What Does Foreshadowing Mean? Explained

What does foreshadowing mean? Take a look at a definition of foreshadowing below, and then explore a few examples of foreshadowing. 

Foreshadowing is an important literary device that is incorporated across multiple genres. Just as people talk about having a flashback, foreshadowing is like a flash-forward to future events. Everyone from Shakespeare with Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet to JK Rowling with Harry Potter has used foreshadowing. There are several types of foreshadowing, and they can be used to trigger plot twists.

One foreshadowing definition is that it takes place when the author hints at future events that may follow in the plot. 

An Overview of Foreshadowing

Think of foreshadowing as a before shadow of what is about to happen next in the story. If there is a hint of what will happen later in the story, foreshadowing has occurred. Even though foreshadowing is commonly associated with books, short stories, and poems, it can also be used in movies and on television shows.

There are numerous ways that foreshadowing can happen. For example, the setting itself may clue the reader in that something big is about to happen. Or, one of the characters might say something to the other character that sounds like it is indicative of what may happen in the near future. There are even situations where the narrator will clue the reader into something about to happen.

According to several storytelling books,  authors can employ varying degrees of foreshadowing. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the reader to pick up on the clues the author provides. 

The Purpose of Foreshadowing

Ultimately, the writer will use foreshadowing to create clues that can be put together to solve the puzzle. A writer will use foreshadowing when he or she wants the reader to pick up the pieces of the puzzle and put it together. Then, the reader is able to figure out the rest of the story. 

There are plenty of situations where the reader may not actually pick up on an instance of foreshadowing until later in the book. For example, when the reader is going through the story, he or she may gloss over an instance of foreshadowing. Then, he or she may have a “eureka” moment later in the story. The reader will flip back to the earlier pages, take a look at what was missed, and realize that the author was trying to provide a clue regarding what was about to happen.

Most authors will put events in a specific order to craft the plot. In that way, the reader will experience the events in the order in which the author intended. Along the way, the author may use foreshadowing to give clues to the reader about what might happen next without totally revealing specific events before they should be revealed. 

The Numerous Ways an Author Can Use Foreshadowing

What does foreshadowing mean?
One of the most common ways authors might create foreshadowing is through the setting

 It is important to remember that foreshadowing is intentional but also subtle. There is a story taking place, and the writer does not want to reveal everything before the events actually unfold. It is important for foreshadowing not to reveal specifics related to events that might happen down the road; however, foreshadowing is intentionally designed to keep the reader guessing. 

Of course, revealing all the future events before they are supposed to happen would be pointless. The goal is to keep the reader guessing while he or she puts together the puzzle that has been created by the author.

Some of the ways the author may create foreshadowing include:

1. The Setting

One of the most common ways authors might create foreshadowing is through the setting. For example, if the author is writing a work of historical fiction based on World War Two, the characters may approach a big open field with rolling hills. The author might be using the terrain to indicate that a battle is about to unfold.

There are other ways the setting could be used to indicate that something big is going to happen next. For example, in the book by Charles Dickens, Great Expectationshe uses the weather as foreshadowing. When the weather turns bad, it indicates that Pip’s story is about to take a dark turn. Specifically, the gusts become furious, the roofs of buildings are stripped off, and the trees are ripped up in the country. As the weather turns negative, the story turns negative as well.

Authors will commonly use the setting of a big event to foreshadow something that is about to happen next. Readers should pay attention to the setting if they want to anticipate what might happen next in the story. 

2. The Dialogue Between Characters

There are also plenty of situations where the author might use dialogue to foreshadow something that may happen next. For example, if all of the characters are relaxing on the beach, one character may say that he or she spots a fin in the water. Then, one of the other characters may say something like, 

“I’m sure you are just seeing things. What is the worst that could happen?”

This would be a very clear instance of foreshadowing. The author is letting the reader know that a shark attack might be about to happen because of the fin in the water.

There are other ways that the author might use dialogue between characters to indicate that something is about to happen. For example, the author might use dialogue in a war book, such as,

“If I die, can you give this letter to my children?”

One popular, specific example of foreshadowing takes place in Romeo and Juliet, the popular work by Shakespeare. In the story, Romeo states that his life would be better if ended in a fit of hatred than if he were forced to live without the love of his life, Juliet. Of course, this would later come true, as Romeo would die later in the story.

This is the author letting the reader know that one of the characters could be killed in battle. Authors will commonly use dialogue as a part of foreshadowing. The exact nature of the dialogue can change depending on the type of book the author is writing. 

3. The Narrator

Finally, the narrator can also be responsible for foreshadowing. The narrator is typically responsible for setting a scene. There will be a lot of exposition about the scenery, the timing of the events, and where everyone is at. Then, depending on the line the author chooses, the narrator can clue the reader in that something is about to happen. For example, if the author is writing a book about tornadoes, the narrator may say something like:

“The sky was an unusual green color and there was a strange smell in the air.”

This is not necessarily a character speaking, but the narrator could be describing what the weather is like outside that day. These are clues that a tornado could be about to form.

Or, the narrator could say something like:

“He had a premonition that it would be a very bad idea for him to get on that plane.”

A specific example of this can be seen in the popular Shakespeare play, Macbeth. In the story, the witches make a prediction that Macbeth will be the Thane of Cawdor in the future before he becomes the king. This comes true later in the story.

This is the narrator getting inside the minds of one of the characters. This line is clearly foreshadowing that something bad is about to happen if the character gets on the plane. New line. There are plenty of ways the narrator may foreshadow something that is about to happen next. The author can vary the text to make the clues more or less obvious.

