Let me start by saying I love the literary device of foreshadowing and as I revise and edit, I have thought about it more and more. Some writers are big on allusion or theme or even setting. I commend those who frame their writing with these aspects (really, I do). For me though, it’s about the foreshadowing threads interwoven in the framework of the plot(s) tapestry.
By definition, foreshadowing is hinting at what is to come. This can be subtle and apparent depending on the use by the writer. For example, a writer could use an object noticed or used by a particular early on and then have that object play an important role later on (usually in the final act or climax of the story). One example I continually see used as an example is if you were to see a gun on a mantle or one placed in a desk drawer. It’s very likely this element could come into play to impact the outcome of the plot.
In my opinion, the two best examples of foreshadowing used effectively in an epic fantasy story can be found in Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series and George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. I know… I know… I reference these two a lot in my blog posts and I’ll try to discuss other works in the future but for now, these are the two that I return to whenever I think of the proper and effective use of foreshadowing.
I could use examples here but I won’t because the nature of a foreshadow is to allude to something in the future, which in our current culture is notably called a “spoiler”. I wish I could! But I won’t. All I can do is recommend you read these series. The best foreshadowing in epic fantasy is usually presented in the first book and does not come to pass until the last and towards the end of the series. Some big payoffs definitely add to the fanfare of readers.
What has happened with me in the Ravanguard series has been beneficial when it comes to these deep details. My method for writing the series without stopping has allowed me to see where the story has gone and then as I edit and revise, I can recall a “future” event happening in book 2, 3 or 4 and go back and then see if there’s a place for foreshadowing to work. There’s one key though: it has to make sense within the prose. There is a balance and trust me, I do not look for spots to drop in foreshadowing just to be cheeky (well, okay, sometimes I do but those are more for the readers who are paying attention).
I think one could argue my approach to foreshadowing is somewhat cheating but I would argue it’s just fun writing. Sometimes, these foreshadows are quite clever and subtle and sometimes they’re right on the nose. Both are fine and my hope is that my readers would simply consider it good storytelling. There’s a sense of intrigue to be added too because you as the reader (and I do this too whenever I’m reading a new book. I pay close attention to details, thinking it could be a bit of foreshadowing) are more invested in the these details. I could never be a speed reader because I fear I would miss what I love most in the writing.
Another fun aspect I’ve run into in my own writing is that I have sometimes stumbled onto a moment of foreshadowing accidentally. Seriously! I have been planning the story arc of one of the next books, thought of an idea for a character and been like, “Wait, didn’t this thing happen back in book 1?”. I’ll go and check and boom! Slap my feet and call me Chip, I inadvertently set up a foreshadowing moment! Now, it’s probably coincidence but I actually attribute it to my advanced internal, subconscious understanding of the world and characters. Almost as if I know it all before I should. (I know, you’re not buying it.) Truthfully, though, the readers will discover in due time that I have foreshadowed some things that I hope brings delight and maybe a little shock.
Any literary device used is meant to add to the enjoyment of the reading experience. When used properly and not in abundance to the point of distraction, these practices are worth getting better at. I definitely encourage looking for these in the books you read. Train yourself to look for it and see if it pays off. Happy reading!
Call to Action: See below a video of foreshadowing in popular movies. Obviously, there are possible spoilers so here are the movies in the top ten list: