Monday, October 3, 2011

Foreshadowing: Hinting, But Not Giving Away

One of the most powerful literary techniques authors use to lead and engage the reader from the beginning of a story to its end is foreshadowing. To foreshadow means to hint at the events that’ll arise later in the story. These clues can be very broad and easily understood, or they may be a complex use of symbols that are then connected to later turns in the plot. Among its many purposes, foreshadowing gives the reader a taste of what’s to come. It’s used to build suspense and prepare the reader's subconscious for the conflict. It also helps the reader believe extraordinary events when they happen.

Authors weave this technique into their craft — whether in dialogue, description, or the attitudes and reactions of the characters — to build tension and suspense (ding, ding, ding!) and keep their readers engaged until the conflict is revealed. The ultimate goal of this device is to heighten the emotional gratification of the reader by the story’s end. Good use of this literary tool ties the beginning of the story to the end producing structural and thematic unity.

When it comes to understanding foreshadowing and its definition as it relates to literature, you will find that it always points to the conflict - the driving force of all writing. Without conflict, the reader loses interest. However, all conflict foreshadows itself. And, when properly done, this literary device does not give away the ending.

Mary Shelly in Frankenstein uses metaphors and symbols to foreshadow Victor's eventual death in the novel. Even though the creature doesn't directly kill Victor, he certainly drives him towards it and the author hints at that: "I was possessed by a kind of nightmare. I felt the fiend's grasp in my neck, and could not free myself from it; groans and cries rung in my ears."

There are also a few examples in Romeo and Juliet, one spoken by Romeo before they crash the Capulet's party. He says he had a dream that this party would lead to his untimely death, and ultimately it did, by him meeting Juliet and later them killing themselves over each other.

In Divergent, Veronica Roth does an excellent job foreshadowing the danger Tris will face if she’s ranked first during the training. With Peter stabbing Edward in eye in the beginning third of the book (spoiler, sorry), it makes it more believable later when Peter tries to kill Tris.

Now that you’re familiar with the concept of foreshadowing, think back to some of the books you’ve read recently. Can you pick out moments where the author used foreshadowing?

"There never was a night without a twilight; a morning without a dawn; a winter without an autumn; a summer without a spring first; they all foreshadow a coming event." (Lajos Egri, The Art of Dramatic Writing)

1 comment:

  1. I'm reading Divergent now, and Tris just met with her mother on visiting day - lots of foreshadowing, adding to the intrigue and tension. I better not say anymore in case some of you haven't read it yet!

    It's so satisfying reaching the end of a book and recognizing all the clues that had been planted along the way. Sometimes I want to start right over and read it again to appreciate what the author has done.