Monday, April 14, 2014

Little Did She Know...

It's often the last line in a chapter. That little sentence as a teaser to make sure the reader turns the page, or swipes the screen. It's called foreshadowing. I'm not a fan of foreshadowing. Many famous authors use it. That doesn't mean it's a good idea. (I have a theory that famous authors get paid by the word so they end up using them in excess.)

I don't want to know what comes next before it happens. I want the action to play out in proper time sequence. Knowing that Jane is going to drive into a ditch before it happens spoils the read for me. I may have figured it out anyway from the text but I don't want a narrator jumping in to tell me. Remember show don't tell?

Have you seen good movie trailers then watched the movie only to find that the best scenes were in the trailer and the rest of the movie was just bad or ordinary? If the movie had been well written, shot and edited this wouldn't happen. I'm not saying that all foreshadowing necessarily means weak writing. If you feel like you need a teaser at the end of a chapter do you need to go back and strengthen the scenes so you feel more confident that your reader will be unable to put the book or tablet down?

Foreshadowing prologues or chapters aren't my favorite way of reading the beginning of a novel either. It spoils the suspense until you get past what you know will happen. I'm not sure why authors do this. How about starting with the scene then supply the back story through the characters' thoughts and dialogue?

Just as I'm not much interested in fortunetelling, foreshadowing pretty much leaves me cold.

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  1. You seem to misunderstand what foreshadowing is. Foreshadowing, by its very nature, is shadowy and indistinct. It's as if an event later in the book is so big, it throws a shadow back in time throughout the earlier pages.

    One of the best examples I can think of is from a book whose name I can't remember about a teenage gang kid who stabs someone in a rival gang. After the stabbing, he's smoking a cigarette, trying to calm down, staring at the embers wondering what it would be like to be inside the fire. At the end of the book, he runs inside a burning building to save someone and experiences being inside a fiery ember.

    Foreshadowing is about parallel imagery and symbolism. What you're describing, the "little did she know a clown would murder her father" is something else entirely. Which is not to say that it's inherently bad; just look at the opening of American Beauty: "In less than a year, I will be dead."

    The problem, as with so many things, is lazy writers use it as a crutch. "Crap, what will keep them reading... uh... he's totally going to blow up the moon in a couple chapters (please don't leave me)." And insecurity is not attractive.

  2. Some movie trailers actually turn me off from seeing a movie. Some of them are cut to make you believe you know what happens, and then you see them and realize the trailer is nothing like what the movie was actually about.

    I see this same sort of thing with book descriptions. They foreshadow but then you read the book and it's nothing about what it is.

    I think foreshadowing, when done right, works very well in a book. But I think a lot of writers don't have the craft of foreshadowing done and their technique ruins it for the reader.

  3. Right - to me, foreshadowing lets the reader go "aha!" and want to go back and find that part where the portent was set up. In one of my books, everything about pretty much the entire story was laid out in the first chapter, but in a subtle way, so the story unfolded as planned. The subtle hints were how the characters looked alike, how they felt about their family, and so forth; things that were planted in the reader's mind, but without unloading the plot.

  4. I like foreshadowing when it's done correctly. Authors who rely on "telling" statements aren't doing it correctly.

  5. I like foreshadowing in terms of the author leaving "clues" as to what will happen - whether that will actually happen or whether it's done to lead me in a different direction. Done too much and it can be annoying, but just right makes me want to stay with the book.

  6. I agree with the subtle foreshadowing. Dean Koontz did a brilliant job in Odd Thomas. It was all there in the early chapters, but the ending still blew you away, leaving you with, "I should have seen that coming...." It was very, very well done - and not a single word of "telling".

  7. Hmm, I'm not sure my first comment published. I just wanted to say Dean Koontz did a brilliant job of foreshadowing in Odd Thomas. All the hints were there, and I still missed figuring out the end. Brilliant writing.

  8. I agree with many of the comments here. When it is done correctly, foreshadowing can keep the reader from setting the book or tablet down. Unfortunately, many writers simply use the 'little did she know' type. Don't skillfully, in my opinion, it is subtle and does not jump out at you. Like Cecilia implied. The clues should be there but keep the suspense intact.