Monday, March 05, 2007

Foreshadowing: A Burp or A Technique?

As much as I want to, I just haven't been able to turn off my brain while reading.  I've been having this problem for a year now. 

It's the constant chatter.  Sure, I'm swept away.  But a part of my brain keeps pointing out, "Oh! He started with that scene to establish that she's both dangerous and a good person."  And, "Oh! Okay, that remark is just foreshadowing what is going to happen in the story."

I just wonder: is foreshadowing a technique, or a mental burp?

I mean, really, I never think of foreshadowing.  I think of paralleling part of my story or theme in main and sub-plots, but I never think of foreshadowing.

In fact, I wonder if most of the "techniques" we fiction writers use are not really techniques, but accidents.  Subconscious burps, so to speak.

When I notice certain things in a novel that make it work, I often wonder: did he mean to do that, or did it just happen?  Was it some instinct that put it there, or a subconscious knowledge of what makes a story tick?  Do people decide, after the fact, to put that stuff in?  During the process?  Before the process?

Or do we sit there and continually ask ourselves, while writing, what we want the reader to feel?  And then end up selecting that technique (consciously or subconsciously) that will emotionally grab the reader?

Subconscious burps or conscious techniques?

That's really what I want to know.  A mixture, probably.

Do you guys "install" certain elements or techniques to strengthen your story?  Do you ever discover them in your work, a welcome surprise?

9 bonus scribbles:

Liz Wolfe 3/05/2007 11:48:00 PM  

I find that I foreshadow without even knowing it. I'm an outliner. I like to outline the book scene by scene. Just a sentence or two, so I still have a lot of wiggle room. I can't tell you how many times I write something and realize that I've already forshadowed it earlier in the book. I don't really *think* about foreshadowing though. I like it to be a happy surprise when it happens. I think that too much of it seems so planned and I suspect more and more readers are nodding their heads and saying "Yep, I bet I'm gonna read something about that later."
I thinkk when we write we read differently. It's impossible NOT to do that. But if that's jumping out at you that strongly, maybe the author is being a bit heavy handed?

Susan Helene Gottfried 3/06/2007 07:56:00 AM  

I've found that the unconscious foreshadows are the ones that ultimately don't get edited out. It's probably just me and the fact that I haven't mastered my craft yet, or else it's that I'm self-conscious about a reader thinking I haven't mastered my craft (*wink*).

Ultimately, I think the subtle ones work best. The ones you have to re-read the book and go, "Wow! I missed that last time!"

Therese 3/06/2007 08:11:00 AM  

Hmm...I'd say I do most of this sort of structuring subconsciously, with happy results. But I definitely do some of it consciously--so like you say, it's a mixture.

Maybe it depends on what sort of storytelling comes naturally to a particular writer. Elizabeth Berg says nothing much happens in her novels--mostly people sit around in kitchens, talking (her description, not mine). Not a lot of "technique" here, in the sense you use it.

Contrast that with any thriller writer's work, where things happen continually and foreshadowing is an integral part of the story.

People who have that thriller-story knack don't write E. Berg-style novels, and vice versa.

Though of course there are plenty of cases where the storytelling is forced and the structural elements too visible. And cases where the use of more such techniques would make a story a lot more compelling.

I figure, either you naturally know how to tell a story in a compelling way, or you can *learn* how to tell a story in a compelling way--after which time maybe it becomes second nature and you surprise yourself continually!

And if neither of the above--try another career! :-)

B.E. Sanderson 3/06/2007 09:32:00 AM  

I'd guess I do a bit of both. My crit partner just finished reading one of my books and she pointed out foreshadowing I hadn't even realized I stuck in there, plus she noticed the stuff I did on purpose. On the plus side, she also did a couple 'whoa, I never saw that coming', so it's all good.

Brett Battles 3/06/2007 12:41:00 PM  

Yes. Both. Some just appear there, some I go back and put in later. But, for me, the trick is to make it as least obvious as possible. Doesn't always work that way, but I try.

spyscribbler 3/06/2007 02:46:00 PM  

Liz, I kinda outline like you. Except I do it in broader arcs. A whole novel boiled down to one 5x3 Moleskin notebook page, LOL.

I don't think these things are jumping out at me because of sloppy writing, but because I've got my mind set at "why, why, why" while reading. Sometimes I feel it's obsessive, the way I read!

spyscribbler 3/06/2007 02:58:00 PM  

Susan, I love the accidents; they always seem to work so well. I like foreshadows that stick in my subconscious, and then do a "ding!" when what they foreshadowed happens.

Therese, so true about the balance. What scares me most, is that I'm no judge of my own work.

LOL, Bernita.

B.E., that's awesome! May we all do that unconsciously!

spyscribbler 3/06/2007 03:01:00 PM  

Brett, you did that SO well. You had every clue in The Cleaner, but until it all tied together, I didn't notice it. One of those delighted, "Oh! Yes! I see!" moments.