Believable Characters And Plot Turns Through Foreshadowing

While the main goal of foreshadowing is to keep readers turning pages, when you foreshadow you also make later plot turns and character choices believable.

Doing so makes a promise to the reader that's important to honor.

Believing What Happens Later

If you foreshadow a character's future action or a plot twist, that helps keep readers immersed in your story. Otherwise they they may pause and question what to you seems like a natural story development.

As an example, in Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth Bennet engages in a friendly debate about Bingley, the man her sister loves.

WARNING: spoilers below. But you've read Pride and Prejudice already, haven't you? No? What are you waiting for?

Bingley's friend Darcy criticizes Bingley for what he calls an “indirect boast.” (Nowadays some might call it a humble brag). Bingley admits to thinking and writing so rapidly he sometimes conveys nothing to the reader and to being likely to act on the spur of the moment.

As the three debate whether those qualities are pluses or minuses, Darcy points out that Bingley might easily change plans if asked by a friend to do so.

Darcy sees that as a fault, but Elizabeth points out that regard for one’s friend can be admirable and might often persuade a person to do something without waiting for a specific reason.

The scene contains its own conflict due to Darcy's and Elizabeth's unacknowledged feelings for each other. Also, Elizabeth wishes to forward her sister's and Bingley's romance. Bingley's sisters and Darcy oppose it.

So the scene stands alone fairly well, and the dialogue is great fun to read.

But the exchange also lays the groundwork for later conflict. Bingley, acting on the spur of the moment and under the influence of Darcy, leaves town and does not return, breaking the heart of Elizabeth's sister Jane.

Without this earlier exchange about Bingley's character and his willingness to act on a friend's request, readers would be far less likely to believe that he'd abandon Jane. Darcy's role in the Bingley/Jane drama and Elizabeth's reaction to it drive much of the novel.

Because of that, it's key that readers believe Bingley would take off at a moment's notice without giving a lot of thought to what might happen down the road.

He Did What?

The debate between Darcy and Elizabeth also gives us, ahead of time, reasons for Bingley's actions that make them more understandable.

Without that foreshadowing readers might not want Bingley and Jane to get together again. He'd seem like he purposely misled Jane or that his affections were less strong than hers and too easily changeable.

Also, Elizabeth saying early on–and when it doesn't affect her sister–that  willingness to defer to friend's wishes can be a positive trait means she's all the more willing to lay Bingley's actions at Darcy's door. And it makes clear that Darcy understands how much influence he has on his friend.

Readers are more apt to believe the feelings and actions of all three characters because of what at first seemed like mere drawing room conversation to pass the time.

Promises Promises

You've probably heard the old saying that if there's a gun on the table in Act 1, it  needs to be used by the end of the play.

Readers consciously expect a gun (or a bomb under the table) to matter if it's shown to them. They'll wonder about it throughout the book and feel let down if in the end it doesn't matter.

That type of foreshadowing also makes a promise about what type of story to expect. The gun suggests violence, suspense, perhaps a thriller or mystery. If you instead hand readers a romantic comedy, they'll feel cheated and angry that they spent their time reading your book.

Similarly, if you start your novel with a meet cute and one of the characters is murdered halfway through, most readers will put down the book and never return.

This guideline applies in a more subtle way when you foreshadow the way Austen did with the Elizabeth/Darcy debate.

As I mentioned, the dialogue is fun to read all on its own. Also, there's probably enough conflict that readers wouldn't wonder why it was there even if it had nothing to do with later events.

The entire novel, however, contains many such exchanges that foreshadow later events. If none of them led to anything significant, half of Pride and Prejudice would simply be witty banter. It's doubtful people would still be reading and writing about the classic novel today if that were so.

Because all those conversations also hint at what's to come, though, each time I read the book I see something new and engaging in it. Each time I'm more impressed by how Austen wove her plot together and I'm more engaged by the characters.

That’s all for now. Until next Friday, when we'll talk about one way to make your novel a fast read

L.M. Lilly


Keep Readers Turning Pages With Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is a great way to keep readers turning pages.

The main goal of foreshadowing is to create suspense. That suspense keeps the reader turning pages to find out what happens.

It's often done early in a novel or story, including in the first line.

The end of a chapter is another good place for foreshadowing because the chapter ending is a natural place to stop reading. How many times have you said, “I’ll just read one more chapter” before going to bed? A story question or hint urges the reader to continue on.

There are many ways to foreshadow, including directly, by hinting, and by setting a tone.

