I am never, ever going to get over Noah Czerny introducing himself by way of I’ve been dead for seven years AND NO ONE BELIEVING HIM. Maggie Stiefvater often has some of my favorite foreshadowing because, much like Noah, she’ll be frank with us. I mean, the opening chapter of The Raven Boys literally shows Gansey as a ghost, and yet NO ONE BELIEVED IT WOULD HAPPEN. I so vividly remember waiting for each book to come out, telling myself that Gansey was going to be okay with each book, and then being utterly shocked in the fourth book. Like, she said she was going to do it??
To be fair to Maggie, though, she does do a lot of clever foreshadowing, too, and not just the “I’m telling you what’s going to happen so far in advance that you won’t believe me when it comes time for it” kind, but it’s been something that I come back to and think about a lot.
I’m consistently amazed when authors foreshadow. Like, damn. Especially when the foreshadowing happens at the beginning of a series! A standalone is one thing, and even a duology, I can reasonably wrap my brain around, but anything longer, and I am just amazed. And I know this, in part, is rooted in how I write because I know I’m definitely in the minority, but foreshadowing just seems like magic, and I’m so impressed all the time. And I know, too, that you’re not supposed to compare your draft to someone’s finished product, but wow. Even when all is said and done with my draft, when I’ve gone through multiple levels of editing, I look at foreshadowing in other books and I just think HOW?!
I am a very beginning to end and nothing in between kind of writer. I didn’t even kind of start thinking about querying for sister witches until I had written the entire trilogy. And I know that’s insane, and I’ve literally never met or heard of another person that does it that way, but I truly cannot write one book and work only on that book if I know there are others coming after it. The way I write, things come to me as I’m writing. And I’ve just realized I lied a bit because Tolkien wrote this way (not that I’ll ever compare myself to him). But, much like Tolkien being absolutely scandalized about the sudden appearance of Faramir & getting aggravated that he now had to figure out a new character, I get introduced to characters and plots and all manner of unexpected things while writing. And so, this idea of writing the first in a series, and then only working on that one to get it ready for querying, and eventually publication, is mind-boggling to me.
How do you setup your foreshadowing if you haven’t written everything yet?! Maybe it’s just that people plan so well that they know the exact arc of their story? And yeah, I mostly do that. When I sat down to write the first sister witches, I knew where I wanted them to end up in book three, but I didn’t know the exact details. I knew that they would be fighting Theodore’s dad, but there ends up being a second villain that I had no clue about until halfway through the second book, and sometimes I imagine the first sister witches being published before I’d gotten to writing the second book and realizing I had no way to tie in the foreshadowing early on.
Sometimes, I just sit back and think about how much Laini Taylor builds into her stories from the very, very beginning, and I wonder–what did her first drafts look like? Did she, like me, have to go back and thread in the foreshadowing? Did she know what certain scenes meant when she was writing them, or was there something subconscious sneaking around, layering in the foreshadowing without her even realizing it? Because I definitely do that to myself all the time. I have had so many moments of, “I wrote that in without even meaning to!” And maybe that’s not even that I’ve foreshadowed something, but that something in my subconscious wanted something else to happen, but later on, so it started building it without me even noticing, so then the story just naturally led to that something else?
That was a really convoluted sentence, wow. But foreshadowing is so convoluted. It feels like magic. Every time I reach a plot twist, I always have to sit back and have a moment of sipping my tea in wonder. Did they know? Did they do it on purpose? Did they also have to sit back and stare at their laptop in admiration of how damn brilliant they are? Because that’s what writing foreshadowing feels like for me. Sometimes, I see the plot twists coming, and I purposefully thread my way there, but, I’ll be honest, most of the time, I have no idea until it happens. There have been literal gasp out loud moments while writing my own damn book. Times when I’ve shouted, “I can’t believe that just happened!” Arched eyebrows of disbelief from my mom, whose favorite writing comment is, “Aren’t you the one writing?”
I guess this echoes back to my Nobody Told Me That! post from a couple weeks ago, but foreshadowing really does feel like magic. When an author has so carefully taken a dozen threads of their story, braided them together with little whispers of look away from this and forget about this until later and oh this is innocuous don’t worry and all manner of things that feel throwaway at the time, and then quietly tangles them all back together at the end? Y’all, I should have seen Lila Bard’s plot twist coming not even just a mile away, but all the miles stacked together. It was so obvious. And yet?
That’s part of what makes foreshadowing so cool, I think. Sometimes, like Maggie, it’s really in your face, and you don’t believe it because of that. Oh yeah, suuuuuure, you think, scoffing at the idea that the MC is really going to die four books later just because the first chapter showed him as a ghost. But, most of the time, they’re really little, so little that you don’t even notice them. Oh, Lila Bard’s got a glass eye, but she’s also got a backstory that fits with it really well, and moving on. You’re so focused on the rest of the story, on diving into these characters and this world for the first time, that you don’t stack up the little things and see the ultimately very obvious reveal at the end. When we got the Lila Bard reveal, I felt like a complete idiot, but in the best way. OF COURSE! I wanted to scream from the rooftops. Schwab gave us all the little pieces to puzzle our way to Lila’s secret, but we were so distracted by Kell and his red coat that we didn’t take the time to put them together.
(You know who was not good at foreshadowing? Or, rather, not not good at it, but just didn’t try at all, and instead had chapter titles like Fingolfin dies, ffs, Tolkien. He also did a kind of foreshadowing that I don’t see anymore, which was more of a moral kind of learn from history foreshadowing, and everyone is still shocked when Sauron goes evil, despite everything pointing directly to that.)
There is a massive secret revealed in the third sister witches. Eventually, when I’ve published more than just sister witches, it won’t really be a secret because that character will have their story told, but it’s very much a Six of Crows moment where, if you haven’t read Shadow & Bone, the Nikolai/Sturmhond twist is truly amazing. That secret, however, is hinted at so many damn times that I want, so badly, for readers to have that moment of WAIT WHAT because I told them, over and over, what was coming, and they were too busy looking at everything else.
It really is a sort of magic, now that I think about it, of the mundane sort of sense in that foreshadowing is very much sleight of hand. Look at that shiny angst, we writers say, while I’m busy hiding this secret from you, and the big reveal always feels exactly like that–a big reveal. But, like most magical big reveals, we finally see the sleight of hand for what it is, and we not only feel like the rug’s been pulled out from under us, but like that rug was actually a flying carpet, and now we’re headed on an adventure in a whole new world.
That metaphor ran so far away from me.
I love foreshadowing so much. I’m absolutely wretched at spotting it, and I have to write full series in order to correctly thread it into my books, but it remains one of my favorite things in stories. I love being told something is going to happen, but being so distracted by everything else that I forget about it until I am gaping in awe and disbelief at the reveal. It’s so much damn fun.