I am currently reading Dan Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol, and this book, along with a recent review I received for one of my online stories, made me really think about the significance of foreshadowing in great novels (particularly of the mystery genre). I’ve always admired writers who can seamlessly include foreshadowing in their stories so that the reader doesn’t even realise the significance until the end when all is revealed. I think I’ve read too many of Dan Brown’s earlier works though and I was looking out for ‘foreshadowings’ from the very first page. I have my predictions on how the novel will end, but I’m still hoping I will be surprised and that I have read the signs all wrong.
That’s the great thing about foreshadowing, when used well the reader won’t even realise the significance and the ending comes as a complete surprise, but then on second reading the reader can pick out those little foreshadowings and realise the answer was there the entire time. J.K. Rowling is another author who I think used this device well in her Harry Potter series of books. A simple example of this is in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry and the Weasleys have a run in with Lucius Malfoy at the beginning of the book, which turns out to be quite significant in regards to the ending. Not only does she use this device within each individual book, she also uses it extremely well in regards to the series overall. Who would have thought that the diary in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets would resurface four books later and contribute to an even more significant part of the plot of the series?
Another device, which tends to go hand-in-hand with foreshadowing, is the infamous red herring. Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling also tend to use these in their writing. A well placed red herring will throw a reader off the scent of the real villain/solution, thus creating that surprise ending that the reader never saw coming.
I saw a spoof of the Harry Potter series recently, which blatantly played on J.K. Rowling’s use of foreshadowing in the series. The Snape character was questioning students on what a Horcrux was (which Hermione answered, of course) and then Snape followed up this question by asking what foreshadowing meant (again answered accurately by Hermione). It was really this little scene that got me thinking about J.K. Rowling’s use of foreshadowing in Harry Potter, and also how other authors are able to use it effectively. As a result of my reflections on foreshadowing I decided to write a short piece incorporating this device to test my writing skills. I posted my piece on an online writing site and was pleased to note that my reviewers were all quite surprised at the end of the piece and had never suspected the subtly placed *item* at the beginning of the piece.
I will be adding a new section to my blog today for short stories and I will be including this piece for you to judge for yourselves (as well as the review that really got me thinking). Of course, having been forewarned will most likely have you searching for the foreshadowing in much the same way I have been dissecting The Lost Symbol for foreshadowings as I read it. Perhaps I will still surprise you.
Edit: You can now check out my page on ‘Short Stories’, including a sub-page with my short story An Ordinary Day.