Direct Foreshadowing

You can tell the reader directly what’s to come.

In a novel called The Streets Beneath, which I never published, I started with what remain my favorite first lines:

I didn’t mean to follow the judge. And I definitely didn’t know he would end up dead.

Those lines directly state the main story question, which is who killed the judge and why. They incorporate two crucial characters–the narrator and the judge. The first chapter of Streets got many editors and agents to ask for the entire manuscript, and I suspect it was due to these lines.

(This was back in the day when getting a traditional publishing contract was the only way to publish a book. Unfortunately, I don’t think the rest of the manuscript delivered well enough on the promise, which is why I haven’t published it myself.)

The Hint

You also can hint at what’s to come. The first line of Pride and Prejudice does that by giving a sort of proverb:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

This line doesn’t directly include any specific character or outline the exact conflict.

But the stories of our main character, Lizzy Bennet, and her sisters all revolve around marriage. More specifically, because the family’s estate passes only to male heirs, all the sisters will be homeless and nearly penniless when their father dies. It’s therefore key that one or more of the sisters marry someone who can provide for them.

The fortunes, or lack of fortune, of the men they fall in love with, or who seek to marry them, are key to all the conflicts in the book, as are the neighbors’ views about the sisters.

All these things are hinted at by that single first line.

Set A Tone

Foreshadowing can be used to set a tone that draws the reader in.

You see this approach with the “dark and stormy night” type of first line. When a novel starts or a chapter ends with a thunderstorm on a chilly night, odds are we’re not in for a light, happy read.

Weather is not the only way to set a tone. Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places starts with:

There is a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.

Even if you hadn’t heard the title and didn’t know Gillian Flynn is the author of dark thriller Gone Girl, you’d have a pretty good idea what type of book you’re reading.

That’s all for now.

Until next Friday, when I’ll talk about the role of foreshadowing in building credibility and character and the importance of  keeping promises to your readers—

L.M. Lilly

Using Your Writing Skills To Become Happier

I often feel that the same imagination that helps me plot and write novels works against me in real life.

The What If questions writers use to create significant conflict in fiction can also prompt us to scan our personal lives for danger. And our need to escalate conflict in our stories can bleed into envisioning worst case scenarios for ourselves.

Thinking that way can become a habit that makes it hard to enjoy life.

Looking For Happiness

To counteract that, over the years I've made an effort to use my writing to enhance happiness, not fear.

One wonderful way to do that is to focus on what we're grateful for.

Starting Small

If you’re in the middle of a truly difficult time feeling grateful can be hard. But you can start small.

For example, you’re reading this article, so right there is something to be grateful for. Not everyone can. According to the Chicago Literacy Alliance, 30% of adults in Chicago, where I live, have only low basic literacy skills, and 61% of low-income households in Chicago own no children’s books.

So right now you can take a moment to feel grateful for being able to read.

And there’s more good news. Gratitude gets easier with practice. The more you look for and note, ideally in writing, things that you’re grateful for the more of them you’ll start to notice.

Vivid Writing And Gratitude

Writing about what we feel grateful for fixes it more firmly in our minds.

It also creates a record of the good things in our lives to look back on when we need it. And, as with any other kind of writing, the more detail, the more real it seems and the more fixed it becomes in our hearts and minds.

For instance, if you’re grateful because your cousin, whom you don’t see often, came into town and you had a nice dinner don’t just write Dinner with my cousin.

Instead, use your memory and writing skills to expand on the parts of the evening. Make them vivid by using all your senses:

  • Lasagna came out just right—the fresh garlic and fresh tomatoes made it taste fantastic
  • Shared stories about our parents—heard ones I never knew about my mom which helped me understand some things she said to me when I was growing up
  • So enjoyed the gourmet root beer – reminds me of summer vacation as a kid and going to A&W as a treat
  • The warmth of the fireplace and the sparkling white holiday lights looked beautiful and made me feel cheerful and relaxed
  • Fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies for dessert made the whole apartment smell great and feel warm and cozy; loved the dark chocolate for the chips

Even if you’re also right now worried about whether you’ll find a new job, or whether your books are selling, or how you'll finish your novel in the few spare hours you have, it’d be hard not to feel good while writing a description like that.

What are you grateful for?

Take ten or fifteen minutes and write it down. I bet you'll feel wonderful.

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly


4 Reasons To Stop Saying You Don’t Have Time

We've all said it, probably several times in the last week or two — “I don't have time.”

