosannaclare.com