There are many techniques writers use to build suspense and keep readers turning the page to see what happens next. One is foreshadowing future events by planting clues throughout the story.
Foreshadowing can be done as you write your first draft, or you can use the layering method I mentioned in an earlier post and add hints during the revision process.
Foreshadowing should be related to important events, significant characters, or objects meaningful to the plot. An occasional red herring, which is a clue that is purposely misleading, can add interest, but the meaning behind each one should be satisfactorily explained within the context of what happens in the story.
Here are some ways you can drop hints about what’s to come:
1. Start the story with a scene related to the general theme or upcoming events, and end chapters in a way that suggests a new problem or conflict is ahead. Clues should indicate the possibility of something happening, yet be subtle enough that the reader is still surprised by what occurs.
2. Sometimes you can simply state what might happen as part of the dialogue between characters, or as an observation by the narrator. Readers won’t know for sure if things will turn out the way the character thinks, but it will plant the idea in their minds.
3. Begin with the ending, and let the narrator explain what and how things happened by telling the story. The reader knows how things turned out, but if it’s intriguing enough they’ll want to read on to find out the details behind it all.
4. Use names of people or places that might suggest something about the setting or the character’s potential role in the story. Example: In X-men movies, the characters’ names suggest what super powers they possess. (My favorites are Storm and Wolverine)
5. Have characters react to an object or statement in a way that hints there is something significant about it. An obvious example: In Lord of the Rings, when Bilbo Baggins kept looking at the ring, it implied that the ring was not just special to him, but important to the plot.
By leaving a trail of clues leading up to the climax, the author can make the resolution of a story more believable. No one likes an ending that comes out of the blue; there should be something the reader can look back at and see as a hint of what was coming.
Edit November 3, 2009: Agent Rachelle Gardner has an interesting post on foreshadowing on her blog today.
Edit June 7, 2012: Editor Lynn Price cautions writers to be subtle when using foreshadowing in her blog post today.
Edit October 17, 2012: Agent Rachelle Gardner talks about the difference between foreshadowing and telegraphing in a helpful blog post.
Can you think of other ways to foreshadow events in a story? What are some of your favorite or memorable examples of foreshadowing?