Most of us, especially if we're juggling writing and another career, a job, or family responsibilities, feel like we don't have enough time to do all the things we want to do.

In one way, that's true. It's not like we can manufacture more hours in the day.

In another way, though, it's not accurate, as I'll talk about in the first of four reasons to stop saying I don't have time.

Reason 1: It's True But It's Not

When we say we don't have time to do a particular thing, that's only true in the sense that we can't fit in everything we'd like.

But it's also not true. Because at that moment we are doing something, even if it's sleeping. We could choose to do something else.

As an example, imagine you're working on a report for your boss that's due in an hour. Your mom calls. She just wants to say hello. Even if you and your mom have a good relationship, you'll probably say, “I don't have time to talk.”

Now imagine instead your sister calls. She says your mom had a terrible accident. She needs a blood transplant, and you are her blood type.

Do you tell her you don't have time to help?

No. You tell your boss you need more time for the report and leave to go to the hospital.

You literally have the same amount of time in both scenarios. Your report is due in an hour in both. Yet you make a different decision.

I can hear you telling me to hold on.

In the first example, your boss will be very unhappy with you and might fire you while in the second, assuming your boss is a reasonable person, there will likely be no negative consequences. Or you'll deal with getting fired if you must, as your mom's life matters more.

But the difference is consequences and what matters most to you, not time.

In the first scenario, it's accurate to say, “I have a report due in an hour, so now isn't the best time for me to talk.” Not “I don't have time.”

This change may not matter to the person to whom you say it. That person understands what you mean.

But, as we'll talk about below, it does matter to how you feel and the choices you make.

Reason 2: It Makes You Feel Out Of Control

If you say “I don't have time” and believe it, it leaves you feeling like you have no control over your life. Sometimes it's as if we're careening from one crisis or responsibility to the next with no say in how we spend our time.

I felt that way often when I was practicing law full time at a large law firm and writing on the side. That feeling intensified when my dad was in the hospital. Every waking minute was spoken for. And when I looked ahead, I didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel.

On the one hand, the busy law practice was great. It meant I had lots of cases and clients and no trouble paying my bills. I also had job security. Loads of it, despite a recession on the horizon.

But it also meant I had very little time to write, relax, or be with family or friends, and I felt as if I never would. That made me sad and angry, on top of how I already felt about my dad's injuries, which were life-threatening.

Because I framed the issue as not having time, though, I felt there was nothing I could do. I couldn't manufacture more time. Everything felt completely out of my control.

That's not a place anyone wants to be. The good news is that changing how we identify the problem can help us gain control.

Reasons 3: Values Matter More Than Time

As the examples about your mom show, what we value governs our lives and how we spend our time. When we choose words that reflect that, we can decide what to do based on those values rather than feeling helpless.

That one change may not give us every option we'd like, but it gives us more than when we blamed time.

As to the work situation I described, I became more honest with myself. I'd chosen to work where I did knowing the schedule that was expected. I wanted to quickly gain experience as an attorney. I also wanted to earn the salary I did.

For the first five years or so that trade off seemed worth it. That was especially so because I'd had times when I couldn't work and couldn't pay my bills due to a repetitive stress injury.

But now I more highly valued time to write, time to spend with my friends and family, and time to relax. My job wasn't compatible with those values.

I'd been blaming lack of time for my unhappiness. The reality was, the structure of the firm where I worked depended on attorneys working excessive hours. Also, my practice area didn't allow for a regular schedule. Though I did have some free hours, I never knew for certain when they would be.

That type of work situation simply no longer fit with what I wanted from life.

Once I understood that, I could deal with it.

Reason 4: It Keeps You From Changing

So how does refraining from saying “I don't have time” and focusing on values change anything?

Even if your situation can't immediately be changed, identifying and talking about it accurately allows you to think long-term and figure out what to do.

For me, talking about values rather than time wouldn't make my dad recover or heal. In the short term it wouldn't change my schedule. (Unless I wanted to quit my job on a moment's notice, and I didn't. I still valued paying my bills!)

But in the long term, accurately identifying the issue as a values conflict gave me back choice and control. I devoted an hour or two each month over the next year to figuring out what I could do for work instead. Eventually I did change my work situation by starting my own law practice. A few years later, I published my first novel.

(Unfortunately, to a large extent I recreated much of what I'd left and had to relearn some lessons the hard way, but that's another story.)

For a different example, let's say you've got small children and are working a part-time job. You feel there's not enough time to write the novel you'd love to write.

First, you'd look at your values.

