The Art of Foreshadowing

A writer’s job isn’t just about telling a story.  It’s more complicated than simple storytelling, because there are so many devices available to help writers improve and enrich their writing. One very useful tool available to writers is the art of foreshadowing, or in simple terms, the art of subtle revelation, forewarning and teasing.

It’s surprising how much foreshadowing is overlooked in fiction – we don’t always think about little things like this and we tend to forget the minute intricacies that help bring depth and richness to our stories.

What does foreshadowing do?

Foreshadowing has many functions, from providing subtle hints about characters or situations, clues to events yet to happen, to imparting necessary information, but it also serves to move the story forward and to sometimes deliberately wrong foot the reader.
Foreshadowing more often than not brings an extra dimension to the story, because it means you are hinting at what might come, what might happen, what could occur further into the tale.  It’s about teasing the reader with snippets of information, by making them privy to what is happening, therefore the reader will know what might happen, but your characters will be oblivious.

This means the reader can look forward to an event that might happen further into the story, or they might even guess the outcome. 
Foreshadowing also adds a little tension, anticipation, mood and atmosphere regarding what might happen.  It creates that sense of suspense. 

You might want to deliberately fool the reader into thinking something will happen, and then the story twists in another direction, but it has to be justifiable and should not leave the reader feeling completely manipulated in a way that they feel dissatisfied or cheated.
One important process is to move the story forward.  Foreshadowing does this by allowing the reader to jump into the foreseeable future of the story and guess what might happen, thus teasing them.  This allows the story to move forward because of anticipation and guesswork.

Writers can also use foreshadowing as a device for plot development, because if there is a snippet of information or a symbolic tease that is directly associated with the plot, then once again the writer can make the reader privy to a future story development.
Effective foreshadowing is a skill; it has to be subtle and symbolic without giving too much away, or by being too overt.  If not done carefully, the foreshadowing might seem too obvious, too contrite or two forced, and might allow the reader to wholly predict the outcome of the story.  Hence a story or film or play becomes too ‘predictable’. 

Why is it important?
If a writer fails to include some form of foreshadowing, then there is a danger that an incident or occurrence in the story happens too unexpectedly and leaves the reader confused and wondering why it wasn’t mentioned earlier, or why they are connected.  

The skill with it is not to give too much away, but at the same time, the writer shouldn’t provide too few details that it’s becomes confusing for the reader.
How is it achieved?

Foreshadowing should hinge on likely significant events in the story, so it’s about finding out which of the significant events or incidents you could foreshadow, then plant likely hints or perhaps impart information to tease the reader.  You might do this by mentioning something in dialogue, something that the characters are planning perhaps, or you could hint within the narrative about something significant.
You don’t have to be overt – you could use weather, like gathering storm clouds to signify something dark about to happen, or it could be the repetition of a character’s words or behaviour, it might be the symbolic nature of a specific colour, something happening in the can be anything, as longs as it is significant to the story and spikes the reader’s interest.
And of course, if you do foreshadow something, make sure you carry it out. Don’t hint at something and then do nothing about it and leave readers wondering what or how or why.
He looked at the crimson rose on the seat beside him, rich in colour, a token symbol.  He had always lured them with roses; the deep colour of life, velvety to the touch, lush with the temptation of love…and death…

This extract foreshadows future events through the symbolic nature of a rose. ‘He had always lured them with roses’ is a massive hint.  Lush with the temptation of love…and death…’ This suggests that whoever he gives the rose to might end up in trouble. 
It’s understated and subtle enough to sink into the reader’s conscience.

Summary of foreshadowing:
  • Hint at information
  • Give clues to events yet to happen
  • Move the story forward through revelation
  • Tease the reader
  •  Mislead the reader, but always make it justified
  •  Evolve plot development

Whichever way you decide, don’t make it too obvious, let the reader do the work because they are very good at ‘reading between the lines’, but most of all let them enjoy that sense of anticipation and suspense of what might come.

Next week: What type of writer are you?


  1. A wonderfully detailed and very helpful post, thank you! Sometimes I forget about foreshadowing while I am writing but it is very important.


  2. Great advice. Thanks so much for another informative post. :)

  3. Thanks for the comments, Andrea and Amanda.

  4. With your amazing advice I've learnt a lot about foreshadowing, and I can't wait to put it into good use! :)
    Thanks so much, AJ!

  5. Art is amazingly subjective. The process of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotion is the definition of art.

    Art Information

  6. Art is indeed subjective. As an artist as well as writer, I agree. But art also has no definition, it cannot be defined; it can only be perceived.


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