What Is Foreshadowing In A Story? Examples, Tips and How To - Richie Billing | Fantasy Writer (2023)

Foreshadowing in a story is an important tool for any writer. In this guide, we’ll answer the question, ‘what is foreshadowing?’, exploring its definition and purpose.

We’ll also explore conflict in this guide and the important role it plays in writing fiction, as well as the roles of suspense and tension and how foreshadowing can help you build both.

We’ll dive into a bunch of foreshadowing examples, examining a range of books and genres before diving more deeply into the classic tales of Romeo and Juliet and Of Mice and Men.

And we’ll also take a look at overt foreshadowing, as well as its covert counterpart before considering examples of foreshadowing and how to suggest conflict in your own stories too.

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  1. What Does Foreshadowing Mean? The Definition And Purpose
  2. What Is Foreshadowing In A Story?
  3. Why Is Foreshadowing Used In Stories?
  4. What Is The Effect Of Foreshadowing In A Story?
  5. Foreshadowing Examples
  6. How To Foreshadow In A Story
  7. Join Our Online Writing Community
  8. More Resources To Help With Foreshadowing In A Story

What Does Foreshadowing Mean? The Definition And Purpose

It’s always good to begin with a definition and build our understanding from there.

Dictionary.com’s answer to the question, ‘what is foreshadowing?’ is this:

What Is Foreshadowing In A Story? Examples, Tips and How To - Richie Billing | Fantasy Writer (1)

It’s quite a simple explanation—foreshadowing is the suggestion that something will happen in the future. This could be an event, for example, the arrival of a character.

Let’s look at what foreshadowing is in the context of literary fiction.

The Purpose Of Foreshadowing?

In respect of writing fiction, foreshadowing is simply the promise or indication of the conflict to come.

The purpose of foreshadowing, therefore, is to excite or intrigue the reader and to build tension and suspense. You’re suggesting that something significant is about to happen, some great conflict. In fiction writing, it’s best employed at the end of chapters to keep the reader hooked.

Conflict, as you may already know, is so important to storytelling that some describe it as the heartbeat. As the Hungarian playwright Lajos Egri put it:

“Conflict is that titanic atomic energy whereby one explosion creates a chain of explosions”

When it comes to including conflict in our stories, it’s necessary to first foreshadow it. There needs to be a hint of a coming event—a conflict. There is no day without night, a spring without winter. This is a form of suspense or potential conflict.

What Is Foreshadowing In A Story?

So what is foreshadowing in a fiction-writing context?

Foreshadowing is a literary tool that writers use to hint at or indicate the conflict that is yet to come in the story. It’s useful in creating suspense, intrigue and unease, as well as promising action to your reader.

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In short, foreshadowing is the promise of conflict.

Conflicts are obstacles or challenges our characters have to overcome to achieve their ultimate goal (the end of the story). These conflicts can be people (like antagonists), physical obstacles (like being enslaved), or mental challenges (like anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder).

Stories thrive on conflict. Let’s take Lord of the Rings as an example. In the Fellowship of the Ring, from the moment the group set off from Rivendell things go wrong.

  • Spotted by Saruman’s spying crows
  • Attacked by Saruman’s magic as they try to cross the mountain
  • Attacked outside Moria by the giant octopus
  • Attacked in Moria by goblins and the Balrog.

I won’t say the next point to save spoilers. But the point here is that the story is riddled with conflict. And that keeps us engaged.

So when it comes to foreshadowing in a story, it quite simply is all about teasing, intriguing and promising your readers that conflict is coming.

Why Is Foreshadowing Used In Stories?

Foreshadowing is used in stories for various reasons, some of which include:

  • To create suspense
  • For the creation of tension
  • To make promises to the reader of conflict to come

A story without a promise of conflict runs the risk of boring readers. So by including foreshadowing, you can keep your reader engaged and entertained.

Click Here To Learn How To Create Tension In Writing

What Is The Effect Of Foreshadowing In A Story?

It’s important to understand what the effect foreshadowing has on a story, just like any other writing tool or device, such as passive voice.

When we foreshadow conflict, it has the effect of creating suspense. This nervous excitement that readers feel is the consequence of hints and promises of what’s to come.

What Is Foreshadowing In A Story? Examples, Tips and How To - Richie Billing | Fantasy Writer (2)

We’ll look specifically at suspense shortly. Before we do I want to discuss some other effects of foreshadowing in a story, namely building tension.

There is a difference between suspense and tension. Tension has an emotional impact. It can cause stress and exhaust us. In our lives, we actively seek to relieve ourselves of it. The impact is similar when we read. Too much tension exhausts us.