Cramming writing a novel into your schedule might add too much stress to your already stressful life. For your mental and emotional health, you might need to value peace of mind more than writing. Or you might feel strongly that writing a novel would take too much time away from your children, and you're not willing to do that.

If either or both are true, you might decide you won't devote significant time to writing until three years from now when your kids start school.

Having decided that, you can stop blaming time and feeling out of control. And you can start looking for ways to satisfy your desire to write.

That might mean writing a poem here and there. Or starting a journal. Or you could carve out fifteen minutes whenever possible to plan that novel so that once the kids are in school, you'll hit the ground running. (For ideas on that, see Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.)

None of that gets your novel written this year. But you'll feel better because you're moving toward your goal and acting in a way that's consistent with what you value most.

Also, you'll stop feeling like you have no control, so you'll be calmer and happier. Which might make it easier to free up those fifteen minutes here and there.

That's all for today. Until next Friday when I'll talk about Using Your Writing Skills To Become Happier

L.M. Lilly

6 Reasons To Create An Author Video

Last week I created my first author video. I thought it would be fun to do and fun for fans to watch. I also hoped it would be useful to other authors, as it's about cover design and rebranding.

Before that, the only video I had on YouTube was one a friend who does PR recorded for me.

Creating the video got me thinking about the value of author videos and how they can best be used. Questions I ought to have asked before creating my own, I admit, but sometimes it's worth it to just jump in.

Why Create An Author Video?

I didn't decide to do a video out of nowhere, despite what I said above.

In the last year I've attended several business-focused writing conferences. Many ways to grow your audience were discussed, including videos.

Having Fun With Author Videos

Most speakers talked about videos as a way to connect with existing fans.

That seems to me to be the second best reason to create an author video, the first being that it's something you think you'd enjoy doing. If it's not fun for you, you probably won't connect with anyone.

I like sharing information with others.

Usually I do it in person through teaching or speaking. Video seemed like a fun way to do the same in a way that could live on after the presentation was over.

Connecting With Existing Readers Through An Author Video

When I searched for videos by some of my favorite authors, connecting with current readers seemed to be the main goal. And it worked.

Despite that I'd meant to only take a quick look for research purposes, I watched these videos all the way through:

  • Sara Paretsky's video on how and why she created her female private eye V.I. Warshawski (I also tweeted about it on Twitter)
  • Louise Penny talking about her struggles with alcoholism, stopping drinking and starting to write, having writer's block, her marriage and how supportive her husband was, her husband's dementia, and her road to success as an author
  • Kevin O'Brien being interviewed about being a nice guy and writing frightening books and his writing process

Reconnecting With Readers

The question is, if your fan base isn't that large, is it still worth doing videos?

I think the answer is yes.

For one thing, whether you have twenty or two thousand (or two hundred thousand) people on your email list, those who enjoy watching video and would like to know more about your books will appreciate it. (Those who don't won't check out the video, so it's not as if you're risking alienating them somehow.)

For another, someone may have loved one of your books but read it some time ago and not realized you have new material out.

A video is a nice way to draw attention to your on-going work without shouting “buy my next book” from the rooftops.

That's part of why my first video talked about rebranding the covers for my Awakening series. Within it, it made sense to show the old and new covers for each of the four books and share a little about each.

Readers who read Book 1 before the others came out may come across it and become reacquainted with the series.

Author Videos Can Be Shared

Videos are easily shareable. If a watcher finds it interesting, that person can easily click and share on social media.

Author Videos Make Your Website More Compelling

In addition, videos add content to your website. (Says the author who hasn't added her video to either of her websites yet.)

It's something different for people to do when they visit your site and may keep them around longer. Many people now expect to find video when they visit a site. It's part of how we learn about products and people or become educated on topics.

Reaching New Readers And Viewers With An Author Video

Finally, there is a potential to reach new readers and viewers who might otherwise never find you.

Just as some people will rarely or never go on YouTube and watch a video, others rarely or never read articles or blog posts. That's part of why I aimed my first video both at Awakening fans and other authors who might be thinking about rebranding their covers.

Since you're reading this, if cover design matters to you, I assume you might also consider reading (or have already read) the article Your Book Will Be Judged By Its Cover on this site.

But authors who mainly consume content through videos will likely never come across that article. The video is a way to reach them and offer content they might be able to use in the format they prefer.

That's all for today. Except here's the video:

Until next Friday, when I'll talk about 4 Reasons To Stop Saying You Don't Have Time

L.M. Lilly