Creativity flourishes within a structure, and I have personally found that understanding the structure of story is the best way to help you grasp all the aspects of writing a novel.
How do you explain the concept of foreshadowing?
So, it’s like this thing that happens before this other thing happens to let readers know that the other thing is going to happen. Tough, isn’t it? But for all that it can be a bit difficult to succinctly explain, foreshadowing is really a simple concept. We’re providing our readers with a hint of what’s to come in order to prepare them for the type of story they will be reading.
Sounds easy, right? But how do you decide what events need to be foreshadowed? And, further, how do you decide when to foreshadow? Unless you have the magic ingredient close to hand, you may find it difficult to find specific answers to either of these questions. But, lucky for us, we do have that magic ingredient, and it is story structure.
Once we understand the basic elements of structure (which I talk about in-depth in my book Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story), we can see how they fit together to create a solid story that works. Using that understanding, we can then further break down the smaller components of the craft—such as foreshadowing—and gain some specific info on how to put them into play.
What does structure tell us about what to foreshadow?
We use foreshadowing because it allows us to guide our readers’ expectations and prepare them (if only subconsciously) for big events down the road. So we already have part of our answer right there: we need to foreshadow big events.
But how do you know which events will be the big ones? Sometimes the answer to this question is a no-brainer. The big events are the ones we imagined right off when we got the idea for this story; they’re the ones we’ve been waiting all the way through the book to write. But sometimes—and especially if you’re not keen on outlining—you may not realize which events will end up being the big ones.
An understanding of structure helps us identify the major turning points in the story:
- The First Major Plot Point takes place around the 25% mark, signifies a major disruption in your character’s “normal world” up to now, and forces him into a phase of reaction.
- The Midpoint takes place around the 50% mark and rocks your character’s world again, but this time forces him to start taking charge and taking action.
- The Third Major Plot Point takes place around the 75% mark, signifies yet another disruption, this time distinguished as your character’s low point in the story, before he changes his mindset and enters the final stage in his character arc.
- The Climactic Moment takes place near the end of your story and is the moment in which your character finally does what needs to be done to reach his story goal and gain the thing he needs.
Every one of these points in your story will shake things up for both your characters and your readers. As such, you’ll want to make sure you’ve properly foreshadowed them by planting clues (or, at the very least, a corresponding tonality) early on.
What does story structure tell us about when to foreshadow?
Aside from the obvious fact that you have to plant your foreshadowing before you can pay it off, can we dig up any more specific guidance?
If you guessed the answer to that is, “Yes,” then you’re absolutely right. Foreshadowing comes in what I like to think of as two varieties: heavy and light.
Heavy foreshadowing plants a solid clue of what’s to come later on. This kind of foreshadowing needs to happen early in the book. Your First Major Plot Point needs to be foreshadowed in your first chapter. Optimally, your Climax will also get a dab of foreshadowing early on. All the other major plot points need to be foreshadowed in the first half of the book—and preferably the first quarter.
The first quarter of your story is your setup. This is where you’ll be introducing characters, settings, and stakes. It’s also going to be Foreshadowing City. You don’t want to give away any plot secrets, but you do want to give readers a sense of what’s coming. Dinosaurs? Time travel? A dark tragedy? A light comedy? Bring readers up to speed as soon as possible.
Light foreshadowing, on the other hand, happens just before the payoff arrives and is where you remind readers of the previous heavy foreshadowing. This foreshadowing will almost always be applied with a much lighter touch. A little tension or foreboding or a glimpse of a symbolic motif may be all you need to poke your readers wide awake and warn them that the something big they’ve been waiting for is about to happen.
Whether you plan your foreshadowing ahead of time, allow it to emerge organically as you write, or return to reinforce it during revisions, you’ll find that a solid understanding of story structure will help you plan it to its full advantage.
Do you use story structure techniques in your writing? Please do leave a comment or question below.
She enjoys mentoring other authors through her website Helping Writers Become Authors, her books Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. She makes her home in western Nebraska.