While suspense also relates to a state of anxiety, it’s fleeting, and often it’s sought out. When we talk about being held in suspense we often relate it to a good experience. But again, too much suspense can cause fatigue.

As with many things in life, finding balance is important. But bear your reader in mind. If you’re writing a mystery novel, suspense and tension may be more desired.

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How Does Foreshadowing Create Suspense In A Story?

Foreshadowing has the power to add dramatic tension or suspense to a story. It does this by building a sense of anticipation of what may happen next, or what conflict may come to light in the pages and chapters to come. It helps prepare the reader for the events to come.

What Does Foreshadowing Provide The Reader In A Story?

Foreshadowing provides the reader with a sense of dramatic tension, making them wonder what will happen next. This will keep them reading to discover it. Foreshadowing in a story can also provide the reader with expectations of what may happen next.

How To Foreshadow In A Story?

So hopefully by now yo

As writers, we know everything that happens and the reasons why. We don’t want to share that information with the reader. Not right away, at least.

There are two approaches to foreshadowing and the use of each depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

Overt Foreshadowing

First, there’s direct or overt foreshadowing. With this approach, the conflict within the story is clearly suggested to the reader. We can see an example of this type of foreshadowing in Lord of the Rings with Sauron and Saruman both building armies. This is a clear suggestion of a great battle or number of battles, which come to fruition.

Covert Foreshadowing In A Story

The second type is indirect or covert foreshadowing. With this, we want to drip feed details into the story. Little and often. Each one is a piece that reveals a tantalizing fragment, but not enough to bore, rather to excite.

How Do You Foreshadow Conflict?

  • Dialogue – One of the most important tools to a writer is dialogue. Provided you don’t get too obvious or give too much away, dialogue can be used to reveal interesting details that can foreshadow conflict. Depending on how you chose to use dialogue, it could be a form of direct or indirect foreshadowing. Head here to learn how to write dialogue.
    • Example – a conversation between two watchmen in the local tavern about the news of some patrols disappearing. It just so happens that our main character is heading in the same direction. This suggestion that something may happen is an example of foreshadowing in a story.
  • Things Aren’t Quite Right – this is my name for those curious little details we enjoy including in our stories. The subtle clues help to build a suspenseful atmosphere. This would be useful for more indirect foreshadowing.
    • Example. Our main character searches her house for her keys. She notices one of her pictures has fallen over on the shelf. It’s never happened before. The stand for the frame is firm and near new. Something isn’t quite right here. What’s going on? We’re promising conflict.
  • ProloguesPrologues can be a controversial literary device, sometimes used to dump information into a story in ungratifying ways. However, if used well, their effect can be quite powerful. In respect of foreshadowing in a story, a prologue can be used to set out intrigue and potential conflict to come. This would be an example of direct foreshadowing.
  • Book titles and chapter titlesto help make promises and suggestions of conflict to come, you can drop hints in the title of your book or in chapter titles too.

Foreshadowing In Short Stories

As Lajos Egri suggested, there should be a foreshadowing of conflict from the off, and this is even more applicable to short fiction.

Often restricted to 5,000-7,000 words (on average), it’s so important to make every word count. To not dally on points and keep the story moving toward its conclusion.

And that’s where foreshadowing can help.

With its power to intrigue and create suspense, a clever promise of conflict is powerful.

I think back to HP Lovecraft’s short stories. He had a great knack for building up a tale slowly but packed with suspense, always foreshadowing the great conflict that you dance through the pages to uncover.

Definitely check out his short fiction. You can download it for free on Amazon.

Writer’s Resource – A Free List of 200 Short Story Publishers

Foreshadowing Examples

As we’ve seen above, foreshadowing is a literary technique in which a writer hints at or implies events that will occur later in the story. Here are some examples of foreshadowing from well-known stories:

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  • In William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” the witches’ prophecy that Macbeth will become king foreshadows the events that lead to his downfall.
  • In Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” the fact that all of the suspects on the train are connected to the victim in some way foreshadows the eventual revelation that the murder was a group effort.
  • In J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Harry’s discovery of the Mirror of Erised foreshadows his eventual discovery of the Sorcerer’s Stone and the true identity of the story’s villain.
  • In George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” the pig Napoleon’s early interest in the farmers’ whisky foreshadows his eventual corruption and tyranny over the other animals.
  • In H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” the protagonist’s obsession with time travel foreshadows the events of the story in which he builds a time machine and travels to the future.
  • In Stephen King’s “The Shining,” the recurring image of blood pouring from elevators foreshadows the violence that takes place later in the story.
  • In Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” the repeated references to books being banned and burned foreshadow the eventual destruction of books and knowledge in the story’s dystopian society.

