The Jane Doe Novel Experiment

Creating Two New Novels. Writing One Chapter Weekly. Podcasting As I Go. Welcome to The Experiment.

The Importance of Foreshadowing

Your reader didn’t see that ending coming and that’s BAD.

The Lesson – Foreshadowing

A crucial element for Act 1 of your novel is foreshadowing – setting up your story, leaving breadcrumbs for your reader to follow to the end. Without doing this in Act 1, Act 2 cannot exist. Without doing it correctly, Act 3 will leave your readers wanting a refund.

Why? To quote someone I can’t remember: “The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.” (ha, ha!) But, it is true. We as readers, as movie goers, as Broadway ticket holders; we want the story to make sense. We do not accept our main character being saved by some trick up their sleeves we didn’t know about or the bad guy’s death-bed repentance. We feel cheated. We must be able to see it coming. Hence, it’s your responsibility as the author to foreshadow.


I’m making this next part up (aka, I’ve never read it explained like this) but I think there are different types of foreshadowing:

#1 Personality Foreshadowing: We learn something about a character’s personality in the beginning of the story. That character’s trait at the end, saves (or ruins) the day.

Example: Armageddon. Ben Affleck; from the opening scene we see that he is the one willing to take risks and go for it in every aspect of his life. Work, love, and play. This foreshadowing in the beginning pays off at the end when Bruce knows that the odds are the drill will fail, but at Ben’s “I can do it,” insistence, gave the go ahead for Ben to keep drilling.

#2 Skill Foreshadowing: The character is an expert or becoming an expert at something. And of course, this skill is used at the climax.

Example: Pick almost any movie you want. Into action? Karate skills in the beginning used at the ending fight scene, right? Dance? No doubt there’s a big performance up ahead and the main character must shine. Etc.

#3 Action Foreshadowing: We know that something is going to happen (or someone will try to stop it from happening) at the end of the story because it’s set up at the beginning.

Example: Die Hard with A Vengeance. A bomb has been planted. Find it and disarm it. Or don’t and people will die. That’s pretty straight forward.

#4 Subtle Foreshadowing: This is where foreshadowing is most often done wrong. Pay attention all you authors hoping for a “twist” and “shock”. And I do not envy the mystery writer. All of you must make your foreshadowing, “Hidden in plain sight.” Meaning, it’s not your fault if we as the readers didn’t pick up on it, it was there! That is the kind of foreshadowing we walk away from with a smile and exclaim, “How did I miss that?” However, more often than not, new authors trying to accomplish the above don’t foreshadow at all and explain everything at the end in a drawn out monologue. Please…no.

Example: Sixth Sense: So Bruce was dead the whole time?!?! Let’s rewind: oh, right! No one spoke a word to him other than the boy the entire show! And didn’t the boy say, “sometimes, they don’t even know they’re dead?” Wasn’t his wife (who also never said a word to him) awfully sad the entire time? Bravo! Subtle foreshadowing.

Example 2: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: This is a French film, but watch it and deal with the subtitles! Another great example of subtle for shadowing. This writer not only managed to subtle foreshadow an entire affair, but played with our social conditioning to accept what we are being shown without question. Wonderfully, done!

Your Assignment:

Your WIP is getting a lot of love this week! Grab it in your arms again. Our novels are filled with foreshadowing. There’s more than just one big clue in the beginning with one big pay off at the end. A foreshadow builds upon another and another and yet another. Take a look at your first five chapters. Have you dropped clues in each about where your story is heading? How your characters’ relationships relate to one another? If not, add it in and keep it up!


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Past Experiments

New Chapter Countdown

7th Release Date!August 13th, 2012
Chapter 6 is here! - Enough for Four

New Chapter Countdown

6th Release Date!August 6th, 2012
Chapter 5, Part 2 is here!
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