When it comes to writing a novel, there are always two options available to you–you can come up with a story idea, sit down and start writing. Or you can take the time to plan and develop your story, in full, before you write a single word. (And there’s also the third hybrid option of planning some of it and then sitting down to write. But if you’re going to plan, you may as well just go for it and plan the whole thing.)
Planning and developing your story is effective for a lot of reasons:
- You won’t waste your time or energy–writing a novel is hard work, why make it harder by dragging yourself through a long, drawn-out draft-writing process?
- You don’t have to write multiple drafts to find your story–for some writers, this works. But for most, it’s a death sentence, because if you have to write multiple drafts, you’ll likely never finish.
- You’ll know exactly what to write, where to write it and how to write it–priceless information when it comes to writing your first draft.
And there’s another even bigger reason why you should plan your story before you write it: the F word.
No, not that word–foreshadowing.
When you plan ahead and know exactly what needs to happen in the beginning, middle and end of your story, you can get clever by adding in little (or big) moments that hint at what’s to come later in the story. Foreshadowing helps keep the reader hooked because it lets them know there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
Foreshadowing allows you to, for example, show the reader something that seems almost meaningless at first, and then blow it out into something really huge and significant later on in the story.
But foreshadowing isn’t even an option when you don’t plan your story ahead of time. Because how can you know what to hint at if you have no idea what your story is about or how it’s going to end?
If you’ve been hanging around my blog for awhile now you know that I am all about the examples. And the examples I love best come from movies, because they’re so easy to study and analyze.
A really great example of foreshadowing I saw recently was in the movie, Safe Haven (also a book, by Nicholas Sparks).
The movie opens with a dark-haired woman fleeing a house with a bag in her hand. She looks scared, and also like she may have done something bad. But we don’t know what yet.
This moment early on in a story is called the Hook, and it’s the first opportunity for the writer to foreshadow what’s to come in the story. Immediately upon seeing this scene, the viewer is intrigued and has to keep watching in order to find out who this woman is, what she did and why she’s running.
Throughout the first half of the movie, we see this woman change her appearance, move to a small town in the middle of nowhere and try to start a new life. But we still have no idea why. All we’ve been given are small moments here and there that foreshadow something big is coming.
And that something shows up as the Midpoint of the movie–when we find out what’s really been going on. Who she really is. What she’s really up to. And what she did that she’s been running from.
The foreshadowing in this movie makes you think that the so-called Protagonist might actually be the bad guy, having done something really wrong. But we don’t know what yet.
At the Midpoint we find out–and it’s not what we were expecting. What we find out at the Midpoint changes the entire story, and shifts things in a big way. (I won’t spoil it by giving the whole thing away–watch the movie, it’s on Netflix).
That’s the power of foreshadowing.
And none of that would be possible without knowing every detail about the story ahead of time.
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How do you use foreshadowing in your stories to build tension and keep the reader hooked?