Thursday, June 19, 2014

What is foreshadowing?

The kids in Kwame Freeman's 6th grade class often trade barbs and are antagonistic toward each other as they navigate their way through one conflict after another. If they could just call a truce, they might be able to team up to play a charity soccer match to help raise funds to help a classmate whose father was seriously injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) while serving in Iraq.

Question from the e-mail: Okay, I'm taking my first writing class in years. The teacher keeps talking about "foreshadowing" and I remember (won't say how long ago) you talked about that in your workshop, but I blew it off thinking it would be stupid to let the reader know what's going to happen next and give the story away. And here it is. Again. Am I missing something?

Answer: I think you may be. You don't tell them everything, Donna. You only hint. For instance if, later, a playful dog is going to knock Mrs. Stuffed-Shirt into the pool, you have to describe the pool when you are setting the scene for the party, and at least mention the dog before he escapes (or is let off) his leash to run amok.

Foreshadowing is a technique that leads the reader smoothly along, hinting at what is coming next without giving too much away. Done properly when the reader hits the end of the story s/he will slap self in forehead and say, “I shoulda KNOWN!”  Foreshadowing is tricky, because you can’t give away enough information so that they DO know, but it makes future action more believable.  Properly done, it will increase both tension and suspense in the story.

In the example above, maybe the kids could be complaining about what a critical teacher Mrs. Stuffed-Shirt is. And for more foreshadowing, they should remark that the thinks dogs are  unsanitary, groan when their mother makes them lock the dog in the kennel, and argue, "But he LOVES the pool!" Then, when the dog knocks her in, it'll still be a surprise, and because she's been the character-you-love-to-hate, there will be a joyful reaction to her discomfort. But if the pool isn't described as part of the backyard barbecue scene, People will feel cheated when she falls in. Or worse, confused.

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