Justine: Foreshadowing, Part 2


About a year ago, I wrote this post about foreshadowing. My husband had started watching “Sons of Anarchy” and from the get-go, I knew who the bad baddie was going to be. I wasn’t much interested in watching the show, but I was even less interested when the obvious became TOO obvious.

I was disappointed again this weekend (there have been lots of disappointing weekends – from a fiction perspective, of course). Family Movie Night this past Friday started off as a heap of fun…the kids were thrilled when I told them they could feast on chips, popcorn, and sugary drinks for dinner (I did, too, actually…it was a long week). We watched “Big Hero Six,” which was a pretty good movie, except the stuff I’ve learned about fiction now means I’m set up for disappointment as soon as the movie begins.

SPOILER ALERT. At the beginning of the movie, you’re led to believe a particular scientist is the “bad” guy and the professor who runs the college robotics program that the hero’s brother attends is the good guy (and the dead one, after a building blows up).

Naturally, that’s not the case. For most of the movie, the evil guy (who’s stolen the hero’s invention) is presumed to be the “bad” scientist, but I could see from the get-go that it would be the robotics professor.

And I was right. **Sigh**

Becoming more knowledgeable about fiction now means that there’s very little that surprises me anymore. I see foreshadowing everywhere, too. And it makes me second-guess my own story. Will everyone see from a mile away who is involved with whom? Who the bad guy really is? (Okay, don’t tease me about the hero/heroine being a “sure thing”…it IS a romance, after all. SOME things are sacred.)

I suppose that brings up a bigger question: Is there anything truly shocking, surprising, and mind-blowing in fiction anymore? There are two stand-outs from my own personal history. “The Orphan Train” had a whiz-dinger that blindsided me. So did “The Fever Tree.” But I’ve read A LOT of books, and I can only come up with two?

I occasionally read reviews of books in the NY Times and Washington Post and they promise “an ending you wouldn’t have seen coming from miles away,” but I’m so (stupidly) sure of being disappointed by the hype that I end up avoiding the book entirely (that’s probably also stupid…I should just read the book, for Pete’s sake).

I’m pondering this problem of predictability as I approach the middle of my book outline. Things are starting to happen. I want to shake things up a bit. So my question to you, fair writer, is what do you do to throw your reader a curve ball? Or I suppose the REAL question is when do you know you need to throw a curve ball? Who helps you with that decision? Do you ask your beta readers if everything is too predictable? Do you suggest to your beta readers or critique partners ideas to see what they think? Do you divine it yourself from the writing gods (or goddesses)?

Do tell!



3 thoughts on “Justine: Foreshadowing, Part 2

  1. Those curve balls, I suspect, are gifts from the muse. I can never seem to direct things. “I need some action, here, Girls in the Basement!” Silence from below. But while I’m typing out a perfectly normal paragraph, fairly sure where I’m headed for the next page and a half — that’s when the curve ball comes. Just some random idea drops down between one word and the next, and I have to type like crazy to catch it before it goes away. Usually, if it’s a good curve ball, I suddenly know where I’m going for the next page in a half, but in a totally different direction than I planned.

    Once in a while, I get the surprise at the beginning; I don’t even know it’s going to be a surprise, sometimes, but I keep neglecting to spell things out and spell things out, even though it’s important information, and then suddenly the opening appears. And I’ve sprung a surprise on my readers.

    I would love to hear from anyone who actually plans twists and curves. WHAT’S YOUR SECRET?????? Ahem. I think some writers are just twistier-thinking than others. I’m in awe of some of the mystery writers who can come up with engaging plots, time after time.

    Fortunately, we’ve got readers who want spills and thrills, and we’ve got readers who want a nice, comfy ride. So my kind of writing, with just a few surprises, has an audience, I think.

    • I’m with you on hearing from anyone who plans the twists and curves! Please share!

      I sometimes have curve balls that hit me when I’m in the middle of writing something, too. It’s great when that happens, but can be slightly frustrating if it means a bunch of rework. But hey, that’s writing, right?

      I think there’s definitely an audience for any reader. I’m just finding that me (as an audience) is getting picky.

      • LOL, I complained about the lack of manufactured twists, and then the universe responded: You know of plenty of ways to manufacture twists. So, slightly late (and abashed that I could forget this), here are some ways.

        Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. I was randomly googling, when one of his oblique strategies showed up in my search: “Twist the spine.” Sure, that’s cryptic, but that means it applies to several situations. Twist the spine of the story; or the character; or take it literally and just relax and do a little yoga. There’s a good Wikipedia article with half a dozen more helpful/cryptic phrases that you are supposed to pull at random, and somehow apply to your problem.

        Any personality list. You can twist your personality by pulling at random a personality from the horoscopes, tarot cards, enneagrams . . . these things often have personality traits that are conflicting, so you can find a different facet of a character.

        Plots: tarot cards or dice or other fortune-telling devices. You can make up your own list, rely on the imagery of the cards, or find a list of “outcomes” on the internet.

        (-: And of course, there’s stealing a plot twist from another story. And when I say “steal”, I mean take and transform. Writers have probably been doing it since shortly after story-telling was invented.

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