Sometimes as a writer you need to provide clues in a story. Mysteries, for example, center on solving a crime, such as a murder. Other genres typically involve some problem that must be addressed, and to that end usually the character must tease out the problem to understand it. Such clues can be provided by the use of foreshadowing.
Foreshadowing is a hint of something to come. For example, you might note that a character who later meets an untimely end has a “grave expression” on their face.
Foreshadowing can ensure that readers won’t be disappointed when the mystery of the novel is finally revealed. The reader will remember the hint, which then makes the solution to or explanation of the mystery more plausible. Foreshadowing also can be used to provide a symbolic richness to the story. For example, John Steinbeck in “Of Mice and Men” has the character Lennie accidentally kill a mouse, a puppy, and then a woman. This hints at his own death.
This literary device can appear in a number of ways – a single word, actions by a character, the use of symbols, and so on. However used, it typically is quite subtle so as not to draw attention to itself.
The opposite of foreshadowing is the red herring, which is a hint meant to mislead readers. This frequently appears in mystery novels as figuring out who committed the crime is part of the fun of reading the novel. Closely related to foreshadowing is the flash forward, aka prolepsis, which occurs when the narrative actually jumps out of the timeline to the future.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.