Justine: Foreshadowing

sons of anarchy poster

Sons of Anarchy (c) 2008 FX

I’m not much of a TV person. There are a few shows I’ve gotten into over the years, but for the most part, it takes quite a bit to keep my attention.

My husband is the total opposite.

The latest show he’s started watching is Sons of Anarchy. He asked me to watch the pilot episode with him and I agreed. I’d heard lots of good things about the show and there was certainly a lot of stir among my friends on Facebook when the series wrapped up.

That first episode lived up to expectations, but for one glaring thing: the blatant foreshadowing that I picked up on almost immediately. In a way, it’s almost ruined the show for me, because I was 99% sure I was right (and my good friend, who’s seen all 7 seasons, confirmed my suspicions). Why bother watching now that I know this major plot piece that will shake everything up?

All of this begs the question: what makes good foreshadowing?

In his post on the importance of foreshadowing, Larry Brooks of StoryFix 2.0 describes it as

Anything that links to, or reveals a glimpse of, or a hint about, a forthcoming story point or issue of characterization, but without yet being a salient story point itself in the moment it is revealed.

It can be blatant or subtle. Brooks uses a cooking analogy — if it’s blatant, you know what’s cooking (i.e., spaghetti). If not, you know something is cooking.

Then there’s the importance of it. If you want your foreshadowing to be noticed, Brooks says to attach emotion to it (i.e., smells good or stinky). To keep it subtle, just let it slide by.

I’ve been thinking a lot about foreshadowing in my own story, especially now that I’m editing. I actually don’t think I have the problem of being too subtle. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am so darned heavy-handed with some of my foreshadowing that I feel like I’m standing next to the reader with a baseball bat, whacking them every time I drop a hint, saying, “Didja get that? Huh? Huh?!?”

Clearly subtlety is something I have to work on.

Then there’s the issue of what I’m foreshadowing, which I think is too much. I recall from our McDaniel days being told that if you make things too easy for the reader, there’s no motivation to keep reading. This bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing in SoA is a perfect example. Why should I continue watching?

I think I have much more to learn about the fine art — and yes, I definitely think it’s an art — of foreshadowing. What examples can you think of where you were either hit over the head too hard with it, or it was so subtle and well-done you only discovered it on a second (or third) visit?

8 thoughts on “Justine: Foreshadowing

  1. Foreshadowing is definitely an art. I recently re-read Anne Bishop’s Written in Red/Murder of Crows/Vision in Silver, and there’s a character that I think may be more than he seems. It’s very subtle, but he keeps popping up and/or volunteering to help when things get really hairy. The heroine sees (incomplete) visions so most threats are clearly foreshadowed and I’d think if the mystery man was a bad guy, she’d feel or see it, but if MM doesn’t have an agenda, why does he keep cropping up? He has a name and a role, but we know very little else about him, which is also unusual. He might just be a helpful colleague, in which case I’m seeing something in the story that the writer never intended. Or he’s going to become a significant character further down the line. I’ll have to wait for the next book or books to find out.

    • If he’s not a significant character in the future, then that’s some pretty disappointing writing, IMHO. If you’re going to make that big a deal about something, then not deliver, it’s disappointing and frustrating.

      What did Jenny teach us? Once is nice, twice is coincidence, and three times is something big. Or something like that. 🙂

      • I think it’s Jenny’s teaching that made me notice him. He’s not a big deal, but he is there, and I don’t know his story when I know everyone else’s. When I read the books again I was looking for him, and he’s definitely a three-or-more times occurrence. Anne Bishop is not a careless writer, so it makes me curious. Sadly, the next book isn’t published until March 2016 so I’ll have to wait and wonder.

  2. If you think your foreshadowing is too heavy-handed, you might ask some non-writing beta readers what they think of it. As we discussed in our McD classes many times, once you start writing and deeply analyzing story, your brain never processes it the same way again. It could be your writer’s brain seeing more of the clues than a non-writer brain would.

    Re: the SoA episode, did your husband pick up on the same foreshadowing you did?

    • No, not at all. He refers to me as “Observio” a la “Magneto” from Marvel fame, because I’m good at noticing little details. That’s a great idea on looking for some beta readers. I’ll do it!

  3. There’s a thoroughly nasty, contemporary (for her) Georgette Heyer murder mystery called Envious Casca. Aside from the unpleasant characters littering the book, the plot was really quite good. Great use of foreshadowing in that things that seemed like annoying characterization turned out to be giant clue shoes that fell at the end of the book. I would read it again, just for the plot. Maybe not at Christmas, though. That book is thoroughly lacking in the Christmas spirit.

  4. Pingback: Justine: Foreshadowing, Part 2 – Eight Ladies Writing

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