Foreshadowing is a writing tool in which the author hints at what is to come next for the audience. Offering slight hints of what occurs next is a proven way to keep your readers turning the pages to find resolution to the current situation. The key is knowing when and where foreshadowing is needed, and in what amount.
In fiction, unlike real life, everything happens for a reason. If the reader witnesses an event that fizzled out before anything dramatic happens, they know the event will come later in the story with a more dramatic affect. An example would be a man decides to fly back home to surprise his wife. Shortly after takeoff the plane hits turbulence and the pilots struggle to regain control. A moment later everything seems to be fine again. This should be a clue this will be anything but a trouble-free flight.
You don’t want to overuse foreshadowing or you’ll spoil the surprise. Foreshadowing by definition means to HINT at what is to come next, not say it outright. Book lovers like to uncover the secret without the writer giving too much away. As a writer, this combination can be difficult to master. When in doubt, get feedback from several beta readers (not mom or close friends).
Thrillers and horror novels often use foreshadowing. These stories tend keep us on edge because of the fear factor. A villain uses explosives to blow up local establishments. As our hero detective begins to uncover critical clues, the villain stalks our hero and discovers a local coffee shop the detective goes to every morning at precisely 7 a. m. Hmm … a clue. These two will cross paths at some point.
We’ve all read the story that follows two teens in a parked car, listening to the radio. A news anchor on the radio reports of a man with a hook hand escaping a nearby asylum. The teens then hear scratching on the car door, and after some debate, decide to drive away. When they return home, they find a hook hand hanging from the outside door handle of their car.
In this instance, the news reporter talking about the escaped man is the foreshadowing. Since we were given the foreshadowing, the hook hand at the end makes sense to us, and is scary because we have the proper context.
These are some examples of foreshadowing. The key is to sprinkle these gems throughout your story. This will put the taste of fear in your reader and they’ll be unable to put the book down. Of course, thrillers and horror novels aren’t the only genres foreshadowing can be used in.
It can be a useful tool in any story in which you want to tease the reader. By doing this in careful doses, you keep the reader’s attention. Here are a few more examples. The wife who smells an unfamiliar perfume on her husband’s shirt. A coworker notices their boss behaving differently than usual. A parent is late leaving to pick up their eight-year-old from school. All three foretell something could happen.
Getting back to our crazed bomber from earlier. The villain leaves a briefcase filled with explosives at the coffee shop our hero visits. The time is counting down from ninety seconds. The two pass each other through the door.
As our detective waits in line, forty-five seconds have passed. Our hero gets their coffee, walks out the door with thirty seconds to spare. Uh-oh, they forgot the tip and walks back inside with twenty seconds left. The chapter ends. Would you stop reading?
Foreshadowing, if done right isn’t an evil word, but a writer’s friend if properly used.
I hope this has been helpful.
Good luck and happy writing.


James Glass retired from the United States Navy after 22 years of service. After retiring, he exchanged his rifle for a pen. He and his family moved back to the Florida Panhandle. He’s married and has two children. James is also the President of the Panhandle Writer's Group.

1 Comment

  1. Allen Long

    Good tip. Here’s an example of foreshadowing from my book, Less than Human: A Memoir. I fall in love with my college girlfriend, Linda. We date for two years, and she’s always loving and sweet, except for one incident. One night while we’re cooking dinner together, she suddenly screams at me that I’ve cut the green peppers the wrong way. I shrug it off to her having a bad day or being upset about something else. At the end of two years, we marry and my marriage soon becomes a living nightmare as my wife cheats on me, verbally abuses me, and shows clear signs of having a chemical imbalance in her brain.

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