These are just a few examples of how foreshadowing can be used in fiction writing to hint at future events and create suspense and tension for the readers. It’s a technique that can be subtle or obvious, but when done well, it can add a deeper layer to the story, making it more engaging and memorable.

An Example Of Foreshadowing In A Story

Foreshadowing can be simple or it can be quite elaborate. When it comes to looking at an example or foreshadowing in a story, it helps to look at the more simpler instances so that we can build a foundational understanding.

One of the best and most straightforward examples comes from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. The story opens with this line: “The leaves fell early that year.”This foreshadows an early death.

In Shakespeare’sMacbeth, the emergence of the witches is considered to be an omen of bad things to come. Again, this is a form of suspense or potential conflict.

In the fantasy genre, we see in Game of Thrones the appearance of the Red Comet, also called the Red Messenger or Red Sword. It’s construed in different ways. By some, it’s a harbinger of victory. For others, it foretells death and bloodshed.

What Are Some Examples Of Foreshadowing In Romeo And Juliet?

“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare is a play that uses foreshadowing extensively to create tension and suspense throughout the story. Here are a few examples of foreshadowing in the play:

  • The play begins with a prologue that states that the story will end in death, foreshadowing the tragic fate of the two lovers.
  • Romeo’s line “O, I am fortune’s fool!” after killing Tybalt, foreshadows his own death as a result of his actions.
  • The Prince’s warning to the families of Romeo and Juliet that “if ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace” foreshadows the tragic outcome of the feud between the Montague and Capulet families.
  • The Friar’s warning to Romeo that “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast” foreshadows Romeo’s impulsive actions and their tragic consequences.
  • The nurse’s warning to Juliet that “Your ancient, trusty, pleasant nurse,/ Hath told me all that I shall know” foreshadows the revelation of the tragic news of Romeo’s banishment.
  • The line “Some consequence yet hanging in the stars” foreshadows the tragic fate that the stars have predicted for Romeo and Juliet.
  • Romeo’s line “There is no world without Verona walls,/ But purgatory, torture, hell itself” foreshadows his decision to end his life when he believes Juliet to be dead.
  • The line “O, I am slain! If thou be merciful,/ Open the tomb, lay me with Juliet” foreshadows Romeo’s death by suicide.

These are just a few examples of the use of foreshadowing in the play, but it’s clear that Shakespeare uses it to create a sense of tension and suspense throughout the story and to hint at the tragic fate of the two lovers.

What Are Examples Of Foreshadowing In Of Mice And Men?

“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck is a novel that uses foreshadowing to create tension throughout the tale and to hint at the tragic fate of the characters. Here are a few examples of foreshadowing in the novel:

  • Lennie’s constant repetition of his dream of having a farm with George foreshadows the fact that it will never come true.
  • Candy’s warning to George “I think I knowed from the very first. I think I knowed we’d never do her” foreshadows the fact that Lennie’s dream will not be fulfilled.
  • Crooks warning to Lennie “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you” foreshadows Lennie’s loneliness leading him to be isolated.
  • Curley’s wife’s comment “I get lonely” foreshadows her tragic fate, in which her loneliness leads her to seek out the company of the ranch hands and ultimately leads to her death.
  • The recurring imagery of the dead puppy foreshadows Lennie’s eventual killing of Curley’s wife and the tragic consequences that follow.
  • Curley’s wife’s comment ” I ain’t used to living like this” foreshadows her longing for something more, which ultimately leads to her death.
  • Curley’s wife’s comment “I never get to talk to nobody. I get awful lonely” foreshadows her seeking companionship and her tragic fate.
  • Lennie’s comment “I don’t want no trouble” foreshadows the trouble that Lennie will cause.

These examples show how the characters’ dreams, fears, and desires all foreshadow the events that will eventually unfold in the story and the novel’s tragic ending.

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What Is Foreshadowing In A Story? Examples, Tips and How To - Richie Billing | Fantasy Writer (3)

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More Resources To Help With Foreshadowing In A Story

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If you need any more help, please get in touch.

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What Is Foreshadowing In A Story? Examples, Tips and How To - Richie Billing | Fantasy Writer (4)

Richie Billing writes fantasy fiction, historical fiction and stories of a darker nature. He's had over a dozen short stories published in various magazines and journals, with one adapted for BBC radio. In 2021 his debut novel, Pariah's Lament, an epic fantasy, was published by Of Metal and Magic. Richie also runs The Fantasy Writers' Toolshed, a podcast devoted to helping writers improve their craft.

Most nights you can find him up into the wee hours scribbling away or watching the NBA.

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