Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Question: Members of my writing class all agree that things happen "too suddenly" in my stories. Okay, so I used the word "suddenly" a lot. But they keep saying I need to do something called "foreshadowing" and I don't know what that IS. I don't want to give my whole plot away from the get-go. AND I'm tired of everyone laughing at me andso I am NOT going back there. But I thought I'd ask you -- no one in your classes ever laughed at anyone...
Answer: Don't let them get to you. Teachers have to learn how not to let students laugh at one another's efforts, while still showing them what, and what not, to do. Any serious effort to write deserves the serious attention of fellow-students. SOME teachers I have known even encouraged such behavior, hoping to get rid of students who are not "serious" enough to stick with it. But in reality to lessen the work load. A class of 5 students is easier to teach than 15...
Foreshadowing means giving them a hint of what's coming next, without giving too much away. It is one of the three key elements that keep readers turning pages. Foreshadowing, Tension and Suspense.
Foreshadowing doesn't mean this:
When Sally went to riding school that morning she had no idea that when old Norman threw her a dead body would suddenly appear the other side the the blind-jump gate.
That's a "had I but known" and a pretty clumsy one. Many newbie writers confuse "had I but knowns" with foreshadowing, which is to HINT that something will happen, without giving too much away.
"Nothing ever happens to me, (DENIAL)" Sally whispered as she drove toward her riding lesson. It wasn't that she disliked horses so much, it was that she didn't want to spend hours doing what her grandmother thought a young lady she should do. The only thing worse than riding lessons was dancing class.
The school's training jumper, Norman, had suffered through innumerable novices and would jump flawlessly round the course whether she paid attention to the signals she gave him, or not. (AND STILL MORE DENIAL)
"Today, you try the blind jump," her instructor warned. "If you don't give the signals right, old Norman will refuse, because he can't see the other side. Pay attention, Sally! Remember, ANYTHING could be on the other side of that gate." (FORESHADOWING)
Sure! Sally wheeled the horse around. A rabbit, a squirrel, maybe even a frog? With the sun hot on her shoulders, Sally trotted once around the circle, then headed for the blind gate and gave old Norman a half-hearted signal. Without pause, she found herself flying head first over the gate as Norman stopped in his tracks.
She landed curled into a ball, by now she surely knew how to fall, then shook her head and sat up, blinking, straight into the open eyes of the bloody corpse lying where old Norman should have landed.
To a fiction writer Suspense has nothing to do with all those Girl-in-danger stories, what it means is keeping readers guessing what will happen next. The term suspense, denotes how involved the reader is in your plot. If he or she already knows what is going to happen, there isn't any suspense (critics call it "predictable"), and will have little reason to continue reading. To avoid trite plots (like this one), make a list of 10 things that might happen next and pick the least likely. Or brainstorm with friends to come up with suggestions for unusual and exciting twists. Remember, keep the readers guessing and let the answer be a SURPRISE.
Foreshadowing is vital if the following action will be hard to swallow for some reason. If you're going to "Raise the Titanic" on page 367, you have to foreshadow the action in the first third of the book. Clive Cussler put in a scene where someone had invented a new underwater sealant and the hero used it to successfully raise barges off an oil rig early in his book. That action took place BEFORE any of the events that made raising the Titanic a plot necessity. Even though we all know the big T is still down there, foreshadowing made the reader believe it was possible, and Cussler made us SEE the action when she rose.
One way to convince a reader improbable action is possible, is to juxtapose it with everyday things. Barbara Michaels always has her characters discuss their ghosts, satanic possessions, and hauntings while eating hamburgers or pizza. The reader believes in the hamburgers and "swallows" the ghosts, too.
Another technique that will help readers believe in the impossible is denial. The more other characters, especially the least liked ones, tell the protagonist he can't succeed at whatever impossible task he's doing, the more convinced the reader becomes the hero can actually pull it off. Remember, the reader is on the hero or heroine's side and rooting for him or her to succeed.
So again and again, when Sally thinks nothing will ever happen, because of that denial, the reader is just waiting for something interesting to happen.
Be careful, too, not to foreshadow something and then not deliver. From that first "nothing ever happens to me" line, you have promised your reader that something will happepn, so they stick with Sally through a pretty boring morning.