I recently finished reading a book called “Hawley Book of the Dead” by Chrysler Szarlan. Over the first few pages, the first person narrator foreshadowed the death of her husband at least six different ways. It wasn’t subtle, she came right out and said, “On the day I killed my husband –” in the first or second line of the book, but each instance revealed a different nuance to the concept that her husband would end up dead in chapter one and that the rest of the story would take off from there.
Foreshadowing is a device that must be handled with care. If you say the wrong thing, you can put a reader off right away. Personally, I do not like to be told what is coming, but Chrysler Szarlan definitely did her foreshadowing right. Her first mention of the impending death gave me enough pause to wonder what kind of book I’d gotten myself into. By the sixth I was ready for her to stop beating around the bush and just kill him already so the grieving process could begin. I was invested.
It’s made me think about a few years ago when a Brigit’s Flame mini contest included an assigned writing device combined with two prompts. Before the cues were doled out, there was much discussion in Flame Chat over foreshadowing. Some people wanted it, others were hoping not to get it. I was on the fence. In order to properly foreshadow, you need to know your story up front — you need to be in touch with your endings. Ninety percent of the time I write my way from beginning to end on short stories, with only a vague concept of where I’m going. Foreshadowing takes forethought.
It also takes death, destruction, or mayhem. You can’t foreshadow happy times or mediocre accomplishments. (Unless you’re writing satire…or you’re hwango…hwango could probably use foreshadowing opposite to its intended purpose.) In this vein, the dictionary description of foreshadow uses the word in the example sentence fragment: “it foreshadowed my preoccupation with jazz”. Not only is that a terrible example of how to use a word, imo, foreshadow has a more profound intent than ‘suggest’ or ‘indicate’. It comes from the harbinger, and he does not put his energy into warning you what kind of music will be your jam. Unless that interest will be your DOOM!
Lemony Snicket is a writer who used foreshadowing as a marketing device. “A Series of Unfortunate Events?” No mystery there. Snicket’s books say things on the cover like, “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning, and very few happy things in the middle.” I picked the book up immediately upon reading that and stuck it out for about ten volumes.
Despite my desire to unravel the mysteries of a book on my own without wink-winks and nudge-nudges from the author, there is a way to do foreshadowing where even I can be drawn in by it.
Talk to me about your foreshadowing experiences. Have you written using the device? Do you have a favorite story or author who uses it well? Do you have a negative opinion on the subject or example of a story that used foreshadowing in a way that ruined the reading experience for you?
To our poet followers – have you tried playing with foreshadowing in your writing? If so, share it with us or tell us what prompted you to play with the form.
There is reading to be done and tonight is your last chance to vote for your favorite.
#gowrite the plane is at the gate and is on schedule. Tell us about your Departure today.