Friday, October 26, 2012

Hints and Foreshadowing

Maybe it's just me, but when a tiny detail from the first pages shows up again in the last pages of a book, it always gives me a thrill of excitement.

Foreshadowing, hints, clues, even just setting the stage: these are the things that bring a novel together.

How does your end connect to your beginning? Is there something you can throw in to tie it all together?

In The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, one of the reasons the main character never quite fit in with the Society crowd is that she is a penniless blueblood--of questionable blue-blooded-ness, with a suspect great-grandmother whom no one tells her much about. It's not something I questioned or really even noticed the first time I read through, because it's a very reasonable explanation for why the character isn't able to connect, and thus why she's somewhat less upset than she should be for being shipped out to far away Daria after her father dies, leaving her (the unwed and unlikely to ever wed sister) as a burden to her soldier brother.

It comes back up later. I won't ruin the surprise, but grammy's secrets make a big difference. It's only at the very end that the protagonist really uncovers what those secrets were, things the reader has long suspected, but are only confirmed near the end. That little touch helps give the whole novel unity.

Unity and coherence leave a reader satisfied. The further back these hints are threaded in, the more well-rounded the story feels.

If you've got a manuscript in the works, take a moment and go back to the beginning. Look for a place where you can seed in a hint of things to come. Don't make it too obvious; your readers will catch it the second time through. That's what makes them read the book a second time, after all: trying to catch all the things they missed.

What moments of foreshadowing have you seen in books that brought the whole piece together?


  1. Found your blog through Rachelle's memoir post--I decided that anyone who was off riding dragons was someone whose blog I'd want to follow. BTW, are you sending my dragon UPS or FedEx? My doughnuts are now in a locked box.

    1. Oh no! When I tried to mail her, the dragon flew off with the UPS guy! Drat, I hate it when that happens. Do you accept e-dragons? (The FedEx guys have refused to get near my apartment for years now; can't figure out why... ;)

      Thanks for coming by to check the blog out! :D

  2. Nice post! I think foreshadowing is a little underutilized these days compared to classic works. And when it is used, a lot of writers (especially in movies) tend to beat you over the head with it instead of letting the reader/viewer have a little subtlety.

    The first thing that usually comes to mind when I think about foreshadowing is Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle was clearly fond of foreshadowing, from the subtle to the overt. One of the most fun parts of reading some of the Holmes tales is watching things come together and feeling either like an idiot or a genius for noticing the seeds he planted.

    1. Doyle was a master of it, wasn't he? I completely agree about it making me feel like a genius/idiot, but that was part of the fun! :D