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

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