Questions No One Ever Asks About Foreshadowing 

by Miranda Brumbaugh in


Hasn’t the question, “What is foreshadowing in literature?” just been driving you batty? I mean, fore shadow. It sounds like it might be something that comes before the shadow, which would be the You or the Me, right?

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Because without a nouned entity, the shadow would be null. But it’s something you see in a lot of classics and popular books. So the whole shadow theory flies witchy out the window. Now you’re left with something that writers use and readers want to learn about to see how their favorite writers use it.

Foreshadowing. Let’s talk about it. Then in three Tuesdays I’ll use it in a Flash Fiction story and you can read that here.

Foreshadowing as a Literary Technique

As literary techniques go, this is a popular one, right? I mean, you hear about foreshadowing in passing in films and popular books. High schoolers and college students curse the phrase and its accompanying reads, essays, and grades. But because it’s popular, it makes me wonder why. 

Remember, no question is a bad question.

Questions I Have About Foreshadowing:

  • Why does foreshadowing matter? The purpose of foreshadowing is to prepare the reader for something explosive. This can be a death, a wedding, a birth, or a plot twist. You don’t want to give Dear Old Reader a coronary especially in Chapter 1.

  • Can I use foreshadowing in first person writing? Yes. The point of view plays no role in if foreshadowing can be effective. 

  • Should I allow foreshadowing to happen naturally or should I plant foreshadowing bushes, and if so, where/when/why/how/ugh? Both! Organic is always best, in all things, amiright? But you may also need to work for your foreshadowing goals. 

  • Is foreshadowing cliche or overdone? What are foreshadowing cliches? As with all things literature, foreshadowing cliches are out there. Some big offenders according to A Cynic’s Guide to Foreshadowing are:

    • Let weather do the hefty work of foreshadowing; lightening and thunder almost always equals bad news.

    • Someone is psychic and they tell you that death is near. Well, duh. 

    • Symbolism can get you into foreshadowing cliche territory.

  • Are there certain genres where foreshadowing is never going to work? Genres where it is practically required? Well, even in nonfiction, foreshadowing has its place. You always want to lead your reader along on a journey while sprinkling in sneaky sneak peaks of what’s to come later on the path.

  • Is foreshadowing really the act of a band of typewriter elves who come out when a writer is not writing and rearrange the text to add foreshadowing in a story? Possibly. It’s getting near the holidays so those elves are popping up most places these days. Could be in your typewriter, who’s to say they aren’t!

Foreshadowing in a Sentence

So the most obvious type of foreshadowing is Breaking Bad style the Romeo and Juliet kind, which we will cover later. Here somebody’s going to die and it most likely will be the climatic point of the story. But surely you can foreshadow other things, like:

  • The birth of someone or something

  • Dating, a relationship, a marriage

  • The way a person will react to a major event

  • A huge storm, fight, drama, or situation is about to occur

The key to leading the reader on, which is what you are doing here, is to include whispers of these actions long before they happen in the story. If someone is going to have a baby, the character who will be pregnant might fiddle with a pack of child’s clothes hangers while speaking with another character.

It could be the father figure sees someone from his childhood that he hasn’t seen in a long time, and they mention seeing them as a baby. See? You don’t have to just foreshadow a murder, which is howlworthy some of the time. But you can foreshadow a heck of a lot more

Foreshadowing in Movies

Evidently, a lot of people are curious about foreshadowing examples in movies because the internet says so. More specifically, everybody seems to wonder about foreshadowing examples in Romeo and Juliet.

Just how many high school teachers are really sending home the foreshadowing in Romeo and Juliet assignment? Sounds like a conspiracy to me! Let’s follow this crumb trail to foreshadow the reason why Romeo and Juliet would be the most popular choice for a foreshadowing essay among juniors. 

If you are here looking for a clue to include in your essay, we all know you already know about the SparkNotes foreshadowing definition. Foreshadowing is the biggest lit technique in this Shakespearean drama. Phrases like “A pair of star-crossed lovers,” “broke her brow,” “untimely death,” and “as one dead in the bottom of a tomb” all lead the reader up to the tragic ending.

We also know you have also either watched the YouTube trailers or the actual film version featuring Leonardo DiCaprio. You don’t know who he is, but all of your moms sure did cry in angst for his Romeo. This is your idea of trying to cheat on your foreshadowing essay? For shame, no bueno. Get thee to the print version and read it for the real foreshadowing deal. 

Return Next Tuesday…

…for character creation using foreshadowing. It’s bound to get literally messy!