Everything Writers Need to Know About Foreshadowing

Hey, Lovelies!

How’s the post-apocalypse treating you so far? I know worldbuilding is a fun but intense process. We covered prophecies last week, but I wanted to touch on a similar topic today.

Mostly, I wanted to follow up on a point I made in my post last week: that prophecies and foreshadowing are not the same things. So we’re taking a look at foreshadowing today, which can be helpful for any of you trying to foreshadow your way from a post-apocalyptic landscape into a dystopian world.

What is Foreshadowing?

As I mentioned last week, foreshadowing is the prophecy’s subtle cousin. It’s not in your face, and it hints at what’s to come in your story. In technical terms:

Foreshadowing: is a literary device in which a writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story. Foreshadowing often appears at the beginning of a story, or a chapter, and helps the reader develop expectations about the coming events in a story.

The purpose of foreshadowing isn’t just to hint at what is to come but also create feelings of suspense or atmosphere. You want to build anticipation in the minds of readers about what might happen next. Foreshadowing can also make extraordinary and bizarre events appear credible, as the events are predicted beforehand so that readers are mentally prepared for them.

The Two Types of Foreshadowing

There are even two types of foreshadowing: direct foreshadowing (overt) and indirect  foreshadowing (covert):

  1. Direct foreshadowing occurs when an outcome is directly hinted at or indicated. It gives readers a nugget of information, prompting them to want more. Direct foreshadowing is usually accomplished through the characters’ dialogue, the narrator’s comments, or a prologue.
  2. Indirect foreshadowing occurs when an outcome is indirectly hinted at or indicted. It subtly nods at a future event but is typically only apparent to readers after that outcome or event has occurred. In this type of foreshadowing, the story hints at an outcome by leaving subtle clues throughout the story. This is usually accomplished with the use of innocuous statements, using pathetic fallacies, a symbol, a metaphor or simile, or an object.

Who Uses Foreshadowing?

We see it in every single novel, short story, play, movie, and poem out there.

But it is most heavily used in the mystery genre and its subsequent subgenres. Why? Well, mystery writers will eventually tell you who did it, but they need to lay the groundwork for that big reveal. So they pepper clues into their chapters and scenes that help set up for the big finale.

Foreshadowing Examples

The hints and clues that all writers give their audiences are subtle. How subtle? Well, let’s check out these examples from

  1. The final graveyard flower is blooming, and its smell drifts through their house, speaking the names of their dead gently. (Indirectly foreshadows death)
  2. The evening was still. Suddenly, a cool breeze started blowing and made a windy night. (Indirectly foreshadows thunderstorm)
  3. They thought there would not be more bodies; however, they could not believe the thought. (Directly foreshadows murder)
  4. Rainbow sparks,
    With shining lights. (Indirectly foreshadows optimism)
  5. Inhale fresh air, exhale bad breath. (Indirectly foreshadows new ideas)
  6. Michael sees his own face under Donavan’s mask. (Indirectly foreshadows Donavan is his father)
  7. They have made up their minds to remove an evil eye forever. (Directly foreshadows harm to an evil character)

I know this is all and good, but what about some real-life examples? Let’s take a look at a scene from A Very Potter Musical (jump to 1:57):

Snape: Now before we begin, I’m going to give you all your very, very first pop-quiz. Can anyone tell me what a portkey is? Yes, Ms. Granger.

Hermione: A portkey is an enchanted object that when touched will transport the one or ones who touch it to anywhere on the globe, decided upon by the enchanter.

Snape: Very good! Now can anyone tell me what foreshadowing is? Yes, Ms. Granger.

Hermione: Foreshadowing is a dramatic device in which an important plot point is mentioned earlier in the story, to return later in a more significant way.

This example, of course, very explicitly says that this is a foreshadowed moment that the musical will get back to at some other point. It’s a form of direct foreshadowing because it tells you that it’s foreshadowing something and that it’s going to come up again at a later date – we just don’t know how it’ll pop up again.

The A Very Potter Musical example also mirrors an indirect foreshadowing in the book: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The opening of the book starts with Harry and the Weasley family going to watch a world series Quidditch match via portkey. J.K. Rowling took great pains at this point of the book to explain what a portkey was and how it operated because it was going to come up again later on. This was followed by another foreshadowed moment: the Dark Mark’s appearance at the Quidditch match.

We, as readers, did not understand the significance of her explanation until the end when Harry and Cedric Diggory are transported to the graveyard. Voldemort’s servants placed a portkey in the maze as a way to transport Harry to a chosen location – as already explained. This location, of course, is where Voldemort is waiting to have a showdown with Harry. Adding to the symmetry of the moment, Voldemort also calls his henchmen to him by using the Dark Mark.

Here are the clips from the film to help back my examples up:

How to Use Foreshadowing in Your Novel

Thankfully there are tons of different ways that you can use foreshadowing in your novel. And the more you practice foreshadowing, the better you get at it, and the more naturally it will come to you. And according to Now Novel, there are eight laws of foreshadowing, and they look a little something like this:


As great as these eight laws are, I think they forgot one last point on there:

Don’t confuse foreshadowing with other literary devices, like red herrings and foretellings. As the NY Book Editors put it: “A red herring focuses on misdirecting the reader so that they don’t follow the correct path. Foretelling tells the reader exactly what will happen once they follow the correct path. Foreshadowing points the reader to the correct path, but does so without flashing neon lights.”

And don’t confuse them with prophecies either.

Why is this important?

You see, all of these different literary devices have small, sometimes almost indiscernible differences between them that have a completely different effect in our writing. Nuances matter. Red herrings, for example, look like foreshadows but aren’t actually helpful in figuring out what is going on. In fact, they can anger and confuse readers if used instead of foreshadowing.

As for prophecies, they are a plot-driving device. They don’t hint at what’s to come – they say it outright and force our characters into action. Foreshadowing, at its core, only hints at what’s to come.

I want to make sure that you guys have the best writing experience and stories out there, so I am going to try to make sure that you have the tools you need to succeed. With that in mind, here’s a free worksheet from the NY Book Editors to help you plot out your story’s foreshadowed moments.

I hope that this helps and that I covered everything well enough. If not, let me know in the comments below!

That’s it for today. Don’t forget to check out our post on dystopian fiction on Thursday. That’ll be posting at the regular time.

Stay safe, everyone!

Until next time!






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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


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