Direct Versus Indirect Foreshadowing

There are two separate types of foreshadowing. The first is called direct foreshadowing, which is also called overt foreshadowing. In this type of foreshadowing, the story makes it obvious that there is an impending problem, plot twists, or event that is going to take place. Typically, direct foreshadowing takes place when the characters talk to one another. One character will speak to another, and it will be as though that specific character is prophesizing something is going to happen later in the story.

The other type of shadowing is called indirect foreshadowing. This is also called covert foreshadowing. In this type of foreshadowing, the author will leave subtle clues throughout the story. The reader might not even realize the significance of those clothes until he or she gets to the end. Then, the reader will flip back to some of the clues along the way and realize that they have missed something. There are numerous examples of indirect foreshadowing that take place in modern literature, and this is commonly used in TV shows and movies as well. 

Tips For Using Foreshadowing in Your Writing

If you want to become a better writer, you might be looking for ways to use foreshadowing in your own writing. Some of the tips you should follow include:

Plan Out Your Story Ahead of Time 

First, try to plan out your story ahead of time. Of course, you should not simply sit down and write your story from start to finish. You need to think about the biggest events in the story. Then, try to spread them out accordingly.

It is impossible to use foreshadowing if you do not know where certain events will fall. Therefore, you might not be able to work in foreshadowing until close to the end of the finished work. Before you can use foreshadowing effectively, you need to know what you are trying to foreshadow. Think about the biggest events in your story, and spread them out accordingly. 

Place the Puzzle Pieces Well in Advance

You should view foreshadowing as a bunch of pieces that come together to make a larger puzzle. If you want your foreshadowing to be effective, you need to place your clues well in advance of where the event is going to happen. If you foreshadow an event that takes place at the bottom of the page, your foreshadowing will not be as effective.

Think about the foreshadowing that is used in Harry Potter. When Harry goes to get his one made, the person who works there remarks that his wand and the one that Voldemort uses both have the same core. This is foreshadowing an event that doesn’t happen until the very end of the series. The farther in advance you can place the clue, the more effective your foreshadowing will be.

Avoid Overusing Foreshadowing

If you constantly use foreshadowing, your reader is going to get tired. Then, the reader will simply give up and stop trying to pick up on those clues.

You do not want to frustrate or wear out the reader. Therefore, make sure you use it sparingly. If there is a significant event, you may want to put foreshadowing to work for you. On the other hand, you should not use foreshadowing for every single event that happens in the story.

Don’t Cluster Your Foreshadowing

Think about your foreshadowing as a treasure hunt. If you are sending your audience on a treasure hunt, you do not want to vary all of the treasures together. It is important to spread them out across the story if you want to keep the reader interested. 

You need to use foreshadowing in the same way. If you use all of your foreshadowing at once, you will ruin the story for the reader. Try to spread out your foreshadowing across the length of the story. 

Ask A Reader to Critique Your Story

Ask a reader to critique your story
Get another set of eyes on your story, and see what they have to say

As the author, you understand exactly how everything is going to unfold. It is very difficult for you to put yourself in the shoes of a reader who might be going through your story for the first time. How do you know if your foreshadowing is effective enough for your readers to pick up on without making it too obvious?

It is important to ask someone else to read the story. Get another set of eyes on your story, and see what they have to say. If someone else says that your foreshadowing is effective, there is a good chance that you have done a good job.

The Final Word on What Does Foreshadowing Mean

In the end, foreshadowing is an effective literary element or device. There are numerous foreshadowing examples, and not all of them have to involve them in character. Authors from Anton Chekhov to Charles Dickens have used foreshadowing effectively, and it can sometimes create dramatic tension that is not resolved until the end of the story.

Even though foreshadowing is a technique that is commonly used in mystery novels, these subtle clues that portend bad things or upcoming events can be used in just about every literary genre. You do not want foreshadowing to disrupt the storyline, but it can be an effective way to grab the reader’s attention and hold it from start to finish. As a storytelling exercise, why not go back and edit one of your stories and insert an element of foreshadowing into the first third?

FAQs About What Does Foreshadowing Mean

Why should I think about using foreshadowing in my work?

Foreshadowing is a great way to keep the reader interested. There are times when the reader might have a difficult time figuring out where the story is going next. If you use foreshadowing, you make it easier for your readers to pick up on the events of the story as they unfold.

What are the different types of foreshadowing?

There Are Several Ways To Break Up Foreshadowing, But Two Common Examples Are Direct And Indirect Foreshadowing. Indirect Foreshadowing, You Use The Plot To Hint At Something That Is About To Happen Next Openly. With Indirect Foreshadowing, It Might Be Harder For The Reader To Pick Up On The Clue You Are Leaving Behind. The Reader May Not Even Realize That You Have Left Them A Clue Until He Or She Reaches The End Of The Story. 

How do I use foreshadowing without giving away plot developments?

Even though you want to make effective use of foreshadowing, it is important for you not to give away the entire plot. You need to think about the order of the events as they happened in the story. Then, you need to leave the clue far enough in advance that the reader is not going to immediately realize what is happening next. As long as you don’t use foreshadowing too often and you leave the clue far in advance, you shouldn’t give away too much of the story. 

How do I get better at using foreshadowing?

The best way to get better at this is to practice. You should practice using foreshadowing through character dialogue, the setting, and the narrator. Try to leave clues instead of being too overt with your foreshadowing. That way, you do not give away the story.

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